What to know and expect returning to church? Scroll down to Wednesday, May 27 update.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Sent by Email at 4:30 PM
Dear Church Family,
After many meetings and much valuable feedback from many of you, the Session has approved plans for how we will shape our staff following the retirement of Margaret Ferguson from her role as Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at the end of January.
All along, the Session and I have had two goals in mind. First, we have recognized the need to fill the vacuum of congregational care that will be left by Margaret’s retirement. As stated in our enduring values of sacrificial love and generational investment, we are a congregation that loves one another in costly ways across generations. So many of your experiences with this church are centered on times when a pastor, staff or congregation member has cared for you and your family in a time of need. This is not something that we are willing to let slide, but rather something that we want to see expanded.
Second, we have recognized an opportunity to empower our pastors to devote more of their time, energies, and gifts towards the core activities of pastoring, and by so doing, to continue moving our church towards greater alignment with our enduring values and progress towards our vision of equipping all people to live ordinary life as the faithful presence of Jesus’s love.
I am excited about the way that we are going to be meeting both of these goals in the months ahead – strengthening our ability to create a culture of care while fostering alignment with our values and vision. That will be done through a few related hires.
First, we will be launching a search for a new Associate Pastor of Congregational Care. Stepping into the role that Margaret has filled so well for the last 10 years, this person will support the overall work of the pastoral team in caring for members of Signal Pres, joining Joey, Andy, and me in regular hospital and home visitation and more general pastoral care. This person also will coordinate our efforts to identify, train, and mobilize congregation members to care for one another and their neighbors. With this person’s assistance and guidance, my desire is to spread direct pastoral care more fully across all 4 of your pastors. Together, we will elect a search committee for this role at a congregational meeting in January.
Second, we will be hiring an Executive Director. The conviction of the Session is that this new position is a strategic one in terms of accomplishing both of the above goals.
First, by assuming many of the organizational management responsibilities that presently take up a good bit of my time, this position will allow me to place more time and energy on the work of pastoral care. Over recent weeks, it has been my privilege to sit down in the living room or on the back porch of many of our Senior Adult members. It has been a breath of fresh air to sit with you, listen to you and share God’s word with you. It has reminded me of the kind of shepherding work that is at the heart of who God has called me to be as a pastor but that, over my 6 years here, I have seen crowded out of my actual work, due to the demands of managing the “business side” of the church and my own limitations. I believe strongly that Joey, Andy, the new Associate Pastor and I can best serve this church by dedicating ourselves to this kind of shepherding work, and that in so doing we will be able to expand the congregational care that we offer to all ages. At the same time I know that, given the importance of the “business side” of the church and the primary calling that the four of us have to our spouses and children, we must make room for this kind of priority. The Executive Director is our way of doing exactly that.
Second, by serving as a steward of the vision put forward by our Session, the Executive Director will ensure that all parts of the church’s life (budget, property, programs, staff, committees) are working together to help us remain and increasingly become the kind of church we desire to be. This is the “business side” of the church’s life to which I refer above, and it is vital to ensuring that the many good things we do as a church work together to serve the ultimate good to which Jesus has called us in Matthew 28:18-20. Our church is blessed with an amazing staff, faithful givers like you, a variety of programs and incredibly able lay people willing to give their time and energy towards ministry. I can barely contain my excitement when I think about the kind of growth that will happen among us as we find the man or woman whose gifts and passions enable him or her to steward all those resources in a unified and intentional way! The Session will appoint a Search Committee for this role in December.
Third, we are searching for a Director of Women’s Ministry & Discipleship. I have communicated with you about this position in a previous letter. We are very much open to the fact that God might call a woman to be next the Associate Pastor of Congregational Care. Regardless, this position will guarantee our commitment to ensure that our women are known, taught and cared for. The search for this position has been underway since September.
I am sure that you have questions about different parts of these plans, even as I know that the elders are eager to share more of our thinking behind them. In an effort to allow for both of those things while also living under our COVID restrictions, we are planning a virtual town hall on Sunday, December 6 at 6:00 PM. Details will be forthcoming, but you will have a chance to ask questions live that night or to ask them ahead of time by emailing your question to Christie. The town hall will be recorded and made available on demand for those not able to be present live.
I am grateful for the feedback that many of you have given over these weeks, and for the leadership of your elders during these discussions. I promise you that you are a church with elders who love the LORD, love you, love this church and work hard to do what is faithful and wise. Thanks be to God!
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Sent by Email at 10:15 AM
As you receive this, we are six days away from the November 3rd election. Perhaps more than any presidential election in recent memory, there is an intensity and anxiety around the top-of-the-ballot vote that we are privileged to cast as members of this republic. What was already guaranteed to be a rancorous campaign season has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus epidemic and the racial tensions that flared after the death of George Floyd earlier this summer. These are weighty days.
How should a Christian vote? We know that this is a question that many of you are asking and that we have asked ourselves. It is the right question to ask, because as followers of Jesus we really do believe that his life, death and resurrection have changed everything. Jesus has something to say about all of life, voting included. Given that, you might expect from us a sermon titled, “Who A Christian Should Vote For” or a class highlighting the pros and cons of candidates and party platforms. As you’ve no doubt noticed, we don’t do that, and this comes from a couple of convictions that we have.
First, we believe that our first and foremost calling is to shape you as disciples of Jesus. This means that when there are issues on which Scripture is absolutely clear – “Worship the Lord your God only,” “You shall not murder,” and “You shall not lie,” for example – we seek to be absolutely clear with you in our preaching and teaching. But there are many other matters that are not addressed explicitly in Scripture – your personal use of alcohol, where you send your children to school, the kinds of movies you watch, and more. On these matters we all use our biblical convictions to make decisions, but Christians of good faith and intentions may come to different conclusions. Your vote in this election is one of those matters. As Christians who look to Scripture as the unique, guiding authority in our lives, each of us as pastors has thought about our own vote and how we will cast it, and we encourage you to do the same. But we don’t believe that we have the authority to bind your conscience to a specific vote. Instead, we will continue the very ordinary and glorious work of forming men and women to be followers of Jesus in every aspect of their lives – including our votes.
