Update from the Session to the Congregation (July 2)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings from your church Session! We hope this letter finds you both physically and spiritually well. We are reaching out to update you with our plans and preparations in light of the continued challenges that we face as a body of believers during the current climate.

First of all, we want to assure you again that our approach has always been and will always be centered on Christ and biblical teachings, which call us to be a people of faith and not a people of fear, trusting in God’s providence for His children, and yet focused not on our own wants or desires but always acting in love for and understanding of the needs of those around us. We are pleased with how smooth the reopening has been so far, and we are grateful to the many volunteers who have worked hard. We also thank you for your patience as we consider and act upon leading our church in the will of God through our current pandemic.

We would like to share with you our vision for worship and ministry at Washington PCA for the next month and beyond, as we understand it so far. It is our prayer that this update will address any lingering questions or concerns that you might have, but also that, if it does not, you will bring those to our attention right away.

To begin, in our discussions and deliberations we have been aware of the recommendations from public health officials, both local and national, and we have specifically been paying attention to local trends in public healthcare. As you are probably aware, Washington County and all of Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be in the “green phase” of reopening and, while there has been some indication that continued diligence is due, we are grateful to God that our area remains relatively healthy.

We wish to state clearly that should the state leaders and healthcare professionals give the “all clear,” lifting the “green phase” and essentially returning life to pre-pandemic patterns, Washington PCA will follow suit and resume worship and ministries without the protocols that are in place now. Nonetheless, in the current situation, your leaders have decided that it would be best to continue worshipping with most of the current procedures in place, including asking attendees to wear masks (if medically able) and to maintain social distancing within the church building.

With that being said, after reflection, observation, and prayer, we have also taken steps to loosen some protocols that had been in place.

Social Distancing in Pews

We recognize that some family groups are meeting socially outside of church; for these groups, the policy requiring social distancing in the pews is irrelevant. Therefore, we invite groups who are already gathering socially outside of church to share pews, if they desire to do so; we hope that this will also free up space within the church as more brothers and sisters feel ready to return to corporate worship.

Volunteers

In addition, given that we have had several weeks to get used to the new protocols, we have decided to reduce the number and the role of the volunteers who assist in pre-worship gathering on Sunday mornings. Specifically, while we will continue to offer a sanitizing station and encourage all attendees to take advantage of it, we will no longer be staffing this station. Also, we will reduce the number of ushers directing worshipers to their seats from two to one. Finally, we will be asking the greeters to simply greet worshipers at the door (although it may be necessary to help direct newcomers or visitors). We hope that these changes will not only reduce the strain on volunteers, but also take steps to help create a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere in our weekly gathering to worship. Again, we are grateful to those volunteers who were instrumental in making things run smoothly in June, and we are hopeful that more of you will be encouraged to volunteer as a greeter (as a family) or as an usher in the weeks to come.

Sunday School

Finally, we want you to know that we as church leaders are not only committed to surviving these unusual times but also to thriving as a spiritual body; consequently, we are continually exploring ways to nourish and minister to our church family. Foremost, we are excited to offer a new format for Sunday School for families interested in attending. Beginning on July 12, we will be offering a family-oriented Sunday School time on the church lawn, 9:15–10 a.m. ahead of the 10:30 a.m. service. We encourage participants to bring your own chairs or blankets and to maintain social distancing, but masks will not be required in this outdoor space. We do ask that all non-communicant members be accompanied by at least one adult. While our goal is to make our time of study nourishing to a wide range of ages, the lessons will be of greatest benefit to members age 5 and older (younger children are welcome to attend with their families, of course). We are also exploring the possibility of offering an “adults only” study during this time in the Sanctuary, but are still working out the details. In the event of inclement weather, the Sunday School time will be cancelled, with an announcement being sent via email by 8:30 a.m.

Fellowship and Other Activities

In addition, we are exploring other opportunities to encourage the life and growth of the church body. Interest permitting, we hope to conduct a “family photo scavenger hunt” with a time of fellowship (and pizza!) following on the church lawn. We will also be surveying the congregation shortly to determine interest in a book study aimed at parents; we are prepared to offer up to two sections of this book study, one which will happen small-group style in person in the church, and another to be conducted in an online format for those who are interested in attending but would prefer the convenience of an internet-based study. We would be happy to hear ideas from you on similar book studies, if you have suggestions. Finally, in lieu of a traditional VBS which is not feasible in this climate, we are exploring offering “backyard Bible clubs” for our children, with the possibility of opening it up to specifically invited children from the community at large. We ask that you pray for all of these ministries—that they will be glorifying to God and nourishing to His church body.

