In Revelation 3, Christ tells the faithful but hard-pressed church in Philadelphia (Asia Minor, not Pennsylvania), “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” This promise reminds us that no person or circumstance can block blessings Jesus decides to give his church. In our own context – not even Covid spikes or limits on gatherings can stop Christ from continuing his good work at Grace.
We need to remember Jesus’ promise as infections and restrictions increase this winter. Our state government recently tightened limits on gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of Covid. These restrictions bring health benefits but also social, emotional, and economic costs to all segments of society, including churches. No matter how we feel about the government’s strategy, we all agree that there is a sense of loss and sadness at the prospect of a second wave of restrictions.
The leaders of Grace recognize that our government is exercising its God-given calling to promote the public good (Rom. 13:4). We also recognize that God wants us to obey government authorities (Rom. 13:1) unless they require us to violate his Word. We will therefore implement the new measures starting this coming Sunday. They will not further impact our worship services, but they will affect some other areas of church life. Linked below is a letter from the Pandemic Safety Task Force outlining the details of these changes.
One of the most significant changes that you will see in the Task Force’s letter is that we can no longer hold a large-scale fellowship time in the parking lot. This is because social events connected with church services must be capped at 25 people. We will feel this loss keenly, since our parking lot fellowship has provided a lifeline of connection in an otherwise isolated season. Of course, we can continue to visit with one another as we move from the service into the parking lot. We may also be able to find other ways of socializing that comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the law. Large-scale fellowship as an organized event, however, is “shut” to us for a time. But we need to ask – what has Jesus opened to us?
Christ opens to us growth in personal outreach. We should not resign ourselves to a loss of fellowship, but rather see ourselves moving into a season of decentralized fellowship. This will mean that each of us will need to take initiative to connect with and encourage others, something Jesus equips us to do by his Spirit (Eph. 4:4-16). What will this look like for you? Maybe on Sunday afternoons you will start checking in with a friend from Grace via phone. Perhaps you will be able to invite a few folks over on Sunday for Covid-compliant fellowship, or you will brave the cold and invite Grace friends along on some outdoor activities. This might be the season to get involved in a Bible Study, Fellowship Group, or Community Prayer Group. You may want to take up the habit of using the Prayer List to intercede daily for the congregation and its members. Let’s get creative and trust Jesus to bring growth and gain out of loss.
Christ opens to us growth in character through adversity. Whenever we get stuck in some unfortunate circumstance, we tend to think of it as a wasted season. A second dip into Covid restrictions this winter certainly has the feel of another stuck and wasted phase. But God looks at it very differently. To him, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” Rom 5:3-4. In adversity, God shows us the shortness of our tempers and the smallness of our faith. Humbled by our sins, we rely on the Savior’s grace in a new way. Adversity is the grad school of the Christian life, where we learn deeper humility and higher hope in Christ. This winter, let us aim at endurance and hope, both of which Christ is eager to grant.
As some of our opportunities close down, let us trust Christ to open wide his grace and help.