Second, we believe that the most important thing we can do remains fixing our eyes on the true King and seeking his Kingdom first. Voting is a privilege and we have a responsibility to steward what we have been given. But in the midst of the breathless political commentary and doomsday predictions there is the temptation to equate faithfulness with standing in line to cast a ballot every four years. Discipleship may not be less than voting, but it is certainly more. In between our election cycles, Jesus’ call on our lives continues: to care for our neighbors, to protect the vulnerable, to welcome strangers, and to proclaim Jesus’ name in word and in deed. Surely one of Satan’s great strategies is to distract us from these ordinary acts of love by making us frantic about things over which we have little control.
So we hope that you will cast your vote this Tuesday, for the next president of this country and for all those who will be called to serve the common good of our country, state, county and town. As usual, Signal Pres will serve as a polling site – you can vote in Dudley Hall on November 3, 8 AM-8 PM.
Like many of you, we will tune in on Tuesday evening to hear the results. But whatever the reality we wake up to on Wednesday morning, our mission will be the same and our security will be just as sure. God will remain on his throne, no matter who is in the Oval Office. There will still be neighbors to love, no matter what their political persuasion. And the church will still be called to that same work of forming disciples as we hold forth the wonderful word of the Gospel to a world in desperate need of good news.
Scott, Andy, Margaret and Joey
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Sent by Email at 3:15 PM
Two weeks from today, the election will be over. None of us knows for sure what the headlines will be on that day. But we certainly know already who will be sovereign over the headlines, and whose will will be done through them. He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, for a thousand generations. Take heart. Persevere in faith and faithfulness!
Next week in this letter your pastors will be sending you some thoughts to take with you as you go to the voting booth, no matter the candidate for whom you vote. Be on the lookout for that.
4:00 PM Worship Service Starts this Sunday, 10/25
As we told you in last week’s letter, we will resume the 4 PM service this week. I continue to hope that behind this you will see our desire to make the way clear for as many as possible to return to safe, cautious, in-person worship. That desire is built on God’s clear promises about what he does among his gathered people by his Spirit, through word and sacrament. Childcare will be available at all 3 services. We hope to see you face to face!
One more request about worship. The 11 AM service tends to be the most popular one, and since all of you are so prompt, that means that the entry point is backing up right at 11:00. Please consider showing up 10-15 minutes early for morning services in order to help us get you and other worshippers seated before the service begins. Thank you!
Please be praying for Scott and Margaret Ferguson, after Scott tested positive for the coronavirus this past Sunday. Thus far, Scott is doing well and Margaret has not tested positive. We pray that this continues to be the case for both them! That said, Margaret will be carrying out ministry from her home for the next couple of weeks in accordance with CDC guidelines. Already this week, she has been with us virtually for staff meeting and present with so many of you by phone, zoom, etc…. Quarantine won’t keep her down, but I did want you to know why you will not see her on Sunday morning for the next few weeks.
Also, remember that this Sunday after worship you will again have a chance to record videos for Margaret and Scott ahead of her January retirement. A team of folks will direct you to the right location when the services are done.
In regards to staffing after Margaret’s retirement, the Session continues making plans based on our needs and our vision. We continue to covet your prayers as we plan, and we will be in communication with you as soon as those plans come together.
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Sent by Email at 11:30 AM
4:00 PM Worship Service Starts October 25
Starting on October 25, we will be offering a 3rd worship service on Sundays at 4:00 PM. This service will be the same as the morning services. You might remember that we had this service in place back in June when we resumed gathered worship, but suspended it because of lack of need. Now, as we continue to see our worship services fill back up (especially at 11:00), we will resume this service with the goal of making safe, socially distant worship available to as many as possible. Over 50 of you have already agreed to attend the 4 PM service between October 25 and Thanksgiving – let me thank you for your willingness to help us in this way!
Perhaps you have been hesitant about returning to worship because the idea of crowds during COVID makes you nervous. The 4 PM service, which will likely be smaller in number, might be the place for you (and yes, theoretically the 9 AM and 11 AM services should have more room now as well!). Perhaps busy weekends have gotten you out of a Sunday morning rhythm. The 4 PM service could be for you.
I also want to thank the staff and volunteers — both our music team and worship shepherds — for their help with this. Adding a third Sunday service is a lot for all of them! I know you join me in being grateful for their willingness to serve so that as many as possible might gather for worship.
We will run the 4 PM service through November 22. During this period, we will be watching to see if the service actually helps us welcome more people back into the sanctuary for worship, and decide about its permanent place in the schedule based on that standard.
As we come to October, we come to the time of year when our church is accustomed to talking about stewardship in general and about our financial support of the church’s ministry in for the next year in particular.
Like just about everything else in 2020, our thinking about stewardship this year happens in a whole different light. We are all in the midst of uncertainty and the questions it brings:
How long will this pandemic last?
What will 2021 bring to the economy in general and to my finances in particular?
The uncertainty is just as real for us as a church:
When will we be “back to normal?”
What will we be able to do in 2021?
What will we have to do in 2021?
Which of our staffing needs will we be able to afford?
As much as uncertainty makes me unwilling to think about the future (I just need to make it through today) we remember that the gospel calls us on a different path. In God’s providence, uncertainty in the kingdom of the world calls us to double down our investment in his kingdom.
As we prepare to enter into our stewardship season, I invite you to start readying the ground of your heart for thinking about generosity. Maybe these questions will be helpful:
- Where has the uncertainty of this last year pushed you most often this year? To the LORD? To idols? Which ones?
- Where have you seen the steadiness of God’s work in your life even amid the unsteadiness that we have all felt?
- What role does generosity have in your ability to taste and see that goodness of God?
