COVID-19 UPDATE FROM PASTOR DAVID, NOVEMBER 25, 2020
First Church family,
I write to share a difficult but courageous decision our Administrative Board has made. Beginning the weekend of November 28 and 29 and continuing through the month of December, all First Church in person worship experiences will be suspended. Worship opportunities will be available online at 7 Saturday evening and Sunday morning at 9:45 and 11:15. You can access all weekend online worship services here.
There will also be several opportunities for online worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. More information about those options will be coming soon.
This decision comes in response to several things:
- First and foremost, the mandate from the Lord of the church - Jesus Christ - to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. For Jesus - and for those who follow him and call him Lord - the priority is ALWAYS giving ourselves away to be a blessing to others - the cross gives us both the picture and the model.
- Second, the consistent rise in COVID cases locally and in surrounding areas makes it more and more risky to be together in person. We know people can carry this virus and be asymptomatic. Everything can seem safe one day, and the next not. People connected to others in our church are now ill with COVID. Some in our church that work on the front lines of caring for others in our local hospital have contracted it. The virus is not just something that is making people sick in other places. It's making people sick right here at home, and causing people to die.
- Third, recent restrictions for the number of people permitted in gathering spaces. Both of our current facilities fall into the 0-2000 seating capacity range which means a 10% cap on in person gatherings: 40 people downtown, and 100 people at Crossfire. Our recent in person attendance at both worship services downtown exceed 40, and in person at our Sunday morning service at Crossfire has been hovering right around 100 - some weeks more, some weeks a few less. God's Country at Crossfire has been in the 45-80 range in person.
- Fourth, our Annual Conference leadership has STRONGLY recommended compliance with the new restrictions for all UMC's in Western Pennsylvania. To be completely transparent, religious communities are exempt from the new restrictions. Because of that, Conference leadership cannot require compliance. "Strongly recommend" is the limit of what they can ask of local churches. Our Administrative Board has chosen to "hear" what's being suggested and comply.
- Finally, a conscious and courageous choice by First Church's leadership to be part of eradicating the virus rather than potentially contributing to its spread. Doing our part to limit in-person contact enables us to contribute to the end of the virus, rather than prolonging it's stay among us.
Speaking on behalf of our leadership, I know this decision will cause some to cheer and others to be unhappy. How we feel about COVID-19 and its implications for life these days is a very complicated thing - I get that. But I can say with complete confidence that this decision has nothing to do with political opinions or threats to individual freedoms. Our leadership has prayerfully sought God's heart and acted accordingly as people who are called to live by what Jesus says. And PLEASE REMEMBER: this is temporary. It is but just a moment in First Church's story - not the rest of the story. It will be the first weekend in January before you know it - and hopefully we'll be back in person gathered round the table of the Lord for the first communion of 2021. What I said to the Administrative Board I say to you: we will be in a much different place come Thanksgiving 2021. Let's stay focused forward.
As I write these words it's the day before Thanksgiving 2020. November is drawing to a close, and very soon so will an unbelievably challenging year. I was reminded today of something President Lincoln said in 1863: “[Let us] fervently seek the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation, so that it may be restored as is consistent with the Divine purposes and plans to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union." And all God's people said...... Amen.
First Church leadership joins me in wishing every one of you - Happy Thanksgiving! And friends, now and always...
Keep Lookin Up!