Coronavirus (Covid-19) Congregational Update

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dear First Presbyterian Family,

I send grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has formed us to be his Body in this place. And I send love to you, thinking of how I have missed you during the many weeks that we have not been able to worship together in the sanctuary as we are accustomed to do. The day is coming, however, when God will gather us all back into that space. It will be a glorious day of joy and celebration. I think of the words of Isaiah as he encourages the exiles upon the possible return to their homeland: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

We long for that day of return and renewal. And in recent days and weeks, there are church leaders working toward that end -- figuring out when and how we will come back together into safe, hospitable space. If you watch the service online each week, you know the many rows of pews in our sanctuary reflect the beauty of God's presence whether they are full or empty. But God will have us fill them in his time and in his way. God's timing and God's way of reuniting us create a centerpiece of all the prayers being lifted by your church leaders who are making the  plans for our worshipful reunion. I ask you to pray with them.

Today, I was a participant in an online meeting with other pastors in Natchez. Mayor Darryl Grennell called the meeting so that we might discuss the complex questions surrounding safe return to worship in church sanctuaries. The keynote speaker at the meeting was Dr. Lee England, an internist who also is the infectious disease expert in Adams County. Dr. England brought us up to date on the activity of COVID-19 in our community, saying that cases are continuing to occur but not in the numbers of three weeks ago.

Here is the catch, according to Dr. England: As certain social and business restrictions have been eased in Natchez recently, the virus could begin to spread again. His recommendation is that churches wait another four weeks to see what has happened as a result of eased restrictions. If churches begin to gather at the same time that new cases (not yet detected) begin to rise in the community, the chance of spreading the virus within the church gathering is more likely.

The recommendation your First Presbyterian COVID-19 Response Committee has received is that we wait for four more weeks, until June 21, to make plans for a return to worship. Following this recommendation seems the best way to love and protect one another. Certainly, data could change within the next four weeks. Maybe an earlier date can be set. Let's pray for patience.

Indeed, will you say with me to our Lord these words the disciples said so long ago: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). With love for God and love for one another, let us be brave and faithful people who will pray without reservation, "Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God will lead us home. In the meantime, I will picture you in the pews on Sundays as I pray, preach, and give thanks to God for you on Sunday mornings and know we are one in Spirit.

Giving thanks for you and praying that God will bless you and keep his hand upon you,