In closing, we wish to thank those of you who have reached out to us with your feedback; we appreciate the notes of support and encouragement, and we also continue to invite you to be open with us with any concerns or criticisms that you might have for us. Most of all, we solicit your continued prayers and patience.

Your brothers in Christ,

The Session

Our Plan to Regather for Public Worship Services

Please click here for an update (July 2, 2020) on our public worship services.

Lord willing, our church will resume public worship services on June 7. With much prayer and consultation, the elders have decided on a number of precautions we will take when worship resumes.

If you plan to attend our worship services, please read on.

As the elders considered resuming public worship, these were our primary concerns.

  1. The Word of God (Matt. 4:4)
  2. The spiritual health of our congregation and community (Prov. 3:5-8)
  3. The physical health of our congregation and community (Matt. 22:39)
  4. The testimony and witness we display to a watching world (Col. 4:5)
  5. The fact that all of us have limited knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1b-2)
  6. Government guidance and regulations. (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17)

How Our Worship Service Will Look Different, For Now

The elders are taking a cautious approach to safety measures at the church building. We can relax our procedures down the road—and we look forward to doing so!

Social distancing. We will sit every other pew (to achieve a six-foot distance). Families will sit together, but otherwise there is to be at least six feet of distance within any particular pew. We plan to place bulletins in the pews where worshippers can be seated and to have ushers guide congregants to their seats. We will continue this practice until at least June 28, at which point we will reevaluate. We also ask that everyone maintain six feet of social distance before and after the service.

Masks. All worshippers over the age of two and who are without medical exceptions should wear masks during their time at the church building. The church will have masks available for those who need one.

We realize that for some, this will be the most difficult precaution to take. For others, it will be very reassuring. Those holding either perspective ought not to despise those who hold the other.

Offering. Offering plates will not be passed but will be placed in the narthex for worshipers to give following the service. You can also give online.

Sunday school and nursery. There will be no Sunday school or nursery offered when we initially resume worship.

Pastors. Pastor Don and Pastor Phil will both be wearing masks, with the exception of when they are at the front of the church, where they will be at a safe distance from the congregation.     

Staying home. Those 65 and over, immunocompromised,and/or others who have serious underlying health conditions may choose to stay home. Our services will continue to be live-streamed. Also, if you are sick or have a fever, you are asked to stay home from worship.    

Hand sanitizer. We plan to have a hand sanitizer stationfor everyone to use before entering the sanctuary.  

A Call for Love and Patience

When a parent cares for her child, she knows that every known precaution cannot perfectly prevent injuries and sickness. Likewise, though we are taking precautions, not everything will go smoothly. A young one might have his mask slip off and sneeze. An overeager friend might forget herself and hug you. Stuff will happen. Thankfully, God’s in charge! Let’s be patient toward one another and trusting of our heavenly Father.

The elders understand that the procedures being put into place will not be to everyone’s liking. This would be true no matter what level of caution we adopted! Though we may hold vastly different opinions, our aim is consistent love and respect for one another. The situation with this virus is new and its future is unknown. Let’s humble ourselves before God and ask for His help to persevere together through the days ahead. Instead of dividing over our opinions, let’s unite around Jesus and the gospel.

Pastor and Session Update

Please click here for an update (June 5, 2020) on our public worship services.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

The above are the words of the Apostle Paul written to the church in Philippi in the first century A.D. (Phil. 1:3).

I’m borrowing and applying them as a message from me to you. I really do thank my God in all my remembrance of you! And for the time being, I have to settle (for the most part) for “remembering,” since it’s been weeks since I’ve actually seen most of you in person. But rest assured. I’m confident of the day when we’ll be able to say, along with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, `Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1). Oh what a day that will be! Amen??

Until then…

The Session held a called meeting by teleconference this past Wednesday evening. We wanted you to know what was discussed and decided. The following are a list of actions taken. (Most of what you read below in the bullet point section was taken directly from the minutes of our meeting.)

