Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases within our congregation, the officers and I deemed it wise and reasonable to temporarily stop having in-person services and shift to “live-stream” through the month of November. Thankfully, the number of new positive COVID tests in the church has (to my knowledge) gone down and those who had tested positive either are well on the road to recovery or have had a relatively mild case. For this I am deeply grateful to God.
After a month of live-stream only, this week, I have been accessing the current situation both within the church and in the surrounding community, asking for the wise counsel of our godly church officers, thinking, and praying about when and how we should return to in-person worship. Our options are as follows:
· Further delay our return to in-person service.
· Immediately restart everything (Sunday School, Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening and Wednesday Night ministries).
· Start in-person services now, but not with our full schedule of weekly services.
This has proven to be a very difficult decision for me. The difficulty is that, whatever decision is made, some will be disappointed. Even if you don’t agree with my decisions, I hope that you know that I am doing the best I can and trying always to do what is right for Dearborn Baptist Church. More than ever, I need your prayers.
I am well aware that many respected public health officials are concerned about the effect of large groups gathering unmasked and in close proximity to each other. From their warnings, I conclude that we need to be cautious and take reasonable steps to lessen the likelihood that the virus will spread at church meetings.
I also know that Dearborn County remains in the “Red” Zone and with that comes restrictions on the size of social gatherings. Again, I am grateful that in Indiana, our governor has exempted churches – we are not breaking the law when we assemble. However, although we are exempt, we would be wise to consider the Governor’s Guidelines.
While I certainly would not want anyone to get the virus as a result of a decision that I make, as a Pastor and Shepherd, I am concerned for the spiritual welfare of Dearborn Baptist Church. Live-stream services may be occasionally necessary, but not for an extended period of time for the whole church. We have been commanded in Scripture to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). Spiritual isolation from other believers is dangerous, too. We need fellowship and corporate worship – being together, praying together, and hearing God’s Word together. Frankly, while I am not as isolated as many, my limited contact with God’s people has taken its toll on me.
Considering that we must remain flexible given the changing circumstances, the following plan has been prayerfully and thoughtfully laid out for the immediate future. This plan will remain in effect until further notice.
· Because of our classroom sizes relative to recommended physical distancing, we will not be having Sunday School. We will resume mailing children’s lessons to families for home Bible study. (We encourage you to do the lesson with your children.)
As an alternative to our Teen and Adult Sunday School classes, we may be able to offer small group Bible Studies through the week. If you are interested in a small group Bible Study, let us know by email, text message, or phone as soon as possible. (We will move forward on this if there is enough interest.) These classes will be each be a maximum of 25 people and will meet in a large room where physical spacing is possible (church auditorium; fellowship hall; the Cove). We may do more than one if there is enough interest. The day of the week and the time of day (morning or evening) is optional and will be decided once we see the level of interest. We will not live-stream the small group Bible studies (unless they are done in the church auditorium and there is someone available to manage the live-stream).
· Prayer Partners will meet on Sundays at 9:30 in the Journey Class Room.
· There will be an in-person worship service on Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
o To show love, sensitivity, and consideration to others who feel very vulnerable to the virus (either for themselves or for someone in their household) we ask you to wear a mask and to maintain distance when entering or leaving the building or when in the hallway.
o We ask you to spread out across the auditorium and balcony.
o Those who would prefer to maintain some physical distance should feel free to exit during our song of dismissal ahead of everyone else.
o I am well aware that some people really don’t like wearing masks at all at church, and don’t like avoiding hugs, handshakes, and close proximity (I’m one of those myself). However, doing these things may be what protects us from having another outbreak in the church and allows us to continue having in-person services. It is also in keeping with Scripture (Colossians 3:13) by “forbearing [showing deference] to one another.”
I am also announcing a special ministry opportunity. Our typical December tradition of caroling at Nursing Homes is not an option this year. However, we will go Christmas caroling to our own shut-ins and others who haven’t been attending because of COVID, on Sunday and Wednesday evenings for the next two weeks (December 6, 9, 13, 16). (We will not be caroling on December 20 or 23.) The plan is to meet at the church on Sundays at 5:30 pm and on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., divide into groups of 10-12 people and have each group visit 2 or 3 homes (in close proximity to each other) to sing Christmas carols for 10 -15 minutes. We will be outside in front yards for the caroling (so dress warmly). Questions should be directed to Matthew or Monica Johnson. If you want to participate, let us know as soon as possible so that we can know how many to expect.
· Sunday evening services and Wednesday evening services will resume after Christmas (either in-person or by live-stream or both). We will continue offering live-stream of the Sunday morning service. We will also upload a Wednesday Evening Bible Study for those who are not caroling.
If you have any flu-like symptoms or have been exposed to the virus during the previous 10 days (to your knowledge) please stay home from in-person services.
If you feel vulnerable to the virus, it is perfectly acceptable that you stay home and watch the live-stream.
These are very difficult decisions, and I ask for your patience, your understanding, and your prayers, even if you disagree. More than ever, this is a time for the church to show our love for each other and “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Finally, some good news:
God is very much at work in our ministry.
We recently received $3000 from a local business which we sent to the Amazing Grace Children’s Home in Mexico City. The company also pledged $4000 for the Bowlings in the Philippine Islands (where the pandemic has brought food shortages and other severe hardships).
We have met new people who are looking a church and have re-connected with some who grew-up in Dearborn. There may be some new faces at DBC.
One recent live-stream has had 495 views at our Facebook page and another 61 on our Youtube channel (I am assuming that many of those views were by couples or families). I have received emails from strangers in distant places inquiring about our ministry. While we may be bound, “the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9).
In November, our offerings were solid (slow at the beginning of the month and down just a little from our budget plan), but our expenses were significantly lower. Thanks for being faithful.
Praise God! He is good. He is wise. He is powerful. He is in control.
Pray for the church – for each other, for our various ministries, for our community, and for the spread of the gospel.
I am looking forward to Sunday!
Love and Prayers to All,
Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.