Update from the Session to the Congregation (July 2)

Click here for the latest information about WPCA and COVID-19.

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

Links for the Weekend (6/19/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Of Oceans, Thimbles, and Talking to Your Kids about Death

When death is in the news—at it is during the time of a global pandemic—it may be a good opportunity to talk to our children and grandchildren about death. This takes care, of course, but Alasdair Groves shares a truth he learned from his mother that will help. He also passes along very practical advice about talking to children about death.

So especially if you’ve never talked about death with your kids before, I’d encourage you to find a time soon to ask them what they are thinking about the coronavirus, death, and what scares them about it. Few things are more comforting to a child than knowing that it’s ok to talk about their fears. (It’s ok to share your own fears, too.) Even if you’ve talked to them about death before, it’s still a great time to look for, or even create, chances to have open conversations about the biggest problem any of us will ever face and the Good and Gentle Shepherd who laid down his life to rescue his sheep.

White Flags in Peru: How the Church Is Caring for Coronavirus Victims

I hope you’ll be as encouraged as I was reading this article. I love to hear about God’s miraculous provision and his church’s loving care of people in need. This article describes how a church in northern Peru is helping its community handle both food and medical emergencies related to the coronavirus.

The operating conviction for ongoing action in our homes and community is not only that God is a good and faithful Father who provides, but also that prayer is the power that moves his heart and hand. In our home we began daily prayer meetings to seek God’s favor and provision for our family, church, and community. It was not long before generous donations began coming from unexpected people and places. In a time when we should have been struggling and paralyzed, we moved forward in boldness with the ability to provide for and encourage more than 400 families with over 600 bags of food.

The power of reading…slowly

Tony Payne shares how the shutdown of COVID-19 has forced him to slow down in some important ways. In particular, he writes about how using a different (and older) translation of the Bible has helped him to notice details that escaped him in the past.

There is no question that the NIV is easier to read, just as white rice is quicker and easier to cook and goes down more smoothly than brown. And just as there is a time for white rice, so there is a time for simpler modern translations (such as reading aloud in church). But chewing over the RV has enabled me to metabolize the riches of God’s word more slowly and appreciatively.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Right-Now Blessings of the Kingdom of God. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (4/24/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

We’re Living a Pruned Life—Whether We Want to or Not

Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes about the limitations the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon all of us. And she wonders, helpfully, about what those limitations can teach us and how the change can ultimately be good for us.

This is what limitations do to us. They remind us of who we are at our core. They simultaneously reveal the spaces in our bodies, minds, hearts that we like to keep hidden, while at the same time revealing the spaces in our bodies, minds, and hearts that we didn’t know were hidden at all. I am revealed to be both worse than I thought and somehow better, too. I remember who I am without the trappings of fill in the blank.

Your Strength Will Fail

At Desiring God, Jon Bloom writes about afflictions and comfort—all the kinds of affliction we meet and the ways that God provides comfort.

Whatever it takes to help us experience this comfort, to help us set our real, ultimate hope on God, is worth it. It really is. I don’t say this lightly. I know some of the painful process of such transformation. I’ve received some of the unexpected answers of God to my prayers. But the comfort God brings infuses all temporal comforts with profound hope. And when all earthly comforts finally fail, it is the one comfort that will remain.

Are You Conveying the Loveliness of Christ to Your Kids?

On its blog, Crossway has published an excerpt from a new book by Dane Ortlund. I enjoyed reading about the attractiveness of Jesus’s love and how we can communicate that to the children in our lives.

With our own kids, if we are parents, what’s our job? That question could be answered with a hundred valid responses. But at the center, our job is to show our kids that even our best love is a shadow of a greater love. To put a sharper edge on it: to make the tender heart of Christ irresistible and unforgettable. Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Transforming Power of the Crucifixion. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (4/10/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Do We Really Want to Go Back to Normal?

I love the thinking on display in Trevin Wax’s article. Why should we want to return to normal without questioning whether what was normal was actually good for us? After describing the “old normal,” Trevin asks some questions that we should all consider.

The question we should ask, then, is not when will we get back to normal but should we want to go back to normal? And the follow-up question: What should the new normal be?

What if this crisis is a divine disruption that allows us to rethink ourselves, to rethink our lives, to reconsider our habits?

What if this crisis is a divine opportunity to reflect on what matters most and to order our lives accordingly?

What if we now have the opportunity to make different decisions—to prayerfully discern how to create and cultivate a new and better normal on the other side of this crisis?

The Lord’s Prayer in a Crisis

The Lord’s Prayer is always relevant, and Jared Wilson does a masterful job explaining its relevance in times of crisis.

And yet no pre-written prayer has to be vainly repetitious if you really do mean what you’re praying, if you really are seeking to bring your desires in alignment with heaven’s. And that’s really what the Lord’s Prayer is about. Further, if you wanted to apply what the Lord’s Prayer teaches to our present moment of crisis — or any moment of crisis, for that matter — you may find it a profoundly helpful and even powerful pledge of submission to God in the midst of painful, uncertain times.

Free book: Coronavirus and Christ

Desiring God and Crossway have partnered to bring an important book to publication with astonishing speed: Coronavirus and Christ, by John Piper. You can find the book free in digital and audio formats here.

In Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper invites readers around the world to stand on the solid Rock, who is Jesus Christ, in whom our souls can be sustained by the sovereign God who ordains, governs, and reigns over all things to accomplish his wise and good purposes for those who trust in him. Piper offers six biblical answers to the question, What is God doing through the coronavirus?—reminding us that God is at work in this moment in history.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article by Sarah Wisniewski called Prayer in the Newborn Days. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

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

Links for the Weekend (3/27/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Practice Hospitality. Especially During a Pandemic.