Our stewardship season will run from October 31-November 21. Be on the lookout for more information, even as you begin considering now how you will support the work of the local church in the year ahead.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Sent by Email at 11:20 AM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
Grace and peace! The church staff is just back from a post-lunch excursion to the Sonic on Dayton Blvd. We spent a few minutes (over cherry limeades, of course) sharing with each other some of the ways that we have seen the Lord show himself faithful over these last few months. It was encouraging, to say the least. I can only hope that each of you, amid the chaos, has found a minute to think about the same thing. God is faithful, and nothing in this or any season of life has the power to upend that.
It’s Time to Re-Connect
Over the course of the last week, we had many firsts for the Fall: our first NightOWLS of the year (NightOWLS is now offered 3 times during the weekend instead of two in order to promote smaller groups and physical distancing); our first night of small groups for students and kids; our first Westminster Singers; and our first Women’s Circles meeting on campus. All of this goes along with what has begun or continues in recent weeks – corporate worship including childcare, Women of the Word small groups, men’s small groups, etc…. None of these things look normal but all of them are happening!
My plea to you is that if you have been disconnected since Covid began, you would recognize that this is the time to step back towards worship, community and discipleship. We need to be together in corporate worship, for which online streaming is best used as an imperfect substitution not an equal alternative. We need to be together in communities that know us and pray for us. From youngest to oldest, whether in person or on zoom, there is at least one opportunity to connect with other believers right now as we try to move together towards Christ and all of his riches. I need this. You need this. I know that you expect the pastor to say things like this, but I promise it’s not about numbers and crowds. It’s about the fact that in worship and community we find the ordinary means by which God has designed to give us grace, and in the mist of life in this fallen world we need more grace! To those of you who have become disconnected, I urge you not to let another week go by without addressing that. To those of you who have made steps to reconnect, I urge you to encourage your brothers and sisters in the church to take that step with you. As a church, let’s commit to taking advantage of what God has given us in his fatherly wisdom over and love towards us.
Our Session met on Sunday night for our monthly meeting. We had a two-part “order of the day.” First, we shared a time in which elders reflected on a month spent reading through Luke’s gospel with a special eye toward the ways in which Jesus’ earthly ministry carries on the storyline of the Bible, namely, God gathering under his reign that crowd of every tribe, tongue, race, ethnicity and nation that we see around the throne in Revelation 7. All who shared spoke of seeing this element of Jesus’ earthly ministry both in familiar and surprising places – so clearly, in fact, that our call as his church to be about the same work is becoming more clear in our eyes. We will now turn our attention more directly to what it looks like for our church to be about that work in our particular place and time.
The second part of our discussion was the continuation of the conversation about staffing needs both before and after Margaret’s retirement. We have a pretty good list of our needs now on paper. Some of those are directly related to Margaret’s retirement (i.e. an older staff person, connection to and for Senior Adults, a senior staff member to whom women can relate in a safe and comfortable manner) and some of those needs are unrelated to Margaret’s retirement (e.g. leadership in equipping our congregation for mission). There are many other needs on the list, so don’t worry if I didn’t mention one you are thinking about – but again, please feel free to share that with me! We are now preparing to move to phase two of our process, which is brainstorming how we might use our human and financial resources to meet those needs.
There are two other items from the meeting that might be of interest to you. One, we approved a $50,000 donation towards a 5th campus for our ministry partners at Haiti Outreach Ministry. As many of you know, we have a great relationship with Pastor Leon and others, and the elders are excited about deepening that relationship even by way of this support. Two, we approved some significant filtration and airflow upgrades to the HVAC system in the sanctuary and Cornerstone Building. I’m not going to try to sound like I understand the mechanics of this, but I want you to know that the elders are taking the advice of mechanical engineers in order to make our building as safe as possible in both the near and long term. You should also know that both of these things are made possible because of your continued generosity and faithfulness. Year-to-date 2020 giving is about $100,000 over where it was at this point in 2019. That is amazing. Thank you!
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Sent by Email at 3:00 PM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
I want to update you today on the work of the Session as we consider how we will shape our staff following Margaret Ferguson’s retirement on January 31, 2021.
I think we all know that Margaret is irreplaceable! Yet, just like you, we trust that our Lord has good plans and purposes for us. In pursuit of that, the question before us is how can Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church best use its financial and human resources to preserve our enduring values and further our mission?
Step 1: Define the Needs
Last week the elders started a three-phase process aimed at answering this question. Right now we are defining the needs. This phase involves thinking about areas where our staff and church could be strengthened in pursuit of our enduring values and vision. Some of these needs are already present. Some of these needs will become needs on February 1, 2021. Our goal is to name as many of these as we can.
A brief word about needs: it did not take the elders long to name the fact that Margaret’s departure will be particularly significant for our ministry to Senior Adults. To our Senior Adults, I want to say now that at the top of my priority list as we enter this transition is to make sure that you are cared for, known, and given every opportunity to engage actively with this church family. We are who we are today because of your faithfulness through the years. Simply said: we love you, we hear you, and you will not be left behind! It’s a privilege to be your pastor.
Step 2: Brainstorm the Options
Phase two of our process will be to brainstorm the options. Given the identified needs, we will work to put ‘on the table’ any and every possible way that we might best use our financial and human resources in order to meet those needs. I’m willing to bet that one of these options will be to look for someone to fill Margaret’s role as the pastor for congregational care. But even while protecting the commitments mentioned above, we want to be open to any and every option that might best serve you and this church. Surely the best of these options will consider what staff positions and gifts will complement the fantastic staff team that I am privileged to work with every day. But also, we will be looking for ways in which we can continue to make space for the varied gifts of this great congregation that I am privileged to pastor!
Step 3: Narrow in on the Plan
Phase three of our process will be to narrow in on the plan. Having discerned the options before us, and with the Lord’s help, we will choose the one that best suits this church in this moment of her history. We will then gather any necessary search committees as we get to work turning the plan into reality.
