Tuesday June 30, 2020
Return and Refresh
Over the past months have begun in person worship and it has been a joy, awkward and strange, but a joy. They are shorter, we don’t shake hands before the service, they are inconvenient, we have asked people to tell us they are coming before they come, they are awkward, we have encouraged wearing masks, we have changed how we do communion, all in an attempt to provide a space for you to feel safe and comfortable to come together and worship the Lord together. And we know, that no matter how safe we can make it, some of our church family will still not come, and we honor and respect that prayerful decision.
We are slowly following the reopening guidelines of St. Louis City in that we did not resume public worship immediately when the stay at home order was lifted. The City approved gatherings to accommodate 50% on June 22 and to 75% on July 6. In light of these changes we will be working towards the following:
No longer will you need to register before coming to worship, we will instead ask that you simply sign in as you come so that we could inform you if some person ever were to report to us that they were unknowingly sick.
We will increase our available seating, using every other pew. This will be still less than 50% seating capacity.
We will still maintain a slightly abbreviated service. We will sing a little more, and reintroduce a few more pieces of the liturgy. Again, our goal in limiting the length of the service is due to the overwhelming research that indicates the best reduction in transmission of this virus is to limit the amount of time you are with other people, and stay home if you are not feeling well.
We will resume offering our Tuesday worship service on the third Tuesday of the month.
We are all learning new social etiquette and social cues, how close should I stand to someone, can we shake hands. Currently, the only social cue we have is those who are wearing masks and those who are not. Yet, this might not mean the same thing to all people. Some might wear a mask out of a general respect of current social expectations and recommendations of the CDC, but would be more than happy to shake your hand. Others are not wearing masks due to the recommendations of the WHO, or for feelings of claustrophobia, or not wanting to provide a false sense of security for themselves, and yet they still what to maintain a 6 ft social distance. In this time of confusion we trust that no one intentionally wants to offend or be unnecessarily cold to any in their church family.
But how can anyone tell what everybody wants?
So, in order to help communicate what level of closeness you are comfortable with, we are providing color coded bracelets that will indicate your preference. We hope that this will help remind others to keep their distance and to give the ability for that desire, to decide cautiously commingle with each other.
Red reminds others that you are physically distancing, and would appreciate others to keep their distance from you
Yellow tells others that you are ok with being close enough to have a conversation, but still do not want to touch anyone.
Green says that you have decided to take on some risk and would like to socialize normally with others who also wear green.
Finally, a few weeks ago I read an article, “10 Reasons to Come Back to Church after COVID-19,” and I offer you my take away from this article as it might apply to our church family. We invite you to return to the gathering of believers in the Timothy church family. We are not just pixels on a TV screen. In the past few months we have seen the blessings of technology, but we have also felt its limitations. No loving couple gladly accepts a “long-distance relationship” as ideal. Neither should a loving church family. We are not independent, but dependent upon each other. The work of the church isn’t mainly for the pastors and leaders. Every believer has spiritual gifts to be used and we all desperately need everyone to be active (Rom 12:4–8; Eph 4:15–16; 1 Pet 4:10–11). When we stay home, we can still listen and give and call and text virtually. But there are many ways we simply can’t serve or encourage or build up Christ’s body unless we’re physically present. And lastly, it is good to greet one another. The letters of the New Testament end with encouragement for the believers to greet one another. Greetings aren’t merely saying hello. Greetings are a holy act. Christian greetings are the reconciling power of Gospel. A joyful greeting reminds us that we have a joy in Christ. Greeting children and those different than us and outside our normal social circle tells the world that God and so we, show no partiality. Even when we avoid giving someone a greeting, that reminds us that we need to resolve our conflicts. Every greeting reflects God’s love, reunites Christ’s body, enables hospitality, cultivates selflessness, and bears witness to the God who’s welcomed us through Christ. Even if these greetings are masked, touchless, and distanced, they’re still life-shaping events. As we have been coming back to worship, what has been the most important and celebrated and anticipated thing, not the preaching, but the greeting. We need to see each other.
We understand if you are not able to return to public worship. There are many reasons. And so you may need to continue to participate in a virtual manner. Yet, we pray as the time is right for you, that you will return in person, until all things are new. *
*adapted from “10 Reasons to Come Back to Church after COVID-19” by David Gundersen
Saturday June 6, 2020
In times such as these, we expect to hear from leaders words of hope, encouragement, a call to action, a verdict about what and who is right and who is wrong, and what they will do to fix the problem. Too often, we who are in positions in which our voice is heard above others are too quick to speak.
Recognizing that, I offer humbly what I have been feeling, thinking and talking about with friends, and talking to God about, not only this week, but for a very long time as I wrestle with God about my own conflicting emotions and judgements on violence, oppression, racism, and power. I like to think that I am open-minded and unprejudiced … but I’d be deceiving myself. I still have much to learn about how other people have experienced life. Perhaps you do, too.
I don’t have all the answers. Our church doesn’t have all the answers. Government doesn’t; community leaders don’t. But we serve a God who does.
It is clear throughout Scripture that, in Christ, all the prophecies about the reunification and reconciliation of humanity will eventually find their fulfillment. For through Christ a Kingdom is being established that tears down the idolatrous tribal walls of the world and that reunites and reconciles people together in the love God.