  • Approved continuing to suspend all regular, in-person church activities, including Pioneer Clubs, Sunday School, Men’s Bible Study, Worship team practice, and Home Fellowship Groups, committee events and meetings, at least through April 30, and potentially beyond, in response to the health emergency in the community.
  • Approved conducting Adult Bible teaching, Home Fellowships Groups, and Youth Group in an online format through Zoom, pending instructor availability; additionally, Sunday Worship services will continue to be streamed online through 04/30, and potentially beyond, in response to the health emergency in the community.
  • Approved calling for a congregational-wide day of prayer and fasting to occur on Saturday, April 11, 2020, in response to the worldwide crisis.
  • Note: Teaching Elders Waltermyer and Amaismeier will continue to provide weekday video devotionals via the church’s YouTube channel.
  • Note: The Session will continue making it a point to communicate with shepherding groups over the next several weeks.

The Session and Board of Deacons plan to hold a joint teleconference meeting on Wednesday evening, April 15.

Details regarding the Day of Prayer will be sent out to the congregation from Pastor Phil.

Sadly, we will not be holding our Easter Sunrise Service this year. However, the live streamed service on Easter Sunday will feature hymns and a message focusing on our Savior’s glorious resurrection.
You are encouraged to call our elders and/or deacons if you have a particular need, would like prayer, want to share about a need someone else you know has, or if you just need to talk.

The Apostle Paul knew what is what like to be socially distant from the church in Thessalonica. In Paul’s first letter to that congregation, he expressed his concern over how the believers were doing, since he had been separated from them for such a long time. When he finally got news (Internet connections were quite slow then!), he wrote to them. In the following passage (I Thess. 3:6-10), I have italicized and bolded the portions I can especially identify with:

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

We all long to see one another again. Let’s uphold one another in prayer, especially that by God’s grace, we would stand fast in the Lord.

Grace and peace to you all!

Pastor Don

March 20 Update from Session on COVID-19 and WPCA

Click here for Updated Statement from WPCA Session (April 4)

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace,
Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3)

It seems like peace would be the last thing we’d all be experiencing right now. And certainly, the Bible isn’t talking about having our head in the sand, nor being oblivious to the suffering all around; God is sympathetic with our apprehensions and fears of the unknown.

However, there is a correlation between trusting in the Lord and our state of mind. Remember, what we read in Isaiah above is a promise from God. And He always keeps His promises.

The elders of WPCA struggle just like you do with experiencing any level of peace at this time. That being said, we strive to trust God, and we are attempting to be instruments of Christ’s peace to you, His flock, during this time of trial.

To that end, the Session met Wednesday evening (March 18) for two hours (remotely, via teleconference) and have decided the following.

  1. Sunday worship services will be conducted and offered online only for 3/22 and 3/29 (and possibly beyond, depending on the state of the present health emergency). The service will be live-streamed at 10:30 a.m. both Sundays and also available for viewing later. (More details to come on how to access the live stream.)  Only a very small number of people (probably five or less) will be at the church building. Therefore, to be clear, the service will not be open to the public or to the church family at large, in an effort to help contain the coronavirus. If you were on the schedule for nursery, Scripture reading, prayer, greeting, counters, etc., you are relieved of your duties through at least March 29th.

    However, we hope in our video streaming to have as “normal” of a full service as possible, with hymns, readings, etc., in place so that we can still have the opportunity to worship together, even if it is only virtually.

    At this point, we’re planning on providing an on-line version of the bulletin, so that you can more easily follow along during the service.
  2. All weekly activities are suspended through at least March 31stThis includes Sunday School, Home Fellowship Groups, all Bible studies, worship team practice, etc. Pioneer Clubs is now finished meeting completely for the spring season.
  3. The Missions Dinner previously scheduled for Sunday evening, March 29th, has been postponed indefinitely.
  4. In an effort to help stay connected, Pastor Don and Pastor Phil will live stream a devotional/prayer time every weekday, Monday through Friday (Don, M/W/F, and Phil, Tue/Thu). Please feel free to email prayer requests to us. We look forward to connecting with everyone, and spreading God’s grace and hope around. Details on how to access this live stream will be made available to you shortly. (My “techy” son is in the process of assisting his admittedly “un-techy” father in getting this up and running!)
  5. Shepherding/elder phone calls — In an additional effort to stay connected and to provide prayer/soul care and support, Don, Phil, Cory, and Warren have committed to calling each member/regular attender over the next two weeks, to check in, see how you’re doing, and to pray with and for you. 
  6. Tithes and offerings – The Session reminds you that though regular services are suspended for the moment, we all have a continuing responsibility to give financially (as the Lord enables you). You can send your checks to:
    Washington Presbyterian Church
    P.O. Box 1367
    Washington, PA 15301
    We’re also looking seriously at an on-line giving option, which would be surcharge free. Additionally, we plan on continuing to provide weekly updates as to the previous week’s giving total.

