Note: This is a letter from Pastor Steve sent to members and friends of PPC this week. The letter was mailed on May 20th, and it was not intended as a response to President Trump’s press conference on May 22nd. Going forward, we will continue to consult with government and public health officials at all levels, seek guidance from our denomination, and listen to our congregants–as we chart the best path forward for PPC.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1-2). On that first Christian Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came like the blast of a powerful gale, sending that first group of 120 believers (Acts 1:15) out onto the streets to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and Resurrected.
During this season of physical distancing, there have been signs of new life all around and connected to the church. The Holy Spirit continues to gather us as a community of Resurrection. And so, even as we prepare for a virtual Pentecost this year, we are also considering the next steps for the church in worship, mission, fellowship, and love.
We celebrate Pentecost on May 31st, seven Sundays after Easter, as an affirmation of the Holy Spirit, present in our lives and drawing us together in community. The Holy Spirit is one person within our Triune God, who is one-in-three and three-in-one, one God in which the Creator, Redeemer (Jesus Christ), and Sustainer (Holy Spirit) speak to one another, relate to one another, and love one another. God is a loving community, and we who are made in God’s image are made for loving community.
Of course, our bonds have been tested in this season of physical distancing. No matter how many times I experience it, it will always be strange to find the church building mostly empty on Sunday morning. I miss laughing with you all in the narthex. I miss the experience of worshipping God together. I miss in-person Bible studies. I even, believe it or not, miss in-person committee meetings. When you are with a group of people you love, a committee meeting is a holy thing.
Nonetheless, the work of the church has continued in this time. Dedicated volunteers are mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, and keeping the church grounds beautiful. Staff members devote extra effort to cleaning and organizing, long-term projects that often fall by the wayside in the frantic rush of normal times. Our members have been generous with our community and one another. People have been checking in with each other through phone calls and letters. The church has collected donations for Cherith Brook and local healthcare organizations. There have been special deliveries of palm fronds, Easter lilies, and in the next week, a small gift for Pentecost. The food pantry is still going strong.
Recently, I had the experience of driving to Blue Springs to help a man and his son in need. The man had been furloughed from the Ford Plant. With his newfound time and energy, he claimed his three-year old son from the child’s meth-addicted mother and decided to raise him on his own. But he had lost income and his apartment, and quickly ran through his savings. He was calling Hillcrest and the Salvation Army, and no one was returning his calls. But we did. A friend of his called our church office because we had helped her sister seven years ago. The friend connected us to this father and son, and we were able to help with diapers and more nights at the motel, helping to bridge the gap between where they were and their eventual admission into a Hillcrest program. If you have contributed to the church’s Community Assistance fund—if you have contributed any effort, financial or otherwise, to keep the church alive and to make sure we were here to answer the phone—you were a part of this act of grace and love.
In this season of physical distancing, the church is alive and well. We miss one another, and we long to see each other again, but God’s witness to the world through us is alive and well.
So when can we see each other again, and what will that look like?
As many Platte County businesses begin to reopen, the church building is also beginning to reopen for small gatherings. In the coming weeks, as participants feel comfortable and with appropriate social distancing measures in place, we will be able to open for ministry team meetings, Bible studies, and small gatherings of community groups. We are also considering an outdoor prayer service offered in the north parking lot once a week.
Given the best advice of the Platte County Health Department and other public health experts, we believe we may be able to open the sanctuary for Sunday morning worship by June 21st, but July 5th is the most likely date. When we do reopen for Sunday morning worship, distancing measures will be in place. Some pews will be roped off to encourage distance in seating. Church leaders are considering directional flow within the sanctuary and the building as a whole. We are also considering alternatives to congregational singing, like humming, clapping, small instruments, or ASL symbols. Masks will be available, thanks to the volunteers contributing to that effort. We will also sanitize the sanctuary and all the hard surfaces in the building after each service.
To make the cleaning work easier, and because we know we will want to see each other even if we maintain some distance while we do, there will be one Sunday morning worship service at 10am.
I know this sounds like a lot. I know some of you may be wondering, “Why has Wal-Mart been open all this time, while the church has not?” or “Why are we doing more to protect people than they might in other public locations in Platte County?” The answer to the first question is that a disease may spread more quickly in a church than in Wal-Mart—because we love one another. Because we love each other and want to see each other, we are more likely to have long conversations with people who are not part of our household in church than in other places. That means we are called to be more cautious about Sunday morning worship than other activities. And another reason we are called to be more cautious—in answer to the second question above—is love. We love each other. We love our community. We will go further than others might to protect people because God is love, and we are God’s people.
Even as we resume some in-person activities and, eventually, Sunday morning worship, we will continue to have a robust presence online. We are reaching people online, in different places and in new ways, in this season. Both for them and for the people who are uncomfortable returning to in-person activities, we will continue to offer powerful worship services online and other means of virtual gathering.
Friends, there has been much to endure in this strange season of history. But the Holy Spirit is here to help us endure. On Pentecost, the Spirit appeared as “divided tongues, as of fire,” and a tongue rested on each believer. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability,” (Acts 2:3-4) and they began to fulfill God’s mission of proclaiming the Good News to “Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).
In these days, the church is open to all who need it, as we proclaim God’s love and grace to the world. Thank you for participating in the proclamation.
Grace and Peace,
P.S. If you are looking for ways to serve and love others in this season, please consider these possibilities:
– If you can, consider giving blood to the Community Blood Center and ask them to credit your gift to the indefinitely postponed PPC Blood Drive. Blood is sorely needed at this time and if you can help, your donation will be put to good use.
– If you have time, energy, and strength, consider volunteering at our own SPEAC Food Pantry. Go to www.speacpantry.com/volunteer to learn more
– We also encourage financial contributions to PPC’s Community Assistance fund. While our community reels from closures and job losses, this fund is our best means of supporting those with emergency financial needs. To give to Community Assistance, simply mail a check to the church and designate ‘Community Assistance’ in the memo line.
– Please maintain your financial support of PPC’s general ministries. During this time, we are committed to remaining as open as we can and serving our community with all the energy we can muster. You can support our ongoing work by mailing a check to the church; setting up a recurring donation through automatic bill-pay with your bank; or giving through the online tool below.