Dearest Mt. Carmel Family,
As many of you may know, last Friday our governor declared that starting this Sunday, churches can begin gathering again at 50% capacity. As you might imagine, that made many of us very happy—because the last order from the governor’s office had included a stay-at-home order that stretched through June 10.
This week the pastors and a group of ministry leaders met to prepare for the re-opening of the church and phasing our ministries back into a normal schedule. I started out explaining that the question on everyone’s mind, “How soon will we begin gathering for in-person services?” could not be answered without a thorough discussion and a purposeful plan.We considered a number of issues that were very important to our church being ready to open its doors again—including, but not limited to, parking, greeting, seating, singing, children, entry/exits, masks, and the necessary requirement to fully clean before, between, and after the morning worship service.
By the end of this meeting, all those in attendance came to the agreement that as much as we want to meet together in-person, the long-term safety of our members is of greater importance than our short-term desire to be together. So, rather than rush back just because we can, we are going to continue working on a return plan for both the good of our church and the glory of our Jesus.
Because of this, on Sunday, May 17, we will be livestreaming our services online at 10 a.m. as we have been doing these past few months.
On Sunday, May 24, we will look forward with great anticipation to holding a drive-in service in the parking lot of the church at 11 a.m. (We will also be sharing an online service at 10 a.m. for those who are unable to join us at the church.) At our drive-in service, we will be maintaining the social distancing guidelines, but we would encourage you to bring a chair and sit outside your car.
And in the near future, we will have a safe and wise plan to share with you to return to indoor services at 50% capacity as we enter the month of June.
I know this has been a difficult time for everyone. This pandemic has disrupted every part of our lives—and will continue to have an effect on us for a long time. But let me remind you that we have great hope! And that hope is not just that one day everything will return to normal—because to be honest with you, my normal isn’t all that great. It is very flawed—because it includes me.
But, as believers in Jesus, we have hope that one day, every sickness will be gone. We have a hope that all that is broken will be healed. We have a hope that everything wrong will be made right—and every tear will be wiped away. And that hope can only be found in Jesus.
And for those of you in Christ, this hope is yours! Live in the hope that Jesus offers! We have a far greater hope than just looking forward to joining our church family again. We have the hope of one day joining the choir of believers from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation gathered around the throne of God as we see and worship our Savior face-to-face.
Please know that my heart longs to see you again very soon because we were made for fellowship with one another. But my heart longs even more to see my Savior—because I was ultimately created for fellowship with my God. And Jesus makes that all possible.
The following verses from Titus remind us of such good news—that because of the grace of God in salvation, we have a blessed hope awaiting us—the appearing of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ!
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
In closing, I realize that there are many different filters through which this pandemic is being viewed. We have had at least 6 of our church members who have contracted the virus. The mother of one of our faithful members has passed away from the virus. We have some who have been laboring daily in the medical field worried about returning home and exposing their families. We have schoolteachers whose daily lives have been turned upside down. We have parents who have had to unexpectedly care for their children’s schooling while still working full-time. We have students who have lost months of school—and some have lost a graduation celebration. We have families who have lost their income. We have some whose daily lives have not been altered too much. We have some who have little to no confidence in the statistical analysis and reporting of government and health officials.
And I have no doubt that we have some church members who will view our decision to not hold church services this Sunday as living in fear. Others will view our decision to return to outdoor services next week as foolish. May we all grant one another the benefit of the doubt.
In his book Gospel Above All, JD Greear credits Amazon executive Jeff Bezos for helping him deal with conflict. He said Bezos said, “When conflict arises, assume two things about your coworkers: 1) they are smart, and 2) they have good intentions. If we’re able to return to these two convictions often, 90 percent of conflict will disappear before it even gets started.”
Greear goes on to write, These convictions aren’t natural. In my experience the moment conflict begins, I inherently assume the opposite (that people are either dumb or evil). But the gospel counsels us to start by assuming the opposite: Love means “bearing all things, believing all things.” That means starting with the assumption of the benefit of the doubt.
I am simply asking you to extend an extra measure of grace to us right now. We are doing the best we can as we navigate an obstacle we have never faced before. My heart desires that through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will follow the path Jesus desires us to take—for our good and for His glory.
I love you and cannot wait to join you soon!