Moving to Phase 2
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -- John 1:1-5
For all eternity God has existed as three Persons of the Trinity, in perfect relationship and communion with one another. Community is a part of His very nature. As those created in the image of our great God our nature bears the same mark. We were not meant to be alone, but rather in community and communion with others that bear the same nature as their creator. In God’s infinite wisdom He created a world in which the primary way that believers are to receive His common means of grace (prayer, preaching of the Word, and the sacraments) is in the context of the embodied church.
At the same time we are finite creatures living in bodies that suffer the effects of the Fall, namely disease and death. Even as those dearly loved and elect of God we are not immune to the effects of sin on this world. We currently face the realities of those effects on a global scale as we adjust every portion of our life in response to the pandemic that is COVID-19. This very directly affects what it means for NCEL to function as the bride of Christ. All the way back in March, as a response to the realities of this pandemic, the Session established a COVID-19 Response Task Force to assist us as a church in planning and executing a responsible plan for managing the ministries of the church in light of the dangers of COVID-19. That Task Force developed the Phased Plan under which we are currently operating and we are extremely grateful to them for the thoughtfulness and care that they put into this plan.
It is in the tension of these two realities that the Session of NCEL and our COVID-19 Response Task Force have spent much thought, prayer, and debate. We fully recognize the spiritual and emotional needs of our flock to receive the means of grace as a corporate body while also recognizing that it is unsafe, and in fact unloving, for us to pretend that COVID-19 does not exist and to quickly return to a pre-pandemic definition of normal. Brothers and sisters, please know that we do not take this tension lightly and have truly wrestled with its implications.
I offer you this introduction in order to let you know that in light of this struggle the Session has chosen to move our church from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of our Phased Plan, with some additions to that phase that I will explain in a moment. You will notice if you looked at our Phased Plan that each phase has an indicator for when to move to the next phase. The primary indicator is the 7-day average of new cases in Hamilton County seeing a steady drop over a number of weeks. If you have paid attention to the numbers in Hamilton County you will quickly realize that we have not met the conditions of this indicator. Our decision to change phases despite not meeting our indicators is in no means an indication that we don’t believe in the plan as laid out or that we are going to ignore our indicators moving forward. This is entirely a recognition of the needs of our flock to receive the common means of grace in the context of embodied community.
If you look at Phase 2 of our plan you will see it calls for corporate worship to continue to be virtual only, but allows for small groups of 15 or fewer to gather together following certain well-defined protocols. As I mentioned above, the Session has voted to make a modification to this phase. That modification is that we intend to allow those 15 or fewer people to participate in the recording of our worship services, following all of the guidelines for in-person worship that are established in the Phase 3 protocols.
There are a great number of implications to this change. First of all, the number of participants in a given worship service remains very small. When all those involved in producing our service are counted (pastors, musicians, sound, video, etc.) Phase 2 will only allow for a handful more to participate, which we fully understand. Therefore, the implication is that the vast majority of our body will continue to participate in the worship service in the same way that we have for the past few months, i.e. virtually, though hopefully many of us will be able to rotate through and participate fully in an in-person worship service. Even in the future, when we move to Phase 3, and Lord willing, eventually move beyond that we will continue to value the members of our congregation who are unable to attend worship in-person. For this reason we are committed to ensuring that by all means possible the virtual presentation of our worship service remains at a high quality. Even as we move forward to meet the needs of those who are able to worship with us in person we do not want to leave behind and forget those who are unable to participate in this way.
A second implication of this change will perhaps be more noticeable to those who continue to worship with us virtually. As we increase the number of participants in our worship service and solidify our safety protocols you will begin to see some changes. More care will be given to distancing and mask-wearing, especially while singing, as is called for by the Phase 3 protocols. For the purpose of loving those for whom English is not their first language the speakers will not be wearing masks but will be further distanced from the rest of the participants in the service, who will be wearing their masks. We recognize that wearing masks is often burdensome but we are also committed to following the medical advice as laid out by our Task Force as the most effective means of loving and caring for the physical well-being of our congregation while together.
Another difficult implication of the Phase 3 protocols is physical distancing for those who are participating in the worship service. We recognize that this will be especially difficult for a congregation such as ours that loves each other well and loves to hug and be near to one another. However, in this instance loving well means staying distant.
So now that you have heard the tension that your Session is wrestling through, heard our plans for moving forward, and heard some of the implications of these plans what remains is to pray and consider what is best for you and your family. Pray for the Lord’s continued protection over us all. Pray for wisdom for the Session as we continue to wrestle with the needs of our congregation. Pray for the Lord’s guidance on your own life and that He will continue to provide for all of your needs, both physically and spiritually. Pray for wisdom for you and your family as you weigh your physical and spiritual needs and whether those can be served by participating in the in-person worship services, given the protocols that will have to be followed. Above all, pray that God would receive the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, (Eph. 3:21) because He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). Ask great things of your God, hope in His goodness, and rejoice in His steadfast love which endures forever.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to reach out to any member of the Session. We would be glad to help in any way we are able.
On behalf of the Session of NCEL