How do we keep our Christian commitment to love our neighbors in the climate of a pandemic? Rosaria Butterfield gives us four ways to practice Christian hospitality in these times.

The sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” reminds Christians of both our positive and negative duties in times of plague. Faced with COVID-19, there are things we should do, and there are things we should not do. In all things, we seek the glory of God and the good of our neighbors. 

Should Stay-at-Home Moms Take a Day Off?

The Ask Pastor John podcast features John Piper answering listener questions on theology, Christian living issues, and more. In this episode, he shares how he and his wife thought about finding “the pace to finish the race.” In other words, how do they help each other to rest, especially when young children are part of the family? (As a bonus, there’s a great segment in this episode about the long-lasting fruit of disciplining children when they’re young.)

So, the question for all of us moms, single moms, husbands, single dads is: How do you find the pace to finish the race? That’s the question. We don’t want to loiter on our heavenly journey, and we don’t want to fall exhausted halfway through. That’s not a selfish question to ask; it’s a wise one to ask: How can I find the pace to finish the race? So whether it’s a day off or some other configuration of off and on, work and rest, a sustaining rhythm, here are five observations that might prove helpful to think about.

25 Hymns to Sing in Troubled Times

In a time when we’re not gathering together as God’s people, here’s an article which collects 25 hymns to sing during times of uncertainty and fear. There’s an accompanying Spotify playlist, too.

So, through these hymns, lay your burdens at Christ’s feet. Praise the Lord of history who holds all things—disease, life, and death—in his hands. Ask for his help in a season of waiting. Lament and grieve the tragic effects of the fall. And herald the good news that through Christ’s death and resurrection, he has given us an unshakeable hope.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article by Erica Goehring called Now is the Time to Love Our Neighbors. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Phil A for his help in rounding up links this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Now is the Time to Love Our Neighbors

At the time of this writing, we are semi-quarantined in hopes of curbing the spread of COVID-19, a virus that has made the start of 2020 quite memorable. 

Response to the escalating cases revved up like an old lawn mower.  First we heard rumblings of a sickness across the globe. Tensions rose, and worries took hold. Finally, in one big surge, the engine roared to life, and next thing we knew, schools and businesses closed, and we huddled inside.

What does this mean for Christians? Some believers say that now is the time for the world to know that the Church really is not a building! We are the body of Christ. 

Scripture commands us at least nine times* to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is no caveat for pandemics, natural disasters, or personal inconvenience. We are Christ’s hands and feet, motivated by love and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Our work does not cease.

I have been thinking about the unconditional command to love our neighbors. Serving others in the current climate feels a little like making sandwiches with our hands tied behind our backs. How can we show love from isolation without touching or visiting? Knowing that we are all learning as we go, here are a few thoughts on loving our neighbors.

Boost Your Physical Health

The guidelines for protecting your own health are not new, but they require added diligence while the threat of illness is high. Details about good hand washing technique and basic disease prevention are available at the following website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html. As we practice disease prevention and focus on the well-being of our neighbors, isolation in our homes is a great act of love. We help prevent spreading the virus to the most vulnerable people and potentially reduce the strain on healthcare workers simply by staying home.

Reach Out

We must think beyond handshakes, hugs, and gathering together as ways of showing we care. Calls, e-mails, or messages through social media are not as intimate, but they provide connection and help create a sense of community. Conversation, by any means, shows your love and concern. Ask how people are doing with sincerity and with patience. 

Anticipate Needs

People may hesitate to ask for help, so be proactive and anticipate ways to be of service. Ask for wisdom from the Lord. James 1:5 reads, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Pray for insight as you seek to bless people around you. We need wisdom in order to keep ourselves safe while also extending help. Fortified by prayer, we are better equipped to serve. 

The healthy among us can limit exposure for people in high risk categories by offering to pick up groceries or run essential errands. Even spending a few minutes picking up litter or raking the weathered leaves from last fall may improve someone’s view from home or lighten his or her workload.

Healthcare workers, retail employees, and emergency responders are still very much on the job. We can broadly assist them by protecting our own health, and we can specifically boost morale by leaving notes of gratitude or sharing colorful drawings from children. If possible, donate supplies or money for emergency work. Consider others in your community who might be under added stress during these difficult times. Small businesses are transforming their operations in order to remain open; we can support their efforts by choosing to purchase essentials from an independent business owner who may be struggling to support a family.

Remember, isolation raises the risk of depression and anxiety for some people. Be mindful of those whose mental health may suffer. Washington County’s mental health crisis hotline is 1-877-225-3567. 

Prioritize Real Health

As Christians, we know that lack of disease in our bodies is a small part of our overall health. We cannot look to physical fitness to assess our well-being. The apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8, “rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Resist the urge to raise bodily health as the highest goal. 

We can preach hygiene day after day, but real hope only comes through the message of Christ. Philippians 4:4-9 tell us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We are in a position to illustrate what the peace of God looks like in the daily life of a believer. We can share the source of our joy. If we seek total assurance in masks, gloves, vitamins, or government leaders, we are headed toward disappoint. If our eyes are upon God, we are headed toward rejoicing. Help the people in your life to know real health and see real hope in action.

As followers of Christ, fear should not dictate our actions nor halt our work, but if fear has crept into your heart, know that you are not alone. The Lord knows our concerns. Join your voice with others as we pray for comfort and protection. 

I pray that God will open our eyes to the needs of our neighbors so that we can shine his light with confidence and love. Our God is a wise and holy father. A virus took us by surprise, but the Lord was not caught off guard. He is ready to equip us to continue the work of his church. 

*Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10: 27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8

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