Dear beloved TMC,
As I’m sure you’re aware, our world is in the middle of a pandemic. There is a coronavirus called SARS Covid-2 tragically making its way through the global population, producing in the infected the disease now known as COVID-19. It is a respiratory disease. As of March 11, it’s spread to more than 115 countries, resulting in 126,300 cases (N).
Of these cases, 90% have produced only minor conditions. Almost, 4,700 people have died worldwide, mostly outside of the US. The New England Journal of Medicine projects a 1% mortality rate when all is said and done. For comparison, the now ‘common’ flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%. It also has a vaccination, whereas this strain of the coronavirus does not. It is mostly acute in it’s aggravations amongst the elderly and the immuno-compromised.
Coronavirus is transmitted through small droplets of liquid from coughs or sneezes, and by touching things these droplets have touched. It enters the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes, and has an incubation period between 2-14 days. The longer incubation period is particularly troubling. It gives folks license to move around for nearly two weeks without any symptoms when, unfortunately, they’ve been carriers of the virus to, potentially, anyone they’ve been around.
For this reason, the informed powers that be are calling for social distancing. The idea, well-proven by graphs from the Spanish flu of 1918, is that the sooner the general populace takes appropriate precautions, the greater likelihood that the virus will be relatively contained and lives spared. The other consideration in this is that we only have so many hospital beds and ventilators in the US. If by negligence, we let the virus spike, hospitals will be overrun, and the fallout will be devastating.
THE MOUNT’S RESPONSE
After consultation with other area pastors, we will be canceling corporate worship in our regular meeting space through the end of March. That includes tomorrow, Sunday, March 15, Sunday, March 22, and Sunday, March 29. Know that we are closely monitoring the situation, so that if at any time the situation changes for the better, this decision can and will be amended. Likewise, if it continues to worsen, we will have to extend this suspension. At the present hour, however, this route seems to be most wise and charitable to one another and our broader community.
THE PLAN MOVING FORWARD
Your elders will be meeting this Tuesday to further address our response as a church to this pandemic, hopefully, with greater light being shed upon it in the coming days. More immediately, in consideration of the age of those who most consistently serve in our Clothes Closet, it’s deemed best that this service to our broader community also be suspended indefinitely. It also seems to be wisest to rescind our participation in DNOW, as well as cancel our discipleship quarterly scheduled for the evening of Sunday, March 29. We will also be suspending the non-church specific women’s study on Tuesday evenings.
Here are some further, initial thoughts in light of this two-week suspension of corporate worship:
- The suspension of corporate worship is not the suspension of ‘church.’ It’s the suspension of the church’s larger corporate gathering, but we, as the church, will continue to exist and act as such, however creatively during this suspension. In other words,
- We will make ways to gather, to hold community, to pray together, to hear the Word preached, to disciple and care for one another in such a way that, Lord willing, we can reconvene without having skipped a beat in our Gospel life and ministry together. Praise God for electronic means of grace! We will seek to at least record sermons to be sent out to the body on the Lord’s Day.
- Even in the event of a suspension of corporate worship, we will likely still continue our smaller group gatherings, our men’s and women’s studies, our youth gatherings, and our mid-week prayer meeting, again, applying the love of precautionary measures. Let’s just be prudent, discerning, and charitable with respect to and in these gatherings. Take exceptional measures of love, especially in exceptional times. During this time, these studies will occur as regularly scheduled, but be moved out of homes and into the church building.
- Use any time away from the priority of corporate worship (Heb 10:24-25) to do what we should always be doing—reconnect with other priorities that we might’ve neglected, i.e., family worship, loving our spouses, missional parenting, biblical Christianity over against the more cultural version, etc.
- Rest assured that your elders and deacons will be in regular communication about needs within the body and how we can best provide the holistic care each one of us needs in Christ. Again, most immediately, be advised to wash, wash, wash your hands with soap and water—for at least 20 seconds! It’s not in the Bible, but in this case we might even say that ‘cleanliness really is next to godliness.’ It’s hard, I know, I’ve tried, but work on not touching your face. Disinfect objects and surfaces regularly. And for a season, try your best to avoid close contact with people who are ill.
