No In-Person Worship Gatherings This Weekend

Hey Church Family,

I hope you’re having a GREAT July 4th weekend! I spent the last week and a half on vacation in Ruidoso, NM and it was hard to leave that cool mountain air. Thanks for your generosity in allowing me some time to get away with my family and relax.

I’m writing because of a hard conversation I just had with our pastoral team. We’ve decided to cancel our in-person worship gatherings for this weekend (and this weekend only.) This was not an easy decision and the reasons that factor into our conclusion are complicated. But this is what we’ve decided to do. Here is WHY we are making this decision.

No “In-Person” Gatherings This Weekend

As you’ve probably seen on the news, COVID-19 cases have drastically increased in the city of Abilene. The latest update (July 3rd) includes 40 new cases and 23 hospitalizations. The vast majority of these new cases are among young people 20-40 years new (as you can see from the graphic below).

Some of these infections include people from our very own congregation. I personally know of two people who have tested positive and are experiencing symptoms such as high fevers, body aches, coughing, etc. One of our members is even being tested for pneumonia due to his extended fight against this virus over the last week. Things are hitting “close to home” and it’s difficult to watch. 

None of these are the reason why we are cancelling our “in-person” gatherings this weekend. They are facts that contributed to the decision but were not themselves sufficient to cancel gathered worship.

The reason we are cancelling our in-person worship gatherings in because of a potential COVID-19 outbreak among our staff.

An Abundance of Caution

Obviously, that’s a shocking statement so let me explain what we’re facing. Last weekend, a person attending our West Campus came down with COVID-19 symptoms shortly after service. That individual later tested positive for COVID-19. That individual also (before being tested) had close and extended contact with someone on our staff. That staff person is now experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms and has undergone a test that is awaiting results.

We won’t have the results for that test until after this weekend (Monday or later.) It’s possible this staff member’s symptoms are just allergies but given their extended exposure to a confirmed case, the dramatic increase in cases and hospitalizations and the extended exposure our staff has had to this potential positive case, there are simply too many uncertainties to move forward with “in person” worship gatherings.

Some may say this abundance of caution is unnecessary. Why not just have church and hope for the best? It’s possible this staff person isn’t infected and therefore our other staff weren’t exposed. It’s possible this is all just an overreaction. I sympathize with that sentiment. That’s basically the way I felt until this staff person started experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms. The truth is, WE JUST DON’T KNOW FOR SURE.

I’d rather take an abundance of caution for ONE weekend until we do know for sure than try and take a risk and someone else in our church get sick because of that. If we had a negative test result for this staff person then the risk would be far lower. The fact that we don’t know one way or the other gives me too little confidence to move forward with gathered worship.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Given that we are cancelling the “in-person” worship gathering this weekend, where do we go from here? 

We will still live-stream a worship service on Sunday morning at 9:45. There will be music and preaching and a time of response. Just because we cannot meet in person doesn’t mean we cannot meet together for worship. We will gather together ONLINE this Sunday morning at 9:45. We will also have a Children’s Worship Service at 9:15. 

You can watch the service on our website, our Church Online Platform, our church Facebook page or on YouTube.

We are also planning to resume our in-person worship gatherings NEXT WEEKEND. As you know, we were very excited about our July 12th kick-off because we were going to restart our preschool and children’s ministry programming. We do not plan to cancel any of these plans. The rise in cases doesn’t mean we can’t continue our reopening plans. We just need to do so with wisdom and care in light of our new reality.

We will discuss, as a staff, the particular changes we need to make in each environment. For now, the only changes we know for sure are the worship service times. Our original plan was to have our traditional service at 8:20 and our contemporary service at 9:45. We thought that would give us enough time to keep people distanced between services. The rise in cases and hospitalizations has caused us to rethink that timing. 

The new meeting times for Sunday morning worship will be 8:30 (traditional) and 10:15 (contemporary).

For now, we are going to discourage small groups meeting on Sunday morning as we cannot ensure the proper social distancing if everybody meets at the same time on Sunday. Instead, groups will be encouraged to meet at other times on campus throughout the week. Once our cases go down we will reassess Sunday morning small groups. 

We will also encourage the use of masks on our campus. If you’ve been joining us for in-person worship gatherings this has always been a recommendation but we’ve been very relaxed about it. Once people have gotten seated in the sanctuary, most of the masks come off. I’ll be doing more research on that in light of the new executive order given by Governor Abbot. The order went into effect at noon today.

You can read the full text of his executive order here. As you can see, religious services are exempted from this new order about wearing face masks but their use is still strongly encouraged. I would encourage you to watch the video of Governor Abbot discussing this order and the uptick in cases. Wearing a face covering really does help to slow the spread of COVID-19. Future times of gathered worship need to take this into consideration (especially during times of increased spread). 

I know this isn’t what anybody wanted to hear. I long for the day when COVID-19 is behind us but that day doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon. I predict this virus is something we are going to have to learn to live with for the foreseeable future. We need to live with wisdom for our own well being and love and concern for the well-being of others. 

Final Thoughts

With all of this being said, I want to sign off by expressing my gratitude for your patience and love during this time. You’ve demonstrated a spirit of perseverance and sacrifice as our church has navigated this season. It’s been a trying time for all of us. You really are a shining example of how to shine the light of Christ to our city during a dark time. I hope you will not grow weary in light of this setback.

Our confidence can remain strong that God is in control and that He is working all of these things together for our good. We need to celebrate the good and wonderful things that God has already done through these days. Tomorrow is the fourth of July. What a great reminder of God’s grace to our country. We are a free and independent people. Let’s celebrate that and use our freedom to further God’s purposes in these trying times.

Now, more than ever, people need to hear about and respond to the freedom that is ours in Christ. Now, more than ever, the Church needs to shine bright the hope of heaven and the promise of eternal life through Jesus. In the words of the apostle Paul, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Corinthians 9:19)

This verse has been a guiding light for me as we navigate this season. I hope you’ll continue praying for myself and the other leaders in our church. I also hope you’ll join us for worship this Sunday. If you’re able, please spread the word so we can get this news to as many people as possible before Sunday morning. 

Have a great fourth of July weekend!

Until He Comes,

Pastor Wes

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