This process will be completely transparent and open to you, the congregation, as we continue to share with you of our progress and of any decisions that are made. If you have questions, ideas, or concerns, I’d love to hear from you (email here, 886-2190, or in person)!
I covet your prayers for the elders as we take on this important work. You can pray that the Lord would give us an ever-deepening love for every person and section of this church. You can pray that the Lord would give us a confidence in his shepherding care of this church that would bolster our own confidence as we make plans and decisions. And you can always pray that in all of our decisions much would be made of Jesus! Of course, you can be assured that we are praying the same things for you!
Grace and peace,
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:30 PM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
Though nothing is back to normal, I do write today cautiously optimistic that our church stands on the verge of resuming face-to-face ministry in expanded—albeit different—ways. I commend the church staff to you as they have spent the better part of the last couple of months drowning in details about waivers, screening forms, and a whole slew of other COVID-related administrative details that have, seemingly, nothing to do with the ministry to which we have been called! The staff has persevered, and stands ready to welcome all of you—from our youngest children to our oldest adults—into small group discipleship this Fall.
Sunday Worship Update
It is fun to see those of you who have begun returning to in-person worship over the last few weeks. PreK Childcare resumed last Sunday (RSVP for this Sunday here), and I know that our preschool staff loved every minute! Our in-person attendance is slowly but surely trending upwards, but there is still room in both worship services. If you are comfortable being present in the sanctuary but have simply grown accustomed to the ease of worship on the couch, I encourage you to join us and be reminded of the unique benefit of in-person worship. If you long to join us but are not yet able or comfortable doing so, know that you are missed, and we can’t wait to welcome you back!
Need-to-Know Info about Fall Kick-Offs
There is something for everyone kicking off this Fall – and you can find those details here. There are a few administrative things that apply to all of us as we resume in-person ministry beyond Sunday worship. Even if these seem like a lot to you, please know that our primary concerns are to keep one another as safe as possible and to do so in ways that are as minimally disruptive to you as possible!
With the exception of Sunday worship, everyone who is on campus or participating in a church-sponsored, in-person gathering off campus is required to fill out a one time waiver. This waiver can be filled out for adults here and for minors here. Do it now and forget it – simple!
As we seek to love one another, we are asking everyone to take personal responsibility and stay home when you or a member of your household is sick, diagnosed with COVID-19, or exposed to someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19. In order to help with this, anyone coming to campus (with the exception of Sunday morning worship) will see and/or be asked a set of screening questions when they arrive. If you cannot answer no to all of these questions, we’ll need you to go home for the day. Many of you are growing accustomed to this routine at school or work, and we thank you for abiding by this simple practice to help keep us safe and healthy.
What is SignalConnect?
SignalConnect is a digital platform that helps us better engage with each other as a church family. Through SignalConnect, you can RSVP for events, access the church directory, sign up to volunteer, view your giving statements, join groups, and much more.
How do I access SignalConnect?
This afternoon you will receive an email from us with an activation link. Simply click the link and follow the prompts to create an account. To get to SignalConnect in the future, go to signalpres.org and click SignalConnect in the top right corner.
What’s my next step?
Please log in and take a minute to review your profile, updating any missing or incorrect information for you AND your family members. Please also upload a picture of yourself or your family. To do this, log in and click on your picture or initials in the circle in the top right of your screen.
Next, click Edit Profile, fill in the fields, and click SAVE. Be sure to:
* Use 10-digit phone numbers
* Select your mobile carrier if you want to be able to receive texts from us
* Repeat this process for each member of your family
That’s all for now!
We’ll pass along tips and tricks for getting the most out of SignalConnect in the coming weeks. If you run into issues or have any questions, please call the church office at 886.2190.
Pressing on toward the goal with you,
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:00 PM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
The Psalmist writes, Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. There is so much that I don’t know right now. Should I send my kids to school or go virtual? Is it safe to keep my plans? How long will this last? But it’s good to be reminded by the Psalmist that there is one thing that we do know: The LORD is God. The Psalmist uses the personal, covenant name of God there – his point is that the One who made the promise to Abraham and who redeemed his people out of Egypt is the One who is on the throne, who has us like the shepherd has his sheep, leading us to the green pastures of his kingdom. I know that you know this just like I know it, but I suspect that you and I both need God’s help in connecting that head knowledge to our hearts so that it might guide us in the face of the many uncertainties that do attend us. I’ll pray that way for you, and you can pray that way for me, too.
The Lord’s Supper This Sunday
We have resumed our normal practice of coming to the Lord’s Table on the first Sunday of the month, which means that we will gather around the table this Sunday, August 2 at 9 AM and 11 AM. If you are not yet able to attend in person, please stop by the church office either Wednesday or Thursday of this week before 5 PM to pick up the elements. Officers continue to be on the ready to deliver the elements to those not able to make it by the church, including Alexian residents. We make this provision in order to highlight and preserve the unity in Christ which is normally seen in sharing a common loaf and cup. I hope you are with us in person on Sunday, but however it happens, I look forward to being around the table with you!
Upcoming Sermon Series – the Life of David
Starting on August 16th we will begin looking together at the life of David on Sunday mornings. This study will pick up in 1 Samuel 16, when David is chosen by God out of the sheep fields, and take us all the way through 2 Samuel, when we hear David’s last words. Along the way, we will walk together through the story of a man who, even in his position as king, reminds us a lot of ourselves in that he has some high highs and some low lows. But ultimately, David’s story is no mere biography but a foreshadowing picture of the true and only king over God’s people, Jesus.
