August 11, 2021

Dear Friends,

Are you sick of reading about COVID? If so, I apologize in advance. You can skip to the second half of this portion of the newsletter for the latest church-related COVID info.

I was all wrong when it came to predicting what was going to happen with COVID. Like I missed it by a mile.

I remember when I first heard about cases in a nursing home in Washington state. The news media was sounding the alarm and (I thought) blowing the whole thing way out of proportion. After all, that’s their specialty. They have a pretty decent track record of hyping stories and stoking fear. This will pass, I thought. When we stopped meeting in person in March of 2020, I expected we’d be gathering again in time for Easter. Instead, we didn’t meet for the next two months.

It didn’t pass as I thought it would. And it hasn’t passed yet.

As you know from the news, the Delta variant has brought a new wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Here in Arkansas, numbers continue to jump every day. The Governor said this week that there were only eight open ICU beds in the state. Medical professionals are exhausted. Discouraged. And angry at what many of them see as a preventable situation.

It seems like every other day I’m hearing about a friend with a breakthrough case of COVID. Or about someone who is in quarantine. The young and healthy folks who weren’t particularly concerned about COVID six months ago are more susceptible to the Delta strain. There are more than 20 young patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital with COVID. Three have died in the last week. There is a five week old who has been diagnosed with the disease.

Delta is a game changer. And medical personnel are keeping their eyes on a new variant – the Lambda variant – that is beginning to show up in the US (not in Arkansas yet). We don’t know yet what the impact of the Lambda variant may be – how contagious, how infectious, how the vaccine will handle it… or not.

So with the uncertainty, the unknown and unknowable, and the mixed bag of “information” circulating from sources that filter the “facts” through an agenda, sources we used to think were trustworthy until it became clear they aren’t, we’re left trying to decide if we need to wear a mask or not, if we should get the vaccine or not, if it’s safe to go to the store or the park or to church…

Which brings us to where we are today. With case rates spiking and with hospital beds filling and with the vaccine available immediately for anyone over 12 who is inclined to be vaccinated, we find ourselves as a church wanting to provide a safe and healthy environment for corporate worship while we try to honor and respect the different decisions and choices people are making when it comes to masking and being vaccinated.

Here’s how we will proceed at church for the foreseeable future, as we continue to cry out to God for deliverance from COVID.

For those who choose to wear a mask to church, you are welcome to sit wherever you like in the worship center. We are reserving the south seating area (the seating nearest the parking lot) for those who are masked.

If you are unmasked and sit in the south seating area, we will ask you to relocate as a courtesy to those who want to exercise care and caution in coming to church.

If you see someone wearing a mask, please be careful to keep an appropriate distance from them as a precautionary measure.

We are removing chairs from the worship center to further spread the distance between worshippers. And we are cancelling all planned meal events for now.

We had been planning a Potluck and an Ice Cream Social for August 29. While activities planned for that day will happen, we will gather without food. Same for the First Tuesday | Men’s Gathering on September 7. We’ll skip the dinner portion of the get together and meet at 7:00 for our discussion that night.

Small group leaders will decide if they will require masks for group meetings. Some groups will be mask optional when they meet. Others will ask all group members to mask up. If you’re not comfortable with a group leader’s decision about masks, Pastor Matt can help you connect with a different small group when the groups begin to regather in September.

Any of these plans may change, based on the guidance and direction we receive from State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha and the Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero. But for now, we’re asking everyone to respect each other’s choices about how we decide to respond to the spike in COVID cases in our state.

Finally, let me remind you again of a few passages from scripture that I hope you will meditate on as you continue to ask God for direction about how He would have you respond to the circumstances we’re facing in our current moment.

First, Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

James 4:11: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.”

James 5:9: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”

Philippians 4:4–7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 4:1–3: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What we’ve been calling a pandemic (“a disease that is prevalent over a whole country or the whole world”) is now becoming an endemic (“a disease or condition regularly found among a particular people or in a certain area”).

In other words, COVID isn’t going away any time soon. Let’s all continue to ask God to give us the grace we need to walk rightly with Him through this long season. Our first First Tuesday | Men’s Gathering will happen as planned on Tuesday night, September 7 at 7pm at church. Our focus that evening will be on how we can think rightly about our jobs – our vocations – as followers of Jesus. We’ll be connecting via Zoom with Dr. Stephen Nichols that evening. Steve is the President of Reformation Bible College in Orlando, FL and is the author of a helpful booklet called What Is Vocation.

There is no pre-meeting reading required. But for those who are interested, you can download this list of books, articles and podcasts on the subject to help you start engaging with the topic before we meet. Are you considering joining us for the 2022 Holy Land Tour? If so, please take a minute, click here, and complete a simple three question survey to help us know more about what you’re thinking.

Once again, you can click here for all the details. And as I’ve said, if you even think you’re interested, apply for your passport now. It’s taking as long as 18 weeks to get your passport approved or renewed. You can find out more about applying here.

Long before He arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ soul was in anguish about what He knew He was ahead for Him. What can we learn from how Jesus responded when His soul was downcast that can help us when we are facing hardship and trials?

We’ll continue in John 12 this Sunday.

See you in church.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Bob

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