SOME SPIRITUAL COUNSEL
In view of these uncharted waters, I do also want to briefly bring the Word to bear upon it:
- Neither fear, nor be anxious (Lk 12:22-34; Phil 4:6-7). Church, at the end of the day, God is in control of every viral spore in the universe, as well as every hair upon your head. Jesus upholds the universe by the Word of His power (Heb 1:3). All coheres in Him (Col 1:17). More, He is for you. And when He’s for you, many things may be against you (Rom 8:35-39), but no thing ultimately (Rom 8:28, 31, 39). If you’re in Christ, the worst this virus can do is kill you—and deliver you to God’s ‘tearless, painless, graveless’ Land (Rev 21:4). But you can trust that that’s in our God’s Almighty hands. He’s ordained all our days. He’s not threatened by this. Take heart, comfort, and courage in Him (Isa 41:10).
- As this ought to keep us from collapsing all our care upon ourselves, let’s understand how great an opportunity this is to be the God-glorifying salt and light of Jesus to one another and to our broader community. People are scared. They are anxious. Many, maybe even of us, may struggle to stay afloat as schools and businesses close their doors. But their will be struggles. Bearing in mind all the prudence mentioned above, let’s step into those struggles and bear one another’s burdens. Call it the Galatians 6:10 principle. As we discover any member in need, insofar as we can, let love fill it. As we then discover any neighbor in need, insofar as we can, let love meet it. Maybe it’s providing childcare, maybe a meal, maybe counsel, maybe community, maybe room and board, maybe all of the above but, as biblical Christianity has historically done, let’s step into need with the cross-bearing, self-sacrificial love of Jesus.
- Related to this, let’s take opportunity by tragedy to obey the Great Commission (Mt 28-16-20). People are going to have questions. In conversations with some, there’s already an openness to the sort of talk that lends itself to the Gospel. That door will open wider if and when the trial grows and we are yet distinct from the world in ultimate hope, in grieving with hope, in helping others to our own hurt, like Jesus. Let’s walk through it in the vein of Colossians 4:5-6.
- Let’s pray (1 Tim 2:1-4). Let’s pray that our God would quickly end this pandemic, that the spread would be slowed, that the sick would be healed, that hospitals would be able to serve at capacity, that medical professionals would be given grace in the best application of their craft, that others would find a suitable cure at miraculous speed, that the racism against Asian-Americans, recently revived because of this, would be quickly quenched in favor of love, and that this global trial would yield it’s God-ordained fruit. That many would be saved from their sins, and that the church global, but particularly in the US, and even our own local body, would be awakened and revived out of any spiritual stupor that’s hindered our zeal for the glory of Christ and universal faithfulness to His Word and Gospel.
- It’s likely to be harder to worship God in giving. Provide for your families, no doubt. But don’t let fiscal tightness or the suspension of corporate worship tighten up or suspend the heart for giving to the church’s ministry of the Gospel. Let’s take the Macedonian church as our example (2 Cor 8:1-9)! Then, further, continue to discern needs in the area that you might be able to meet. In the coming days, I plan to reach out to other churches and community centers to learn of ways in which we can be of help to those who are hurting around us.
- Apply Job’s faith. ‘Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive calamity?’ Both types of providence are gifts from God, however distinct they feel to us. Remember God’s purpose in what we’ve been covering—it’s to show that saving faith will endure the greatest trials because God Himself has given it and He sustains it. And that this brings Him glory, displays it before all the cosmos—that He is truly enough for us! See the breath that is our life, the vanity that is so much of our idolatry, and get back to using our ‘breath’ according to it’s divine purpose—in treasuring our eternal God in Christ by the Spirit above all else!
Heavenly Father, we pray for wisdom from above in these days. Help us to know how best to proceed as Your people, how best to live for Your glory. Give us a great degree of charity towards one another as we make difficult decisions that impact our typical rhythms as a church. Enable our hearts to swell with cross-beholding love for one another. Make us rich in grace towards outsiders. Bless our efforts at impacting our community for it’s greater good, as well as it’s greatest good in Jesus. End this pandemic. Accomplish Your purpose. Draw near to the distressed. Be present with Your people. Save the lost. Build Your church. Edify The Mount, refining us to more brightly reflect Your glory in this world. We ask this and so much more, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
As you have any need, know that I will continue to frequent my office at the church building, while continuing a steady presence on Slack, Facebook, and my phone. Love to each of you in our risen and reigning Lord until, in His mercy, we’re able to gather together as a whole body again in the worship of Him,
Brian (on behalf of your elders)