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May 23, 2020

My Dear People of Grace,  

    He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!  

     Together with St. Paul, I pray, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.. So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait…” (I Corinthians 1: 4-7 paraphrased)  

     Yes, we wait. This greeting of St. Paul was written to the church in Corinth, a community of faith that was divided and in conflict in many ways. I am struck by his words that they, and we, are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait. We wait as people of hope and confidence.  

     Last week your Council met in a regular meeting to consider the routine work and ministry that we do here at Grace. Of course, one of the matters given significant and serious conversation was the resumption of Sunday worship services along with meetings and other gatherings at our church campus. In the course of our discussion we noted several things. The number of new cases of and deaths by covid-19 continues to rise in Polk County; we have not experienced the fourteen day downward trajectory in new cases that is urged before the phased reopening was to begin. We considered the demographics of our congregation; the overwhelming majority are in the so-called “vulnerable” category either due to age or some other underlying immunocompromising condition. We considered the disease itself; one of the great risks of transmission of covid-19 comes from those who are asymptomatic.

     We also were mindful of the fact that the decisions of the church are based upon different standards than retail or entertainment establishments.  The church is the very Body of Christ and as such we aim to follow the teachings of Jesus. At the Last Supper, the Scriptures give us record of Jesus telling his followers that we are to love one another. “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, love one another” (John 13;34-35). And, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s lives for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). The standard that we use is not measured by our rights and entitlements but rather by sacrificial love for our neighbor. And, to the church at Corinth, a church that was struggling with disagreements and discord, St. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful but not all things build up.” (I Corinthians 10:23)

     Your Council decided that we would not resume worship services at this time but would revisit the issue again at its next meeting. This decision is in accord with those of Bishop Suarez of the Florida-Bahamas Synod, our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, numerous other bishops across the country, as well as leaders in our full communion partners. That said, Council did determine that the Church Office could resume regular hours. The Office will be open from 9:00 – 12:00 noon, Monday through Friday. Any who need to come to the office are asked to maintain safe physical distance and to wear a mask.

     Some have asked me to provide instruction about how we may commune in our homes during this time of absence from each other. I will provide information and prayer about this later this week.

     Late yesterday afternoon, President Trump ordered all states to open houses of worship immediately. But you see, churches were never closed. Churches continued to worship, love, pray, serve, feed. Here at Grace, we worship every week, engage in Bible Study each week. We pray for each other and for our world. We serve our community providing food for the hungry, clothing for those in need. We connect with each other with notes and calls and messages. All of this is being the church because the church is not restricted to a building and a location. We are the church together. I saw a church sign that said, “The church is not closed, it is deployed.”

     Yes, some churches have met in recent weeks and others may in the weeks to come. I am aware of several of those who had to stop in-person worship because of the sickness and hospitalizations of many in attendance including pastors and musicians and lay leaders as well as congregants. We will not be one of those.

     Your Council is continuing to think about the adjustments that may be needed when it is safe for us to gather together again. Please pray for us, that the decisions we make are faithful and loving. Please pray for all who are affected by this pandemic – those who are ill, lonely, depressed, unemployed, worried. Please pray for those on the front lines of responding to this pandemic – nurses, EMTs and first responders, doctors, epidemiologists, elected leaders. Please pray for each other.

     This letter will go out by email tonight to all for whom we have an email address and by USPS on Tuesday to those who are receiving our weekly notices by regular mail. I realize that some may disagree with this decision. Please do not hesitate to contact me or a member of Council to talk about this further. I like all of you yearn to meet together again. I miss each of you and our times together. Until then.  .  .

          Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

                    I Corinthians 16:13-14


                                                                                     In Christ’s love,                       

                                                                           Pastor Pam+

                                                                                      Pastor Pam Smith