A Conversation Begins
It has been a few weeks since the pastors wrote to you about our intention to begin an honest, gospel-centered conversation about race, racism and repentance among the body here at Signal Pres. At our July Session meeting, the elders spent the bulk of our time beginning this conversation. There were a couple of questions that we talked about in small groups together: What is your first memory of being aware of race and racism around you? What has caught your attention during these last weeks in our country? What are your hopes or fears as we start this conversation at Signal Pres? It was a first step, but a rich one that I want you, the congregation, to be aware of. Over these next few months, the Session will continue down this road and we will keep you updated as to the share and direction of the conversation. I’d imagine that all of us are eager to share our thoughts on these issues, and I do look forward to the day when that is able to happen. In the meantime, know that your elders are learning to talk and think about the issues of race and racism in a way that is informed and shaped by Scripture (not party politics on either side) so that we can, soon, lead a similar conversation among the church family that is humble, honest, fruitful and, above all, honoring of Jesus in whom we have ben reconciled to God in one body, through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:16).
Know that the LORD, he is God! By his abounding grace, we will know it now and forever. What’s more, this mountain, this city, and this world will know it too, even through us.
Pressing on toward the goal with you,
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Sent by Email at 4:30 PM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
Salvation belongs to the LORD! The words of Jonah from the belly of the fish are as true for us as they ever have been. We are living through a period of time in which we yearn for the salvation of the LORD to be known. The grace of God in that is that he is opening our eyes to our need for him, a need that our own hands can do nothing to meet. May he bind our wandering hearts to himself!
Heading towards Fall
All of us hoped that by the time the school year rolled around, we would be resuming some type of normal routine. Now we know that even as schools will reopen, it will be anything but normal. That said, your pastors and Session are of the conviction that the spiritual formation of God’s people is of vital importance, and that, as the people of an incarnational God, we should work to enable face-to-face ministry as much as possible. The COVID-19 commission of the Session and our medical advisors have been working through how we might do that, which I want to pass on to you today. The info below is intended to be a high-level view of what we are doing. For the sake of space and relevance, we will share the how details as they are finalized with participants in each ministry area. But rest assured that none of these plans will become reality until every question of risk mitigation is answered to the best of our ability!
Men’s, Women’s & Mixed Small Groups for Adults
As you might expect, ministry plans for the foreseeable future are going to center on small groups. For adults, WOW (Women of the Word, a weekly bible study) will be resuming on Thursday, August 27. The in-person large group teaching will be replaced with pre-recorded teaching that will be viewed by each WOW small group. Men’s ministry will launch small groups that function in much the same way this Fall. In fact, both men and women will be studying the book of Revelation, with women from our church recording the teaching for the WOW group and men from our church recording the teaching for the men’s groups. You can also look for a limited number of short term mixed gender groups that will meet to study various topics. All small groups will be limited to 12 or fewer participants, and participants will wear masks when meeting indoors. If you are interested in getting connected with any of these groups, men or couples should contact Joey Sherrard and women should contact Beth Rowlett.
Childcare On Sundays & For Small Groups
We plan to resume childcare–with a whole host of new precautions–on Sunday, August 16 for children ages 0-4. Our plan is to have childcare available at all of our services, including the 4 PM service if/when that resumes. As a matter of safety and stewardship, we will be asking parents to make reservations in advance. Parents will receive relevant instructions in the days ahead. Childcare will also be available for the women’s small groups mentioned above.
On September 9, we plan to resume a modified version of our Wednesday night ministry for students. While there will be no dinner, worship, or large group gathering, we will still have meaningful time together! D-Groups will become small groups that will be led by one of their consistent adult leaders. Each group will have its own meeting space to ensure that groups remain at 12 or less and do not come into contact with other groups. Within this structure we have a plan for how teaching, fun, discipleship, and connection will still take place. More info will come directly to Student Ministry families.
Wednesday Nights for Pre-K & Kids
Also on September 9 we plan to launch a new offering for our kids. It’s not Sunday School and it’s not Agape Club, but our Kids Ministry team is hard at work to come up with a safe way to teach and disciple our kids in a setting that values connection and fun during this season. Parents, be on the lookout for more info from the Kids Ministry team!
Children’s & Youth Choirs
Even if our COVID-19 precautions mean that we won’t be singing together for the time being, children’s and youth choirs still provide a great chance for community and for learning more about God’s word and leading his people in worship. Youth Choir (grades 6-12) begins Sunday, August 23 and Westminster Singers (grades 3-5) begins on Wednesday, September 9. Contact Beth to learn more.
Presbyterian Day School
PDS plans to open on schedule on August 18. Plans are being finalized to ensure that classes are kept small and separated from one another, and to ensure safety among children and teachers in individual classes.
We do not have plans to resume Sunday School until there is a significant loosening of the social distancing restrictions. Among the many factors in this decision are that several of our adult classes are too large to accommodate the kind of spacing requirements presently needed, and that having Sunday School would open up the building in a way that would undermine all of our current Sunday morning precautions (entry, exit, avoiding clusters in the hall, etc…). For this season, we are putting our adult discipleship marbles in the basket of small groups. I want to emphasize that this is not a philosophical decision about the importance of Sunday School but a practical decision in light of our current realities. To the degree that adult classes would like to meet online, they are always encouraged to do so!
One Change in Worship
We have told you that our Session Commission and medical advisers are constantly reviewing our Sunday morning worship plans to ensure safety for all involved. That review has led to one change that you will start seeing this week in that our vocalists will remain masked even while singing. This is a recommendation that has come to us from medical professionals in light of the tight space of the choir loft as we seek to ensure the safety of the instrumentalists and vocalists who share that space. On so many levels my gut revolts against putting a mask on our incredibly gifted vocalists. I can’t imagine but that it will look and sound strange. Still, I think it’s the right decision. I hope that it communicates to our musicians and by extension to each of us that we really are prioritizing our enduring value of sacrificial love to care for one another, even in costly ways.
Welcome Melissa Martin, Church Accountant!
