Please take a moment and watch this important update from Pastor David
On Tuesday evening, May 5th, I shared the above video update with our congregation. For those who have not had a chance to watch, you can simply click the graphic above.
What follows is a written summary of that presentation.
Today I want to share the next steps we intend to take as we move into the next phase of this temporary season that we find ourselves in.
In the days following the weekend of March 15th, I shared with you that three words would be guiding us in every decision we faced in the challenging days to follow.
Those words were,
- Caution – We are going to make decisions based on wisdom rather than fear.
- Connection – In every way possible, we will invest ourselves in staying connected to one another.
- Commitment – We will continue to be faithful to Christ, to the mission we share and the community we serve.
Today, I want to add two additional values to these three words. I know these will not come as a surprise. They are values we hold as a church that you already know, but they are worth highlighting today.
We believe that ALL MEANS ALL.
We believe that all are equal parts of the body that is the First United Methodist Church of Mansfield. Every person matters to God and all are welcome regardless of where they may find themselves on their journey of becoming and maturing as a disciple of Jesus.
We believe that a “leading church” has a responsibility to lead.
In challenging times, it’s important to remember who you are and who we are together. You are a leading church in our community and beyond our community. That fact is not a byproduct of who I am as your pastor, but who you are and have been since 14 families formed our church in 1885.
At times we might lose sight of the tremendous influence that we have, but we are reminded that others are looking to us. We have a responsibility to protect the health of our community.
We are accountable in the way we honor the work of our elected leaders and our public health officials by ensuring that we are modeling the direction they have given to protect the health of all and ultimately move us beyond this challenging season.
With all of these values in mind, our executive staff has spent the last several weeks discussing potential scenarios that we might face as we anticipated the release of additional information from our leaders.
That information has now been made public in the Governor’s Report to Open Texas. Let me take a moment to simply encourage you to read this document which you can find at this link.
This is one of the ways we say thank you for the great work that our elected leaders and health officials have done on our behalf.
On pages 39 – 41 of this report you will find the “minimum health protocols” for houses of worship.
I want to highlight just a few things that are outlined in this portion of the report.
First, it urges all houses of worship to strongly urge those who are within vulnerable segments of the population to continue participating remotely rather than participating in public gatherings. It’s also significant to note that those within this segment of the population are more broadly defined by an individual’s age. Those over the age of 65 are included but it also includes individuals of all ages who have certain medical conditions that put them at an increased risk to the COVID-19 virus.
Secondly, here’s a quick outline of what it would look like for us to have a public gathering in our main sanctuary with the procedures that are outlined.
- Maximum capacity for those gatherings would be approximately 200-225 participants.
- We would need an intentional process defined for how participants are gathered and dismissed from the worship space. (Think about a line of individuals and families appropriately spaced apart from one another following one way directions into the space to be seated and dismissed in this same way.)
- To accommodate max capacity we would need to do at least three things.
- Assign people to attend certain service times.
- Count individuals at the door where they enter.
- Turn away any who have come when max capacity has been reached.
After prayerful consideration and discussion by our pastors and staff as well as our Executive Lay Leadership team, here is what we have determined.
Asking some to gather while urging others to stay home is inconsistent with our value that “all means all.”
Hosting public gatherings according to the minimum health protocols offered by our Governor are simply not conducive to the unique size and setting of our church and the services we normally provide.
It would be a disservice to the work of our leaders and inconsistent with our understanding of the responsibility that we bear to move forward without the confidence that we could be faithful to the standards and procedures we have been given.
So, where do we go from here?
First, I want to one, ensure that our entire church knows that our ultimate goal is for our entire church to be able to safely gather together again.
That is our ultimate destination. This is where we are heading, and we believe that we have identified a direction that will enable us to continue moving forward towards that ultimate goal.
We believe that God is moving in the midst of these difficult circumstances. We know that monumental movements of the Spirit happen during monumental moments in human history. We are living in such a time and we believe that we just might be on the brink of seeing a movement of God unlike any other than any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.
And to that end, we believe that God has provided a vision for our church to take another step forward focused on doing more than survive this season. We believe God desires to see the church thrive in the face of challenge.
That vision is that during the next phase of this season is to be, A Church of 1000 House Churches.
Let me unpack three components of this vision.
First, we will continue participating in worship together in our current online format.
Our current format enables us to continue reaching the broadest audience possible. It enables us each weekend to make a connection with the many who are searching right now for hope. Continuing in this direction also enables us to direct the energy of our staff and available volunteers towards providing an excellent online worship experience instead of the work of assigning people to service times, identifying and refining procedures for gathering and “policing” those who choose to participate in a public gathering.
