From the Pastor: Love Often Demands Sacrifice

November 23, 2020

Members and friends,

A colleague in ministry well expressed what life is like these days: It feels like we’re living in a soap opera jam-packed with over-the-top plot twists. As if the challenges of the past eight months haven’t been enough, COVID-19 cases again are on the rise, health-care workers are stressed to the breaking point, local and area hospitals are near or at capacity, and some Iowa schools are moving instruction fully online. No thanks to self-quarantining, working from home, and physical distancing, emotional fatigue is running as rampant as the coronavirus itself. Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.

Throughout these anxious times, the elders and I have framed our daily prayers and honest conversations around a biblical, faith-based question: How is God calling us to love, serve and care for one another during this pandemic? God’s answers to our prayers led us to establish a health and safety plan that, among other things, encouraged mask-wearing and physical distancing during our in-person gatherings. When infections recently spiked, we amended our plan to mandate mask-wearing whenever we are physically together as a congregation.

Your compliance with our church’s health and safety protocols demonstrates sacrificial love and caring service to the saints of our congregation and our neighbors in the community. The elders and I are grateful for the power of the Holy Spirit that’s led you to witness to your faith so strongly. On behalf of the elders, I reach out to you today with word of yet another faithful sacrifice that we believe the Lord is calling us to make.

Led by the Spirit and in the response to desperate pleas from civil authorities, medical professionals, and public-health officials to limit public gatherings, we are suspending in-person worship for at least the next two Sundays – November 29 and December 6. We are among several local congregations that have enacted similar suspensions. At our regular monthly meeting on December 8, the elders and I will re-evaluate this difficult-but-steadfast decision. The status of COVID-19 infections at that time will determine if we lift or continue the suspension. We also will explore possibilities for safe celebration of Christmas Eve worship.

The elders and I well understand that our decision might be hard to accept. Some will regard it as an unnecessary step too far. For those with that viewpoint, please know that I respect your right to feel as you do. And I ask that you offer the same consideration to those of us whom God has called to lead this congregation and care for its members and friends. Always remember that God unites and evil divides, and I invite you to stand on the divine side of that equation.

Now more than ever is the time to shun careless misinterpretation of Scripture. I’m reminded that none of the Bible’s calls to “fear not” intends to shame or embarrass believers into “proving their faith” by ignoring science and minimizing a very-real threat. Jesus commands his followers to “never put God to the test” by taking careless risks and expecting the Lord’s protection. We all are praying fervently for God to free us from COVID’s relentless grip, and I more and more believe that curtailing and suspension of public gathering – along with mask-wearing, hand-washing, and physical distancing – are among the Lord’s answers to our prayers.

Recognizing that our decision to suspend in-person activities further strains the ties that bind, I invite you to continue tuning into the channels we’ve established to nurture your faith and maintain connection:

  • Our website, FirstPresWaukon.com, will continue offering my weekly sermons in text and audio formats. The site also offers church news and announcements.
  • The weekly and monthly editions of our PresbyUpbeats newsletter provides my additional pastoral reflection on Scripture, celebration of congregational joys, sharing of our concerns, and other information of interest to you and others.
  • If you’re active on Facebook, watch your news feed for posts from our church.
  • To accommodate those who work during the day, I am moving my online Wednesday Bible study to 6:30 p.m. The first evening study will be held December 2. Email me at grantvandervelden@gmail.com or instant-message me on Facebook for instructions on how to log-in using Zoom.
  • The deacons and I remain at your service if you need prayer, pastoral care, or help dealing with COVID or other challenges. Please do not hesitate to reach out any time.

If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us to be adaptive and resilient – qualities that lie at the heart of the apostle Paul’s message of resurrection hope: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

As you’ll discover in the Advent devotional that all members and friends will be receiving via postal mail, we are people who dream. The characters of Advent and Christmas – John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, the shepherds and the Magi – are all dreamers. They receive, discover and respond to God’s dreams. In Advent, we step into the mystery and awe of God’s dreams and pray they shape our reality.

Let’s dedicate Advent 2020 to dreamers: those who dream of a deeper connection with God, those who dream of a better world, those who dream of comfort and relief, those who’ve abandoned their dreams, those whose dreams have been crushed, and those who show us that dreams both human and divine take time to become reality.

May the Holy Spirit of Christ keep us joined together as people of God who seek and sow the Lord’s dreams for his ever-changing and -evolving Creation.

Stay safe, be well!

Pastor Grant

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