Revelation 14:12 (ESV) Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Dear Family and Friends of Union Church,
I am often asked, because of my skinny frame and lack of body fat, if I am a runner. Apart from chasing my grandson, Avery, which I do with joy, I am not a runner in the sense of regular distance running. (I have simply been blessed with good metabolism!) Consequently, I have never had the pleasure (is that the right word?) of running a marathon. However, I understand from testimony by those who have run the Pittsburgh marathon, that there are some killer hills involved! The worst being a slow, gradual climb, in the middle of the race, that feels like it will never end!
Could there be a more fitting metaphor for the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic? This summer was like hitting a nice, level stretch of the race – beautiful weather, the opportunity to be outdoors, lower infection rate…then came the fall months. It feels like we hit a steady climb that is never going to end. Now, with new restrictions announced by Governor Wolf and health experts, in the midst of Advent and two weeks before Christmas no less, the slope just got steeper. It is not only about the ways that each of us are personally challenged by the current rise in the infection rate. It is also about our neighbors who are essential workers, the healthcare workers who are working long hours with no end in sight. It is about the loss of jobs, income and impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable in our society. It is about the families who have lost loved ones to the virus. The country has now, for several days straight, lost as many lives each day as were lost on 9/11. That fact alone feels like the burning of the lungs, and the pain in the leg muscles as the runner keeps pushing up the steady slope, spurred on only by the certain hope that there is a finish line!
Endurance is a major theme in The Revelation of John. We’ll be dwelling on that theme this Sunday in worship, and the timing could not be better. We need now, more than ever, to be encouraged by the irrevocable and undeniable promises of the Triune God that our victory is secured and that our faith in Jesus Christ will not disappoint! There is a finish line, and not simply an end to this pandemic. There is a larger storyline in play. I invite you to read through Revelation 14 in anticipation of worship this Sunday. Pay attention to the ways that John’s vision, found in that chapter, grounds the call to endurance. The Holy Spirit speaks these words, not as a shot in the dark, but because the Lord God, Almighty, reigns! I encourage you to find hope in that truth, even as we join our hearts in prayer for our friends, neighbors and community.
Given the new restrictions announced by Governor Wolf yesterday, in consultation with the Session, we have decided to suspend in-person worship, beginning this Sunday, December 13, at least through January 3, 2021. We do so for the health and safety of our church family as well as the well-being of our healthcare workers, healthcare system, and neighbors. We will continue to worship online via the Union Church YouTube channel. This week will be a Live Stream. We will most likely move to a pre-recorded worship for the following weeks, including Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve online will include both the early Family Service, as well as the traditional candlelight service. We’ll provide further details about Christmas Eve worship next week.
I also encourage you to remember the needs of our mission partners and ongoing ministry at Union. The Mission Team will be at the main church entrance again this Sunday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., to receive in-person donations for the Guatemala baskets, and gift cards and gifts for the Angel Tree and Bradley Center. You may also make year-end contributions online or via regular mail.
Friends, let’s push on toward the goal that lays before us, and by faith anticipate the victor’s crown! We run the race together – may the Spirit of the Lord God, Almighty, sustain you now and in the days to come!
Dear Union Church Family,
First, I couldn’t be more proud of the way that our church family has responded to the COVID-19 challenge. You guys have trusted our Heavenly Father and have not succumbed to fear. You’ve loved each other and your neighbors beautifully by heeding the authorities and shar- ing lavishly of your time and resources. You’ve not only participated in online worship, but you’ve spread the word to your family and friends so that our online viewing numbers have been far better than expected. Keep up the great work, Union! You are a wonderful church to lead and serve. I love Union Church and I love each of you.
Like you I am anxious for us to return to everything lovely about gathered worship. Radiant greetings as we park our cars and head inside, joy in our brand new entryway, visiting with our “pew buddies,” watching the sanctuary fill up with old friends and visitors. Seeing the familiar faces of our choir and praise team as they lead us in worship. Meeting Jesus in heartfelt prayer and being challenged by the power of the preached Word. And then exiting to warm hugs, chil- dren running around— and yes, sometimes even donuts! So, when will we begin the march back toward this kind of Sunday bliss? Well, the hard truth is that this will be a very slow and mea- sured return back to “normal.” In fact, studies I have read tell us to expect that at least 25% of you will not be ready to come back to in-person worship even when we do open our doors.
Our plan, after conferring as Session and staff, considering the local situation and listening to our governor and health experts alike, is to proceed as follows:
On Sunday, June 14th, we will resume sanctuary worship through the remainder of 2020 at 9:00 (Contemporary) and 11:00 (Traditional) and continue online worship as well. For the time be- ing our nursery care, as well as the discipleSHIP children’s ministry will be temporarily suspend- ed. However, we will continue to offer special family fun nights and activities throughout the summer.
Our target number for worship is 100 people in the sanctuary per service, with Fellowship Hall serving as our “overflow” space. We simply ask you to enter through the new main entrance, space yourselves out as either individuals or families at a reasonable distance, and then exit through the old entrances.
Those 65 and older, or those with compromised immunity or other health issues and those who are uncomfortable attending for any reason are encouraged to continue worshiping online, though we are certainly not forbidding you to come. During this slow on-ramp toward “normalcy,” congregants should feel free to continue online worship with no stigma attached. Sanctuary worship isn’t to be regarded as more faithful or obedient behavior. In fact, the choice to stay home may be the wise and obedient choice for many of you.
The resumption of sanctuary worship will be accomplished by a number of safeguards. Heightened cleaning protocols will be practiced before, after and in-between services. There will be no greeting time in the worship service, no passing of the offering plates or attendance pads, and extra care will be exercised in the serving of the Lord’s Supper. Additionally, there will be no hymnals or bulletins used in the service. This information will be displayed on the screen and/or disseminated electronically.
Again, we will urge the keeping of a reasonable distance in seating and in pre/post service inter- action. For now, we’ll have to learn that it’s okay to just smile and wave to one another! No food or coffee will be served for the remainder of 2020. For the time being, the wearing of masks is required for everyone, especially so for those who wish to join in congregational singing. What we emphasize most strongly is that if you or anyone in your family is sick (with any communicable illness), that you not come to worship or bring your children.
Brothers and sisters — we like our plan. It’s simple, sensitive and safe. But that’s all it is… a plan. It’s based on what we know in the early days of June. We all know the COVID-19 situation could improve or deteriorate any day. Thus, depending on the guidance of wise counselors and much prayerful deliberation, we will continue to alter the plan as circumstances dictate.
Let me remind you, this COVID-19 crisis is a gospel opportunity. Do some good reading. Meet a neighbor you don’t know. Share more liberally. Write a text to build someone up. Guard your mind and heart from toxic political bickering, and pray for the healing of this broken and hurting world.
Enjoy God and be amazed that He enjoys you! Blessings and see you soon! (For real!!!) Pastor Billy