Jesus taught of himself that, when he is “lifted up from the earth” that is, crucified, he will drive out the prince of this world and will draw all people to himself (Jn 12:31-32). The cross that revolts against the powers of darkness also draws people by its beauty and unites them as one in Christ. The angels sing of this in Revelation, that the Lamb is worthy of praise “because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). In Christ, the idolatrous division introduced by the rebellion of the first Adam shall be completely abolished. In Christ, Paul says, “[t]here is neither Jew nor Gentile…” (Gal. 3:28).
Reconciliation, especially racial reconciliation, is anything but a nice addition to the Gospel or political correctness creeping into the church. The reunification and reconciliation of the scattered people of all nations lies at the heart of God’s desire for the world. So, it is at the heart of the Kingdom God has unleashed into the world, and so it is at the heart of what we’re supposed to be about. We can no more refrain from preaching reconciliation than we can refrain from preaching the forgiveness of sins. It really is that serious!
I know these truths, and so do you. But I have a hard time living this truth out. And you might have a hard time, too. I need help in living out the one new humanity Jesus came to create. It is easy and overly simplistic to think that just the right laws, or just the right distribution of power, or just the right leader will attain this goal. Instead, we are called to the more difficult task. We are called to confront the oppressive principalities and powers by our willingness to imitate Jesus and sacrifice our rights and power.
When we manifest the beauty of God’s Kingdom and revolt against the ugly powers that shape our culture, we in one sense can’t help but be profoundly political. Precisely because he was the incarnation of God’s Kingdom, Jesus refused to conform to laws and social norms that were inconsistent with the will and character of God. In doing this, he was making a profound political statement. We are called to do the same and therefore to be political in this same way.
Now, while the Kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), it can never be isolated from the world. Indeed, we are called and empowered by the Spirit to ultimately transform the world. The way we are to do this is not by presenting ourselves as experts on what the broader society should do, or to tell people that my way of living this out is the only “right” way. Instead, we simply bear witness to the Lordship of Christ and the “one new humanity” he is in the process of bringing about. Living out the beauty of a reconciled humanity under the Lordship of Christ, and revolting against the powers that keep humanity fragmented is our unique service to the world. We don’t have to pretend that Christians have uniquely wise solutions to political problems, in order for us to lament with those who are in pain.
To stand against the principalities and powers inevitably involves revolting against the oppressive worldly systems they pollute. It’s just that our unique way of revolting doesn’t involve being co-opted into the political machinery and playing by their rules. Following Jesus’ example, rather, our way of revolting involves refusing to act in ways that kingdom of power people expect, all while manifesting a beautiful, alternative kingdom.
Ultimately, hope for the oppressed, as well as everyone else, doesn’t hang on what political party gets power. It hangs on Christians using the power God has given us. And this isn’t a power we release by voting a particular way every four years. It’s a power we release by how we unite together to manifest God’s love in how we live, and how we sacrificially give ourselves out for those in pain.
So now, I offer just a few thoughts about how we might sacrificially give ourselves out for those in pain.
- Ask God to open our eyes to our own personal blind spots and prejudices (Ps. 139:23).
- Pray that God will give you and I grace to stop pointing at the specks in other people’s eyes, and to humbly see the logs in our own eyes (Matt. 7:1-5). Blaming others immobilizes us; seeing ourselves as responsible human beings who, by God’s grace, can change our choices, invigorates us.
- Pray that God would give you courage to take personal action when you witness unjust or dehumanizing actions.
- Weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15). George Floyd’s family has experienced one of the greatest losses humans can ever know. Their pain is excruciating. In empathy, imagine how you would feel if you were in their place.
- Weep and grieve in the same way for the many other people who are being hurt or killed during these demonstrations, including those police officers who are placing themselves in harm’s way to keep others from harm.
- Pray for former officer Derek Chauvin. He has done something God did not design any of us to do: he has taken a human life. Whatever legal consequence he experiences, the guilt of killing another person is a burden he will have to bear on his conscience for the rest of his life.
- Pray that God would mute the voices and actions of those who would use these events for their own personal advantage or to incite violence, and that he would amplify the voices of those who are holding forth a message of wisdom, non-violence and hope.
- Seek to improve your ability to exercise empathy and compassion toward other people, and teach your children to do the same. It takes deliberate practice over a long period of time to develop these qualities, but they are essential to seeing life through others’ eyes and building authentic understanding and relationship.
- Encourage the Church to continue telling the truth about racism and violence, and what it means to be people shaped by the Gospel.
- Confession of sin and lament are essential practices of Christian worship, and we will make public prayers for the end of racism.
- Communing around the Lord’s table together is a means of grace through which God’s Spirit convicts and encourages us in the way of faithfulness. Receive this grace.
- Remember your Baptism as a vocational call to turn from sin and to give up arrogant ideas of cultural superiority that entrap us all.
- Continue to learn how to pray, listen, and sing in languages and styles that are not our individual own as a gift of God’s Spirit that opens our hearts to each other and so that we might see more deeply the beauty of God.
- Be thankful for the cross-cultural friendships at Timothy. Our unique ministry has not been easy for anyone as our white pastors and leaders have had to learn new ways, and those of different cultures have sacrificed many meaningful ways of prayer and worship. We have all made missteps in cross-cultural communication. Yet, these relationships are worth working for and they can be strengthened by candid and constructive discussions about racism and cultural violence. Seek conversation, understanding and friendship outside your familiar circles. Move beyond superficial conversation by encouraging others to candidly describe life experiences and perspectives that are different from yours. These conversations are a foretaste of the coming kingdom.
- Finally, there is always a temptation to think that paying attention to this for a little while will help us get past it. Instead, realize this is a lifelong posture for every Christian eager to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.