These are extraordinary times in which we live. But we have an extraordinary Savior.

Allow me to close with the lyrics to the hymn “Peace, Perfect Peace.” Each brief stanza is structured with a question and answer. Each time the question asks if perfect peace is even possible. And each and every time, a wonderful answer is given. (The 5th stanza is my favorite, in view of our present circumstances.)

May this hymn bless you, as it has me.

Peace, Perfect Peace

  1. Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin? The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
  2. Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed? To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
  3. Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round? On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.
  4. Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away? In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.
  5. Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown? Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
  6. Peace, perfect peace, death shad’wing us and ours? Jesus has vanquished death and all its pow’rs.
  7. It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease, And Jesus calls us to Heav’n’s perfect peace.

May God bless and keep us all during this time of being apart from one another. I look forward to the day when we all gather together again for our first corporate worship service (real, not virtual!) after the bulk of the crisis has passed. What a day that will be!

And “now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!”  (2 Thess. 3:16)

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Session Statement on COVID-19 and WPCA

Please note: An updated statement from the WPCA Session can be found here.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Greetings, Washington Presbyterian Church Family! As you all know, our world has been gripped by the threat of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and the threat is no longer “over there”, but has now showed up in our own neck of the woods.

However, as the passage above proclaims, the spirit God has given us as Christians is not one of fear. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and in Christ, we’re loved perfectly.

For the foreseeable future, we plan to continue to gather for Worship services. However, other plans will change, at least in the short run. (Below, you’ll see specific actions that our congregation is both recommending and taking.)

With respect to how our church responds, we the Session ask you, along with us, to be gracious in how we think and act during this time. Some feel as though the issues surrounding the pandemic are being somewhat hyped. Others believe not enough is being done. Philippians 2:4 reminds us “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” In other words, we’re not to only consider our own perspectives, but also to be considerate for the views and concerns of others—even when they differ from our own.

And of course, we’re not only to be mindful of the concerns of others, but at this time, their actual health and well-being. People are getting sick, and some are dying. Yes, thankfully the numbers are relatively low for now, but none of us knows the eventual outcome and potential spread of the disease. Christians have historically been the people to step forward and show kindness and concern during times of plague and pestilence. This time should not be different.

Though a person may not be greatly concerned about contracting the disease him or herself, that is not the only consideration. We can be carriers of the virus and not know it. If not careful, we could unknowingly pass it on to one of our seniors, resulting in a very serious cases of the virus, or worse. Additionally, we should want to do everything we can to slow down the advance of this virus so populations at large can be spared from widespread outbreaks. Proverbs 22:3 reminds us “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffers for it.”

As of Friday (3/13) an adult in Washington County was diagnosed as the first presumed positive case of the virus in western Pennsylvania. Unless that person was living as a monk somewhere in isolation, we all know that others have very likely been exposed as well.

COVID-19 is here in our home county.

Yes, the Bible teaches God is in control, and praise His Name that He is! However, the same Bible teaches us that we are responsible, and must act responsibly, loving our neighbors by our actions and decisions.

In light of all this, our church invites everyone to consider the following steps, as we seek to be led by wisdom and love, rather than driven by fear.

General Steps:

  1. Seek medical attention if you have any symptoms that are associated with COVID-19, per the CDC. These symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Click here for more information.
  2. If you or your child have any type of illness with a fever, please refrain from coming to church until the fever has resolved and you’ve contacted medical professionals.
  3. Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water and/or use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not an option.
  4. Be especially careful around those particularly susceptible to this virus, specifically the elderly and immune-compromised individuals (people with chronic illnesses, people undergoing cancer treatment, etc.).

