I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
The passage above is from a collection of Psalms known as the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). They were read or recited aloud each time the faithful ascended the hills of Jerusalem when returning to the sanctuary for worship. These psalms anticipate the nearness with God brought through worship in the sanctuary. They just as eagerly anticipate the gathering of the community. Nearness with God and with God’s people are held as the most important parts of
worship. That is something worthwhile for us to think about as we are coming to terms with the recent changes in our world. Worship is a very different thing in this time of social distancing. It won’t always be like this. But, we miss each other. We miss the inside of the sanctuary! We miss worshiping together. We miss the reconciliation of reading the prayer of confession and seeing each other while we read it. This is brought into sharp focus each time I see someone from church, I can feel my heart leap inside! You are the people God has called me to love.
No one is more eager to return to worship than our Session and worship leaders. However, with recent increases in the rates of COVID-19 in our area coupled with the uncertainty brought by schools resuming classes in person, there is real reason to be concerned. In a sad twist, it appears that worship may be even more risky, in terms of virus exposure, than going to a bar. The driving force behind this appears to be that unison prayers and singing cause greater spread of
airborne virus droplets.
For these and other reasons, the Session has
determined that worship will take the form of webcasting (YouTube) for yet another couple of months. The Session will meet again in October to reassess the risks and discuss options.
But, you say, “Gathering together is important!” If we worship only online, we miss out on the witness of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even the Psalmist spoke to that need. What do we intend to do about that?
Gathering is important. Gathering in large numbers and singing and praying out loud is what is most risky. But, we can gather in smaller numbers. And, gathering in small groups has demonstrated throughout the history of faith to greatly support spiritual growth. If we were to ask a historian what one practice led to the Great Awakening (the dramatic increase in the Christian faith in American during the 1700 and 1800s that we are just now seeing the tail end of) the reply would be “meeting in small groups.” Small groups give us a chance to explore faith and learn from each other’s journeys.
Our church’s small groups have been meeting in July and August. We have been gathering outdoors each week to read the passages that will be preached on in church the next Sunday. I have enjoyed seeing the scripture through your eyes. These meetings that have been outdoors will now multiply, add new themes, and migrate indoors. We have a host of meeting opportunities in development. I would like you to consider which ones might appeal to your spiritual growth. Then, call the
office to register. We would like to be sensitive to
scheduling needs, so we will pick days and times that work best for those interested. We will plan for those that generate interest! Here are some for you to consider and from which to chose:
Bible studies: We have had two Bible study meetings this summer. As you just read, they have been studying the passages that we will read in worship, but in much greater detail.
Book studies: The Book of Joy: This summer, the local clergy group has been reading The Book of Joy. It is co-authored by Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It is fascinating! The point of the work is that joy in relationship to each other and God is the chief goal of humankind. They support this idea both theologically and scientifically. I, for one, am eager to read it with you and hear your thoughts on it!
Another kind of book study: Rather than each person reading the same book, in this kind of book study, each person reads a different book and shares the theme with the group. This is a great way to survey a number of books and decide which ones you will read yourself. This group would meet once a month for each person to share.
Discussion group: With all the amazing things in the news this year, many congregations are restarting discussion groups. We would plan a topic a month in advance and then gather to discuss it. It would be wise for us to avoid presidential choices, but all other topics are open–racism, COVID-19, world events–the list is endless! Call with your recommendations for topics! This group seems to me to be best held on a Wednesday evening or Saturday morning.
Women’s groups: The Circles are planning
specific studies prepared by Horizons. I will let them share with you what their themes are and when they will meet. For an invitation to one of these groups, I would contact RoAnn Ledin.
If any of these groups appeal to you, please call the church office or email me, and we will help get you connected. In the meantime, we will be researching options for those who would like to be involved but need a virtual option.
The church has outlived pandemics before! On average, the human race has combated a pandemic every 42.5 years. So, our faith is well suited to dealing with adversity. Really, the Church thrives in times of crisis. It helps us focus on what is most important. Our core vision at UPCC remains unchanged: worship,
Christian education, and mission. The methods and means may change for a time, but God is our sure and certain help. We will see this through and be stronger and more
faithful on the other side.
Grace and peace,