Instead of doing for church for our church, we believe this is the best model for us to be faithful in our mission of being the church for a hurting world.
Secondly, it means encouraging individuals and families to form “house church” communities.
Let me first define what we mean by that term.
A house church is simply a small group of people that is connecting together to participate in worship and experience community with one another.
This might look like:
- A group of individuals, couples or families who live in the same neighborhood physically gathering together in a living room or backyard setting. This might also take the form of families joining together with extended family members in the same way.
- Instead of a geographical connection, these groups might form around existing relationships formed with others you have met in worship, a Sunday school class, a small group, or others you have met through volunteer or service opportunities.
We expect that these groups will form slowly and gather in various settings. Some of those settings will be a physical space. Others will begin intentionally connecting with others through a digital platform. Some may begin meeting digitally and as those within the group feel more comfortable, they might transition to a physical gathering.
The purpose of these communities is to rebuild connection and community within our church from the “bottom up” rather than the “top down.” It recognizes that smaller is safer, more flexible, and can be customized to the needs and comfort level of those within each house church community.
Together, in this second component of this vision, we want to move forward slowly, carefully and prayerfully.
The third component is for our pastors and staff to focus our work around encouraging, resourcing, and equipping these house church communities.
This work includes all that we are currently doing and much more. It means helping to facilitate these connections, providing additional resources to build community in these smaller settings as well as empowering parents to be even more directly invested in their children and student’s faith life during this temporary season.
Before I share a final word, there are three things I want to ask you do to help your church move forward.
Establish your church.
I want to encourage you to adopt this as your focus over the course of the next 3-4 weeks. In this, I want you to think about yourself as a participant in worship rather than a consumer in worship. Actively engage. Open your Bible, sing, say the Lord’s Prayer out loud.
Claim the space in which you are participating in worship as sacred space. Whether that is the couch in your living room, your kitchen table or your backyard, see it as the very place where you might encounter Christ at work in your life.
Make your participation in one of our online worship experiences a non-negotiable for you each week. Treat it as an appointment you cannot miss. Lean in.
This is all I want to ask you to focus on in the coming weeks as we live into this vision.
Invite Others In.
The second step will be the work of inviting others to gather together. I will share more about this step in the coming weeks, but this is a critical one. Some will be more comfortable than others in taking this step. We can all prepare for this by talking with our loved ones. Ask your spouse, your child or a parent how comfortable they are gathering with others. Pray about that knowing that whatever level of comfort you might have is just fine.
The difficulty of this step for us all will be taking initiative, being honest in sharing with one another, and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us into these connections that will begin the process of rebuilding community from the ground up.
Be the Church.
This is our intended destination in this next phase. Remember, our ultimate goal remains the same. We want to be able to safely gather together again. In the meantime, we want to be the church for one another, and we want to be the church for our hurting world. We want to redirect the longing we have to return to life as it once was to the longing that God has to transform us and reach out to those who may be sincerely searching for the first time.
Here is the final word.
The question that is not answered in any of this is, “when can we gather again?” It’s appropriate for you to feel some disappointment without an answer to this critical question.
It might surprise you, but I want you to know that I share in that sense of disappointment. Uncertainty seems to be the most certain aspect of life right now.
I wish I had an answer for myself. I wish I had an answer for you. But one of the most beneficial learnings I’ve received from great mentors in my life is the importance of appreciating what you do not know.
It is humbling but critical to be able to acknowledge that with others. It is equally important to admit that to yourself. None of us have all the answers.
More importantly, none of us are the answer.
What I can say with confidence is where we are heading and how we will get there. Our ultimate destination is for our entire church to be able to safely gather again. This is where we are heading! We will continue taking steps forward based on the convictions and values I have outlined here.
Remember, God honors those who seek to honor God.
I trust you have experienced that in your own life. I know you have seen it in the lives of others. It is a conviction we see evidence of all throughout the scriptures.
However long it may take us to reach our final destination, what matters most is how we get there.
And the ‘how’ of the Christian life is always ‘by faith.’
We know where we are heading.
We know how we will get there.
We know who is our answer.
I want you to hear how much I appreciate your prayers for our pastors, our staff, our leaders, and myself because we need them. I ask that you would continue in that. Please know if you have any questions about anything I mentioned in the video or in this thought for the week, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pray for your church and that God would continue to sustain us through faith. As we persist in these prayers, know that I continue to give God thanks for you and the incredible honor of serving this incredible church.
I love you and I am proud of you,