We are pleased to welcome Melissa to our staff team effective Monday, July 27 when she will begin a transition time of working alongside our beloved Carol Simmons, who is retiring after 30 years of faithful service (we will celebrate Carol upon her retirement at the end of this transition period in August). Melissa has over a decade of accounting experience in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds, most recently at Habitat For Humanity. She and her husband have two grown children. Melissa will normally be in the office Monday-Thursday. Starting next week, you can welcome her at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading this far! Even more, thanks for persevering through this difficult season of life and ministry with your brothers and sisters here at Signal Pres. It is a great encouragement to me to see so many faithful disciples continuing to run the race marked out before us.
You are loved and missed!
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Sent by Email at 9:15 AM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
It was good to gather around the Lord’s Table this past Sunday! Thanks to all of you who made a special effort to be with us even over a holiday weekend, whether by being present in the sanctuary or by coming to get the elements from the church office in advance. I am also thankful for the elders and deacons who delivered the elements to so many of our members who are not able to get out right now, including our Alexian residents. Knowing that so many of us were gathering around the Lord’s Table made the sacrament especially meaningful to me.
Surely you know that the presence of COVID-19 in our community continues to rise. As you read all sorts of articles and information about that, it seems good to remind you that a commission of your elders is constantly monitoring the latest information about the virus in our community, both as we make plans for the months ahead and as we review what we are currently doing. In addition to elders Tommy Hayslett, Scott Ferguson and David Barker (plus the pastors), the commission includes advisory members who have access to the information that is so important as we make decisions. That includes Dr. Chad Paxson, a pulmonologist working in Critical Care at Memorial and caring for COVID-19 patients every day; Dr. Taylor Rowlett, a radiologist involved with the group of physicians and administrators making decisions for Memorial Hospital; Dr. Andy Laramore, a pathologist at Memorial, and Mark Price, who as the Athletic Director at Baylor is daily “in the weeds” on matters of gathering large groups of people in this age of the virus. Presently this group is starting to review our plans for Fall programming and gathering, and I hope to be able to share some of those details with you in the next couple of weeks.
Caring for Our Members & Visitors
Over the next couple of weeks, those of you who are present for worship on Sunday will start to notice a new procedure that we are putting into place for both safety and hospitality. As you near the front doors of the sanctuary, you will be met by a worship shepherd who will ask to scan any bar code that you might have with you in your wallet or on a phone (a CVS card, grocery store card, YMCA card, Student ID, etc…). The first time you do this you will then need to spend one minute or less giving the worship shepherd your name and the names of people in your family. After that, all you will need to do is have your card scanned!
The first reason that we are doing this is to help protect you in the event that someone who attends a service is diagnosed with COVID-19. This has not happened yet, and by wearing masks and practicing social distancing we are mitigating the risks posed to you if it were to happen. Still, we want to be able to protect you and your family as best as possible, and this will give us a record of who was at every service. Thus far we have been taking pictures of each service, which has been helpful but has some holes that will be closed by this process.
The second reason we are doing this is hospitality. As we begin once again to have visitors with us for worship, we long to be able to welcome them and to have an avenue to follow up with them after the service. This will provide us an ability to do both.
If you do not have any item with a barcode, not to worry — simply give your name to the worship shepherd as you check-in at the door. Thanks in advance for taking a few seconds to help us care for you and our guests in this way!
Church Office Remains on Limited Schedule
Given the rise in local cases and the governor’s encouragement to businesses to continue allowing employees to work from home, the church staff will continue to be on a split schedule until at least July 20. This means that half of the staff will be in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other half is in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All staff will be working from home on Fridays, which means that the church office will be closed. As a reminder, visitors need to have an appointment and follow all guidelines applicable to the staff – including wearing a mask and answering screening questions.
Grace and peace to you all as we continue through these summer months. We look forward to being together this Sunday as we continue in our study of Jonah!
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Sent by Email at 9:15 AM
Dear Signal Pres Family,
I am pleased to tell you that starting on July 5 we will be resuming our normal rhythm of coming to the Lord’s Table on the first Sunday of each month. How we do that will be different for a while (I know that you are getting used to that line). But the hope with which we come to the Table–that Jesus meets us in a unique way to feed and sustain us–is unchanged. I’m hopeful that coming to the Lord’s Table in a manner so different than our normal one will serve as a chance for us to see and appreciate anew the grace that is given to us in the sacrament.
Since March, we have made an intentional decision not to come to the Lord’s Table. This decision is rooted in the nature of the Lord’s Supper as a community meal (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are signs and seals of the covenant of grace that God has given us as his church. Both of them involve physical elements by which God, through his Spirit, drags our senses to the very things promised to us in his word. At the Lord’s Table, the promise to which we are brought is not only that Christ has died for us as individual believers but that he is present with and sustaining his Church until the day when we gather bodily with him to eat this meal in the new earth (Luke 22:16). The power of the sacrament is not only in the act of eating and drinking, but in sharing in the common bread and cup alongside real, bodily sinners just like me who by grace feast on Jesus! Hopefully you can see why each of us sitting in our own living rooms does not jive with the sense of the Lord’s Supper.
So then, why resume now, when many of us are not yet back worshipping in the sanctuary? The other side of the above point is that the significance of the Lord’s Supper means that we long to come back around the Table as soon as possible! This is not just a ceremony, but a gift of God that is vital to our health as his people! Our desire has been to get back to the sacrament as soon as it is possible and biblically faithful to do so. In short, now that we are back as a gathered congregation, we think that we can honor the communal side of the meal even while including those who are not able to be physically present.
So, how will we gather around the Lord’s Table? For those present in the sanctuary, we will have pre-packaged communion elements at tables in the narthex which will be picked up by those partaking as they enter the sanctuary (gluten free will be available). Before the sacrament, the words of institution will be spoken, the common bread will be broken and the cup poured, as usual. Then we will eat and drink together in our seats. To state the obvious, masks can be let down to take the elements, but we will put them back on for the remainder of the service.
