A Faithful Response To Issues of Race: From John Brearley, Minister
I hope that the events of recent days have opened our eyes and our hearts to the need for change in the world. No longer can we sit back and wait for a better day. In the past when yet another example of racial profiling and police brutality occurred, we would condemn the event and move on. In the past when voices of protest were heard, we would listen at a safe distance. In the past when we were moved to make a difference and create a better world, we would offer a heart-felt prayer.
Today our response must be different. It must go deeper into the issues at hand. It must realize that the path to a more fair and more just world will be long and difficult. It must be willing to be vulnerable in our dialogue and open to systemic change in our society. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the events that now have our undivided attention occurred during Pentecost. Perhaps the power of Pentecost is what it will take to create a better world, especially for people of color.
Until we realize that all people are created in the image of God, and that every life matters to us, our work is not done. Until it is safe for black persons to walk, and run, and ride through their neighborhoods, our work is not done. Until we hold all public servants accountable for their actions, our work is not done. Until we translate our faith into a more just world, our work is not done. C. S. Lewis, the British Christian scholar and author once said, “You may not be able to change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Friends, in some real sense, our work is only now beginning. We cannot stop until it ends.
The Presbyterian Church, at our best, has always been willing to take on serious challenges. No issue that I know of today is more needed and more necessary for our communities. So join me, and millions of others, who are committed to this cause. May we be proactive in our approach going forward, and may we be relentless until our society more closely reflects the love of Christ. In conclusion, I share part of a prayer offered by our denomination. May these words chart the course that is before us this day:
Holy One, whose Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, where else shall we go? You came that we might have life more abundantly, but that abundance eludes too many of us, O God, and hate and bigotry are ever present. Our news cycles are filled with despair. Far too often, life continues as if nothing has happened while our gaping wounds are still open. Many of us lament and strive against that sin. Help and empower us to continue that work with diligence and faith. We humble ourselves and cry to you in the hope that you will hear us and heal us. To you be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.
Hold That Thought… TASK FORCE TACKLES REOPENING
At its recent meeting, our Session did something that every Presbyterian church does when faced with an important challenge. We appointed a committee! Or in this case, a Task Force whose purpose is to recommend when and how to re-open our facilities. While this is just the first step in the longer process, it may be the most significant step we could have taken.
The Session had a long discussion about many of the parameters that need to be taken into consideration—the size of our congregation, the number of members with health concerns, the many visitors we have in worship, the guidelines from medical and governmental agencies, the recommendations of our denomination, the labor to organize our efforts and sanitize our facilities, and more. It became obvious that while the desire is to host public gatherings is good, the process is complicated and complex.
Thus, a Task Force to look at this challenge from all angles became the wise and prudent thing to do. The members who will serve in this capacity are: Terry Belden, John Brearley, Allison DeVaux, David Kellogg, Bill Oliver, Diane P’Pool, Mary Gene Singleton, and Sharon Thompson. This group of talented people will work to ensure that we will re-open as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, while at the same time not rushing to that goal. Know that they will consider all options available to us, not just those we have exercised in the past. Once they are confident of the right steps for our congregation, the Task Force will make their recommendations to the Session. It is the Session’s responsibility to do what is in the best interest of our entire membership.
The good news is that we have time to do this well. Our virtual congregation has responded faithfully in these unusual times — worshiping online has seen large numbers participate; giving to our mission has been strong; outreach to our community continues to be effective; educational opportunities are zooming, as well. My best guess is that we will return to activities in phases, continuing a strong online presence going forward. This hybrid method may serve us well while we are in transition, and beyond.
In summary, our Task Force will make careful and specific recommendations to the Session, which has meetings scheduled for June 8 and 29. As directions become clear, you will be well informed, I promise. Please be in prayer that realities will allow normal activities to return safely. And please be patient as we work through this process.
Hold That Thought… VIRTUAL CHURCH CONTINUES FOR MAY
My update today can be fairly brief because the month ahead looks much the same. At its recent meeting to monitor the Coronavirus and its impact on church life, our Session made an obvious decision. We are not ready to begin discussing the process that will bring back public gatherings for our congregation. In recent weeks we have spent much time and energy learning to become a virtual church. While this format is far from ideal, at least it works for us, for now. There is no reason to rush back together when we can continue church life in this new way.
At some point, we will do what all of us are eager to do—worship and gather together, once again. We will appreciate being in one another’s company perhaps like never before. How good it will be to greet our friends in faith in person! As best I can tell, this process will happen cautiously and carefully. And it may be a process that happens over time, allowing people to find their own comfort zone for returning to church. Rest assured that the number one priority will be the safety of our members and guests. We will gather again when the facts of the virus warrant that reunion. We will not let our desire to be together cause us to do things that are unsafe or unwise. My sense (and my hope!) is that it will become fairly obvious when we are to begin this process.
In other news, the Session approved our new Elders and Deacons ready to assume leadership in our church. While we normally ordain and install officers prior to their terms of service, an exception has been made for this year. These officers will transition onto our boards in May. A service for their official installation will take place once we return to public worship. On a more personal note, my Sabbath Leave that was scheduled for this summer has been postponed until next summer. Once again, for obvious reasons… Stay safe and keep the faith!
