Pastoral Letter to the Congregation
Dear FPC Family,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The past six months have been challenging for everyone, and yet even in the midst of the strange and unexpected circumstances we have faced, God’s grace has shown through in so many ways. I and many others have been so thankful for the Body of Christ in this season, and so many of us have experienced God’s grace through it. I find myself wondering again at how those who do not know the Lord walk through the challenges of this life without the support of the Lord and his people. I have rejoiced as I’ve seen how so many of you who have expressed your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ in a variety of creative and authentic ways over the last six months.
As we enter the fall and the time period in which a new year of activities and ministries would normally be launched, I wanted to answer some of the questions I have received on where we are and what we are doing. It has been some time since I have written a letter explaining some of the actions we are taking in light of the current circumstances, and while some of the issues below have been addressed before, if some people are asking these questions, then I imagine others may be wondering about them as well.
The questions are listed below, and each one is a link – you can click on them to go to the answers, posted on our website. The reason for this format is that, when the full Q&A was included in this letter, the letter came to about 10 pages, which can be a bit overwhelming. Not everyone is interested in the same information, and so this format allows you to click on the questions you are interested in and skip the ones you’re not.
The past six months have been significant for all of us in different ways. We have all learned things about the world we live in, and if we have been attentive, we have also each learned things about ourselves in how we have responded to the current situation.
For me personally, since before I was even installed as your senior pastor I have been painfully aware of the gap that exists between my experience and the responsibilities I am now called to. But that gap was even more felt as we entered a set of circumstances that, even in my wildest dreams, I had not envisioned would be part of my first two years as your senior pastor.
I still believe that our decisions to take the precautions we have taken at our church were the right decisions. That said, time will usually yield more perspective and new lessons from events. It will be interesting to see how each of us look back on this time period in the years ahead.
Such perspective is of course not available to us when we are “in it.” When this strange situation was suddenly upon us, we needed to look at the information we had and make a decision on what we would do (or not do) then and there. It would have been great to have had more information (it would still be great to have more information). But decisions had to be made. They still seem to me like the right decisions. But I am very aware that to others, they have looked wrong.
I am very thankful to those of you who have taken the time and exercised the patience to help me better understand your perspective and your thought process over the last six months. I have also had the opportunity to talk with other pastors – both locally and in other parts of the country – who have had a range of responses to this situation.
The questions we have faced on how to respond to this pandemic are complex questions, that require us to take positions on a number of issues, but that must then play out in very concrete ways. In such situations it is very necessary to recognize that sincere and thoughtful Christians will come to a range of different conclusions, that will result in a range of practical responses. This does not mean that our conclusions do not matter – they do. We are responsible before God for them. Some will be right, and some will be wrong. Some will be exercising more wisdom, and some will be acting in foolishness without knowing it. But each of us must do our thinking with a humility that acknowledges that while we are doing our best, we may still be wrong. And each of us must love our brothers and sisters who disagree, showing them respect and assuming the best of their motivations.
All of this has been a lesson for many of us (certainly for me) in walking in love and humility with those we disagree with. I hope I am learning, and I ask for your forgiveness for any ways I have fallen short of that calling in the previous months.
My earnest desire is for our church to be characterized by humility and love. We will still need to make practical decisions. We will continue to take precautions as a congregation. But our calling is to take each step in humility and love. Please pray for me, for our session, for all of our leadership, and for our congregation to this end.
With that said, below I want to answer some of the questions I have been receiving. I hope the information below will be helpful. You may not agree with it all, but I hope that more information about my thinking and the session’s decisions will be an aid to you as you navigate this difficult season in the life of our congregation. If you have follow-up questions, you are welcome to reach out to me, to the session, or to the staff.
Despite the difficulties of the past six months, God has been at work among us. Many of you have shown your faith, love, and patience in wonderful ways and that has been a blessing to me and to others. I thank you for that, and I praise the Lord for the ways he is working to bear his people’s burdens and build up his Church through your love and faithfulness.
This has been a trying period. It will likely continue to be difficult – at least for a while longer. We do not know where we are going, but we know the One we follow is faithful. We do not know what is coming next, but we know that the One who is sovereign over all loves us immensely. He has given his only Son for us – how will he not with him graciously give us all good things? For he promises us that he is working all things out for the good of his people.
Let us therefore walk forward with faith in God and love for one another.
Your servant in Christ,