If you are not able to be present in the sanctuary, our hope is that you will share in the sacrament from your home. To that end, the same prepackaged elements that we will be using will be available to you for pickup at the church from Monday, June 29 through Thursday, July 2 between 8:30 AM-5 PM. Elders and deacons should be in touch to arrange delivery of the elements to those of you who cannot make it to the church.
You might ask, why do I need the prepackaged elements from the church? Can’t I use bread and juice/wine that I already have? Of course, there is nothing inherently special about the elements that we will be using. You can secure your own elements. That said, please keep these two things in mind. First, your unity with the body of Christ. There is a sense in which coming to the church to pick up the elements, or having them delivered by an officer to you, will help you to remember this wonderful news: you are participating in a private ceremony in your living room, but you are part of a body which feasts together on the grace that is poured out in Jesus, our head. Second, preparation. It is important that we come to the sacrament with the sense of repentance and examination that Scripture speaks of in 1 Corinthians 11:28. Frankly, the idea of scavenging through the kitchen at the last minute to find some bread and juice doesn’t seem to align with that spirit! So if you are worshipping from home, please do make preparations in advance of July 5 (or any subsequent first Sunday), not just in terms of the elements but also in terms of preparing your heart, considering the promises of the sacrament, and helping those worshipping with you do the same. This is a good rhythm even once we are back in the sanctuary.
We are also once again scheduling baptisms and have a few planned for the weeks ahead. While socially distant baptism is an oxymoron just like virtual communion, I am working with each family to make sure that the baptism is done in a way that works for them and is as safe as possible. That might mean that all baptisms over the coming months might not happen in exactly the same way. If you want to talk about a baptism in your family, please contact Barbara Hailey.
The nature of the sacraments speaks very clearly to us about the inherent weakness of online church. There are some great things about it – most of all the ability to remain connected with those who must be away. Still, it is not the same on many levels–perhaps most of all as it strips corporate worship of the elements of incarnation and togetherness that we so desperately need as Christians. As much as a baptism family needs to hear your voice as you make your vows to them, you and I need to see one another being fed and sustained by Christ around the Table. If you are being kept from worship because of safety concerns, please know that we support you in your decision and long to have you back when you deem it safe. If you are being kept from worship by the convenience of on-demand virtual worship, my hope is that the resumption of the sacraments would be part of reminding you of how much better it is to be together with your brothers and sisters in person.
I look forward to being around the Lord’s Table with you, my family in the Lord!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Sent by Email at 3:45 PM
A Note from Your Session // On Robes, Pulpits, & Screens
Obviously the realities of COVID-19 have altered many aspects of what we do in worship. Some of those changes have stirred up conversations about our practices moving forward. So that you will be informed of our thinking, the Session wants to send you this note, to fill you in on our conversations and decisions from our most recent Session meeting.
Pulpit or Floor?
For the time being, the pastors will lead worship, including preaching, from the floor, rather than from the lectern and the pulpit. This is primarily to facilitate online streaming. The ‘front and center’ position makes for the simplest placement and operation of the camera, which is feeding our service to all who are watching from home. It is also true that since the sanctuary is less full, due to social distancing and people not yet able to return, being on the floor – closer to us – is a benefit to our pastors as worship leaders.
Robe or No Robe?
During the season of studio worship, pastors did not wear robes because a robe in that setting seemed out of place. But what about now, with worship occurring in the sanctuary and the congregation returning?
The season of not wearing robes has reminded us of this: the tradition of pastors wearing robes stirs up a varied response in our congregation. For many, robes are an assurance that the pastor is not casually entering into the act of leading worship, but rather is doing so with awe and humility before God. For many others, the robe is completely foreign to their understanding. As a result, it is a distraction that must be overcome before he or she can truly hear what the pastor is saying.
Even if Scripture is silent about pastors wearing robes, God’s word does tell us much about how local churches can and should make decisions about disputable matters concerning which there are opposing, strongly held convictions. As your Session has encountered so many times during this season (and as your pastors have regularly held before us and modeled), we return to Romans 14, which leads to this decision of the Session: For the time being, pastors will return to wearing robes during worship. For the sake of those of us for whom the presence of pastors in robes is a meaningful contribution to worship, those of us who don’t think much of or about the robe will lay down our right and preference.
Screens & Projection
The “no touch” realities of this COVID-19 world have made us remove from the sanctuary anything that is touched or handled – pew Bibles, hymnals, friendship pads, offering plates, giving envelopes, bulletins, etc…. That has made us think about alternative ways to provide liturgy and lyrics to the congregation in worship. Projection is the most obvious answer.
As those of you who have worshipped in the sanctuary have seen, we have been using two temporary screens–one on the wall above each transept. These have served us well and will remain the way forward for however long we are under ‘no touch’ rules. That said, renting these screens is expensive. It takes only a few weeks of renting them before renting is, simply, poor stewardship; and particularly during a season when surrounding economic circumstances cause us to be even more watchful in trying to wisely manage the Church’s budget. Given that we have no idea how long this season of no touch will last, the Session has approved the installation of fixed screens in the sanctuary. Unlike the temporary screens, the permanent screens will be motorized so that they can ‘disappear’ into casing that is painted the same color as the wall when not in use (weddings, funerals, etc…). In the same way the projectors will be enclosed in boxes that match the wall and are hidden as much as possible. We have gone to much effort to ensure that we do not disrupt the feel or look of the sanctuary.
Whenever this season of no shared objects is over, pew Bibles, hymnals, and bulletins will return, even as the screens will remain.
I hope that you can see that your Session is not making snap decisions, but instead is thinking very much about how we can respond to what is happening around us, preserve the essence of our church’s identity and traditions and, above all, honor Christ by loving and honoring you in all things.
