The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.1 Timothy 1:5
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you (His disciples) have love for one another.John 13:35
In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.Philippians 2:3b-5a
Finally, [family], rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.2 Corinthians 13:11
We begin this way because we always want to lead with the Bible. And we want the Bible to lead us. And particularly during a season of so much disagreement and polarization, we think it fitting to set before us the supernatural affections that ought to mark us as God’s people in Christ. We may not all agree on regathering at the stated time or the steps taken to do so in a safe and thoughtful way, but we must all agree to love and serve one another, to be others-centered, considerate, charitable, and gracious in Christ. His presence and glory are displayed in us.
So what an opportunity to display it in Spirit-ual unity. We need to be mindful, as the old Puritan said, ‘of how much Satan hath gained, and Christ’s interest hath sensibly lost, by those unhappy divisions and alienations amongst brethren, and fellow-laborers in the work of the Lord.’ Even in our day, one has remarked what a shame it would be for the church to regather only to socially distance again for lack of grace and charity. So the Puritan adds, ‘Love and union bring every believer’s gifts and graces into the common bank, and instead of monopolies, they drive a free and open trade, to the great enriching of the church.’ Against the adversary then, let’s have Christ be famous among us for our self-sacrificial love and unity.
Date for Regathering
As it stands today, we plan to regather for corporate worship in our sanctuary on Sunday, May 31.
We have not reached that decision without several hours of counsel with one another, with you, and with other pastors in our area. To be clear, some sibling churches are waiting another week or two but, as best as I can tell, for more pragmatic rather than substantive reasons. On the flip side, some churches have already begun to meet as early as a week ago, May 10.
One thing that should be noted is that some of those churches waiting another week or two are a) already regathering in parking lots and/or b) are much larger than we are at present. The size and generational dynamics for TMC are different. We are smaller and, relatively speaking, we are younger. Words for our more at-risk members will follow below.
Your pastors are in full accord about this regathering date, but will add the caveat that, should more solid information come out concerning cases in our area between now and Saturday, May 30, we will be sure to make you aware of any delay in regathering for corporate worship. Again, the goal right now is Sunday, May 31.
Details for Regathering
What follows details our commitment to regathering safely:
Sanitization. Amy has already cleaned her way through the church facility, sanitizing major touch points. Give her her due praise! A couple of notes for you: one, the cafe will not be operative this summer. Two, if you bring your own coffee and/or breakfast, you are accountable for sanitizing your area. This will keep Amy and others from unnecessarily having to put themselves in the path of your germs. Three, musicians, before you leave service, do your best to sanitize your touch points. Four, if possible, if we could have a couple of deacons and/or anybody else willing to stay after service and sanitize the building, that would be quite helpful. Five, there will be hand sanitizer placed throughout the building.
Seating. In order to be more spaced out, we will be temporarily removing seats from the sanctuary. We will also require families to sit together throughout the service. Finally, in order to mitigate the spread of a virus that can be asymptomatic and, yet, live on certain things for up to and beyond two weeks, we think it prudent to assign seating during this season. This way, hopefully, if a carrier attended service the week before, someone else won’t sit in their seat the next week and contract the virus. So on May 31, find a seat, mark it somehow, and make it yours until further notice.
Sermon outlines. These will be placed in the rows to mitigate many hands going to one place.
Service length. In an attempt to decrease the likelihood of germ-sharing, we will shorten corporate worship. Temporarily, we will move back to four instead of five songs. We will not have a time of offering in service. We won’t be passing the box. The offering boxes will be left at the front of the sanctuary. You are free to worship in giving by simply dropping your offering in that box before or just after service. I will also continue to make myself available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, in order to receive any offerings you’d like to bring at that time. Lastly, we will do our best to shorten the length of sermons. Please pray for me!
Meeting and greeting. There will be no ‘meet and greet’ during service until further notice. As far as hanging out with one another (which we love and commend), this needs to be done outside the church’s facility. In other words, as you arrive on Sunday mornings, fellowship outside as much as you can. After the service, don’t hang around in the sanctuary. Move the fellowship outside. We will be sure to include this in the announcements each week.
Welcome, hospitality, and masks. It is our recommendation that every non-infant person, member and visitor, attending our service for corporate worship wear a mask. It was brought to my attention by other pastors that singing, in particular, could project the viral spores up to 13 feet! So again, to prevent this possibility, we recommend wearing masks.
Those leading in teaching, praying, singing, etc., will not wear masks while serving in these ways. If you serve on our welcome team, you need to wear gloves, as well as a mask. You will also need to offer a mask to any visitor. The church is doing it. We’d appreciate our visitors doing it for the sake of the church. We have placed an order on disposable masks. We hope to have those by May 31. In the event they are slow coming to us, go ahead and plan to have your own. I think they even have some Clemson-branded bandanas now! Until service actually begins, we do also suggest keeping the front doors of the sanctuary open, both to minimize touch points and to allow for outside air within the facility.
Online services. We will continue to visually record the call to worship, pastoral prayer, and sermon. We will not be live-streaming the service. We will put what’s been recorded in a playlist and post that to Slack and Facebook as soon as possible. With this in mind, a word to our more at-risk members (60+ years of age and/or immuno-compromised):
We love you. We completely understand if you are hesitant to regather. We completely understand if you refrain from regathering for a time. No one will think ill of you. No one will judge or shame you. As we await a more suitable time of return, we will commit to praying for you, keeping you ‘in the loop’, and attending to the care of your souls.
You will not be forgotten or neglected. Your elected leaders will see to it! And we are confident the whole body will follow suit! Church, what an opportunity to get creative, to expand our arsenal of Christian hospitality, service, and care; to think beyond the Lord’s Day gathering to how we might extend fellowship and relief to every day to every one of our members; to be the church.
Common sense. Beloved, wash your hands a lot. If you or anyone in your family happen to get sick, stay home. Don’t ‘brave it.’ Love the church by staying home. What’s written just above applies here also.
Families with children. Our plan for the children is a bit more phased. For at least the first few weeks of regathering, corporate worship will be family worship, like those fifth Sundays. Again, families will sit together, parents and children. As far as infants go, we will not be having nursery until further notice. Our suggestion is that dad or mom keep infant in the cafe area. This will keep infants from swapping germs, ideally restricting them to their parents. We will broadcast the service to the television in the cafe area for viewing.
We know that this might be the most difficult service of all, but it will help the service, confine the germs and, Lord willing, only be short-term. You parents are awesome! We love you! Our hope, then, is that after a few weeks, as we head into mid-summer, the older kids can begin to resume normal activities during corporate worship. At first, this will be done outside on or around the basketball court. We will be working with Amy to make sure this can be done safely, securely, profitably, and with parent approval. While children are in service, we will also continue to put together packets to profit their heart’s attention.
Small groups. As we begin to regather for corporate worship, we will begin to regather for our small groups. Again, if you’re uncomfortable with that, we understand. Grace to you. But as the days grow longer and hotter, there will be greater opportunity for resuming these studies outside if deemed most prudent.
In the event that one of our members contracts the virus, we will of course suspend all gatherings for at least 3 weeks. Let’s pray that doesn’t happen. Let’s pray that our merciful Father will preserve us, soul and body. Let’s pray He does this for our benefit and His glory. I trust you’ve missed corporate worship, gathering with the body, as much, if not more, than I have! Thinking about regathering, even if strangely still for a time, makes me extremely excited and grateful to God! I praise Him that He’s kept us safe to date! I pray He’ll keep us so in the days ahead. Will you join me in that? I know you will!
Now to Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21
It’s with great love and hope and expectation in the Lord that we write these things to you.