Hold That Thought… WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
With all that is going on in our lives these days, you likely missed the first anniversary on our new campus. Yes, we just celebrated one year of worship in our new sanctuary. Well, we were not actually in the sanctuary itself, but we were virtually together for the occasion. Our opening Sunday at the Grissom Campus was April 14, 2019, which happened to be Palm Sunday last year. Can you imagine how this move from downtown would have happened had this virus come last April?! Indeed, the transition would have surely been delayed during such an important time in the life of our church. And yet somehow, even as now, we would have made it work. All by the grace of God…
What a difference a month makes. Though it feels like an eternity in some ways, it has only been a month since we have become a virtual congregation. As hard is that is to believe, we have only been worshipping online since March 22. I am so glad that we were at least settled in our new place when the crisis came. During this time we have seen many significant changes, including sheltering in place and using technology to keep connected. In some ways, with more time on our hands for many of us, we have done a better job of staying touch. Our congregation has been very intentional about checking on people, and reaching out to meet specific needs. You are to be commended for the care you have given to each other during the Coronavirus. Keep up the good work!
Let us not lose focus on our mission to the larger community during the weeks ahead. With the unique challenges of COVID 19, it would be easy to forget that there are people locally whose needs are greater than ours. While we are not able to reach out in person, we can still help to meet these needs. Your weekly giving to the church enables us to be generous with the outreach ministries in our area. There is no doubt that they are counting on our support.
Here is a practical suggestion. This week one of our members reached out to me with a great question. “If we do not need the stimulus check that is coming, is it possible to give some (or all) of it to the community (through the church)?” The answer is, of course, “Yes!” The idea is to forward this funding to those in need. If you would like to make an additional gift from this source (or any other), simply mark your personal check accordingly in the memo line. We will make sure that our local food banks receive this much-needed assistance. Your church giving statement will reflect your generosity.
Stay safe and keep the faith!
April 1, 2020
Hold That Thought… AN ALL TOO OBVIOUS UPDATE
At its regular state meeting, our Session confirmed the obvious reality that we all face—the Coronavirus continues to have us shelter in place. For the foreseeable future, but at least for the month of April, we will not gather publicly for worship or other group functions. For the last few weeks we have been learning to become a virtual church, complete with daily devotions (10AT10), Sunday morning services (9:00 and 11:00), and website activities (for all ages). Perhaps even more importantly, we have stayed closely connected to each other through texts, emails, phone calls, and social media. Never again will we take this technology for granted.
While our officers will continue to monitor the situation on a month-to-month basis, all of us will continue to make adjustments. Easter this year will be like no other we have ever had. Some important events will be postponed to a later and safer date. How and when we will complete Confirmation classes and install our new officers are to be determined. Baptisms, weddings, and memorial services are being re-scheduled as needed. Staff will continue to work remotely, using our church offices only as a resource center. Many of us will learn to be Zoom experts for meetings in the coming days. All of us hope and pray that this new norm will not last any longer than necessary.
Please continue to be patient during this challenge. And let us know of any needs you might have in these days. You may contact Rev. Christa Brewer (email@example.com) if you need assistance with things that our list of volunteers can handle. Folks are ready and willing to respond.
On a most positive financial note, we received a large portion of the Chapin Foundation gift last week. A check in the amount of one million dollars was deposited into our Building Fund Account! For this incredible generosity we are most grateful! In the weeks, and perhaps even months ahead, please keep your church offerings current, if possible. Maintaining the mission we share is especially vital during these trying times. Donating online through the website or placing gifts in the mail are the offerings we now make.
Keep the faith, now and always…
P.S. On the occasions when we will celebrate the sacrament of Communion (April 9, Maundy Thursday, 7:00 PM and April 19, both services), please have a small piece of bread and a small cup prepared at table in your home!
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE-EFFECTIVE SUNDAY, MARCH 15
Dear Members and Friends,
As you are well aware, all of us have been monitoring the serious concerns surrounding this virus. While projections vary, all reports agree that the sooner we take significant action, the better our results as a society will be. Today our Session met to discuss and to respond to the issues at hand. In a unanimous vote, the decision was made to suspend all gatherings associated with church life until April 5, Palm Sunday. The Governor of SC has closed all schools in our state through the end of March. Our pre-school, the Growing Tree, falls under this directive.
The list of activities that will not be held is long, including public events such as the final Broadway Concert (19th), the Presbyterian Women Spring Surge (21st), the Special Mental Health Lecture (24th), and the Children’s Worship Musical (29th). The current plan is for these programs to be rescheduled at appropriate times. In addition, fellowship activities involving children and youth are cancelled during this period. Small group studies are asked to refrain from meeting, as well.
Please note that while we will not gather publicly to worship until April 5th at the earliest, we will continue to stream our services online on Sunday mornings. While all details will be published on our website, which we hope you will view often, look for two different worship options each week. The 9:00 format will follow that of Early Sabbath and the Gathering, while the 11:00 stream will be more traditional in nature.
Staff is encouraged to work from home as appropriate however, if you would like to contact the office, please call between 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM and you should reach someone. We are also available through email as posted in our Monthly Newsletter. You can find the latest issue HERE.
These unchartered waters will be a challenge as we live into the reality at hand.
During this time we have several requests for each of us:
Your church leaders will continue to monitor this situation which is changing on a daily basis. We will offer periodic updates by e-blasts and on our website. Please read them carefully and respond appropriately. And, of course, remain calm and confident that our faith will lead us forward.