The following are the steps and action the Session is taking and recommending:

  1. We will be holding our 10:30 a.m. worship service on Sunday, March 15th.
  2. We will not have nursery available for at least this coming Sunday.
  3. We will not be holding Sunday School on Sunday, March 15th.
  4. We are cancelling all other weekly ministries for at least the upcoming week, including Transitions Healthcare Bible Study, Pioneer Clubs, Youth Bible Study, Men’s Bible Study, and Worship Team practice. Regarding Home Fellowship Groups, we will leave that decision to each individual group.
  5. We ask that each person refrain from handshaking, hugs, etc.
  6. Offering: In order to minimize touching common surfaces, we will not pass the plate to receive the offering. Instead, we will have offering plates positioned by the sanctuary exits, so that you may give at the conclusion of the service.
  7. Small bottles of hand sanitizer have been placed in the pews throughout the sanctuary. We strongly encourage making use of them.
  8. If you for any reason feel uncomfortable with attending worship, you of course can stay home. If you would like to livestream a worship service, Pastor Don recommends Providence Presbyterian Church in York PA. Go to yorkpca.org, scroll down and click where it says “Worship online with us on Sunday mornings at 8:30 or 10:30 by clicking here.” That will take you to a page listing the order of service. On that page you will click “Please visit our YouTube channel to access our live stream.” (Another recommended option is Willow Creek PCA church in Winter Springs, FL. Their service begins at 10:45 am. Just go to willowcreekchurch.org and you’ll see on their first page a place that says “Watch on Facebook”. Click that tab. Willow Creek’s pastor is Kevin Labby, who is a former pastor of our sister congregation in Murrysville.)
  9. After this Sunday, and sometime during the upcoming week, we will reevaluate our plans going forward, and communicate those plans with you, the congregation.

Finally, some spiritual counsel

Trust and don’t be anxious. When everything and everyone around us attempt to steal our confidence in God, keep trusting his goodness and power to make all things work together for our good and his glory.

Pray for healing physically and spiritually. God can use this illness to make his power known in amazing ways, and prayer is vital to that. So let’s pray that people will be healed from both COVID-19 and spiritual blindness.

Stay in the word. The Enemy would love for Christ’s followers to check news feeds more than their Bibles. In particular, read the Psalms for wisdom, guidance, and adoration in times of distress.

Love your neighbor. People around you might be incredibly anxious and fearful, and people around you might even get sick with COVID-19. A Christian’s unshakable joy that overflows into love for neighbors is a powerful witness. It is also a way that God can bring healing. Make specific efforts to love your neighbor well during this time.

Thank you for taking the time to prayerfully consider these things. As you know, these types of illnesses (and their accompanying fears) are part of this fallen, groaning creation, and God is using them to make his name great among the nations. To God alone be the Glory!

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Is “Killing Sin” on Your To-Do List Today?

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Well, it ought to be. And, it needs to be.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” These are the words of seventeenth-century English theologian and pastor John Owen. Recently, on my study leave, I was reading a book he authored, The Mortification of Sin, which I highly recommend. (Ed. note: This work is available for purchase at places like Amazon, but it is also available for free in digital and audio formats.)

This is an aspect of the Christian life that I think (at age 62!) I’m just getting to understand. It’s a matter of life and death. Mortifying (putting to death) sin is not the same as repentance. Repentance takes place after we’ve sinned. Mortification is dealing with our sin before it deals with us.

A key verse is Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Probably the best way I can get across what Owen says is to share a few quotes with you here.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work.

Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.

So, believers need to be aware that “sin is crouching at the door” and that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And, by the help of God’s Spirit, we must be making a fight for our lives.

Two encouraging thoughts as I conclude.

  1. This is a work of God’s Spirit in you (see Romans 8:13 above). Don’t do this in your own strength. Read, meditate, and look to the Scriptures. Ask God for help, talk and share with (and ask for prayer from) other believers.
  2. Your new natural tendency (if you know Jesus Christ) in the Holy Spirit is “to be acting against the flesh” (Owen). In other words, this is a battle, but we’ve been equipped fully to fight it!

So, is killing sin on your (and my) to-do list today? It needs to be. Jesus has set us free. We are going to make it home by his grace. But on the journey, lean on him and make it your daily work to kill sin—preemptively. Romans 8:13 promises that, as you do, you will really live!

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 WPCA newsletter.

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