Grace and Peace,
Tommy Hayslett for The Session
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Sent by Email at 1:35 PM
The First Step on a Long Road Back
This past Sunday was a good day as for the first time since March we welcomed back in-person worshippers at 9 AM, 11 AM and 4 PM. Everything went as smoothly as it possibly could have gone. For that, we’re all indebted to so many people who planned and prepared for the day: Margaret Ferguson and Christie Gilliam were the brains behind executing socially distanced seating in our pews; the worship shepherds who served so well were the reason that everything was done orderly and smoothly; John Ridge is the brains behind the easy entry and exit procedures; our band and musicians led us so well at all three services; and Matt Broom, Andre Dantzler, Isaac Dantzler, Allison Dowlen and Chris Raynolds continue to carry us on the A/V and streaming end. I know you join me in thanking them all!
My observation continues to be that the experience of being together in worship, even with all of the necessary precautions, does not feel as ‘rigid’ as it sounds. Quite the opposite, the spirit of joy and unity and freedom in all three services this Sunday was palpable to me. If you stayed home because you were unsure how it would feel, I hope you will come see this for yourself!
As we move forward, please know that we are continuing to monitor the situation in our community as it relates to the spread of the coronavirus. We will continue to rely on doctors, community leaders and wise elders to amend our plans in any way that is needed. We continue to appreciate your ongoing flexibility as we hold all of our plans with a loose hand!
I’m ‘high risk.’ Can I come to church?
I want to address one question that some of you have asked. If I am over 65 or otherwise in the ‘high risk’ category, are you telling me that I can’t come to worship?
The short answer is no! We warmly welcome anyone and everyone who comes to be with us for worship!
Our “official” statement remains this: If you have a compromised immune system, are pregnant or of mature age, we strongly recommend you stay home and worship with us online. That language, which is pulled directly from the CDC guidelines, is not meant to exclude anyone but to protect those who are most vulnerable to complications arising from this virus. We desperately want to have each and every one of you back with us for worship and all gatherings at the church as soon as possible! But we also want you to know that we care deeply about your safety and well-being and do not want to put you in any unnecessary risk.
To that end, our desire is that you be informed about the virus and your risk factors so that you can then make a decision that is responsible and wise. At the end of the day, though, that decision is yours to make. Whenever you decide to be back with us, we will be ready to welcome you!
Risk Tolerance, Risk Aversion & Repentance
If I have learned anything about us in this season of pastoring it is that within our congregation we run the gamut from being way more risk tolerant than me to being far more risk averse than me. That is 100% ok. Neither is expressing more or less faith in the Lord’s provision than the other. Nonetheless this is a reality that our enemy might well try to use to divide us. To protect against that, consider with me how these groups are linked by a common temptation.
Some of us are very risk tolerant. That’s great! But we should be aware that our disposition can quickly become the pedestal from which we look down on others whom we are quick to label not as brave/faithful/mature as me. Our willingness to take risks can quickly lead to self-reliance – a spirit that boasts, I’m brave and unafraid. Any risk taken in order to exalt ourselves in any way, no matter the immediate outcome, is foolishness.
Others of us are very risk averse. That’s also great! But we should be aware that our disposition makes us prone to put our trust in the precautions we have taken and the illusion of control that our planning and caution has given us. Our commitment to planning and preparing and being safe can quickly lead to self-reliance – a spirit that boasts, I’m responsible, I’m prepared. I am in control.
All that to say, being risk tolerant does not mean that you trust Jesus more. Being risk averse does not mean that you trust Jesus less. Both the risk tolerant and the risk averse – that is to say, each one of us – are prone to leave the road of faithfulness for the ditch of self-reliance.
Recognizing this is what calls us all back to Jesus. In him we have the freedom to repent of the broken parts of our natural dispositions and the confidence that our natural dispositions are being sanctified into the image of Jesus. In him we see both ourselves and our neighbors through the lens of our present imperfection and our future glory. In him we learn humility and patience to deal kindly with brothers and sisters in the church and throughout our lives who drive us crazy with what feels like their “reckless risk taking” or “crippling caution.”
Risk tolerant or risk averse, we are sinners in desperate need of Jesus. Whether we are still staying home or back out and about, our hope is only Jesus, in whom we have a guarantee: Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Your elders will use all the means given to us, including the counsel and expertise of many thoughtful doctors and community leaders, to keep the risk of exposure to the coronavirus as low as possible for those who gather at the church. You should use all the means that God has provided – including common sense, good counsel given to us by the CDC, and prayer to discern when the time is right for you to be back among your church family in worship. Whether that’s this Sunday or a month of Sunday’s from now, you will be welcomed by your church family!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Sent by Email at 10:15 AM
Gathered Worship Resumes this Sunday, June 7
By the time that you read this we are just a few days away from a day that many of us have longed for. This Sunday will hardly mark a return to normal, but as some portion of us gathers in the sanctuary for worship, it will be a day to celebrate and one for which we give thanks to God.
The last two Sundays have been “dress rehearsals” as we have had officers and their families present to help us work out the kinks on seating and logistics. My overwhelming impression from those has been that it is good to be together. I want to be very sensitive as I say this so as not to discourage any of you who, out of wisdom, need to remain at home worshipping virtually for the weeks ahead (I am absolutely confident that the Lord will honor your wisdom and show himself faithful to feed and sustain you until you are able to be back with us in person). But to those of us who are able to come but who are tempted to wonder why we should bother when we could stay home and watch on tv, I can tell you from the personal experience of these last couple of weeks that masks and strange spacing in the pews are, in fact, powerless to strip corporate worship of the goodness and power that God has ordained to show in it. The goodness of gathering with God’s people for worship is something that, while tasted in part, is not tasted fully when watching at home.
You can read all the details about our gatherings below on the May 27 update. I continue to anticipate not only the worship services with you but the fruit which God is growing in us through this time.
Outside of Corporate Worship
As central as corporate worship is to the life of the church, the church is more than corporate worship. Here is the status of other events in the life of the church over these next weeks.
The church office is partially open as of June 1. During June, the staff will be split between working in the office and remotely, with half present on site Monday and Wednesday and the other half present on Tuesday and Thursday. We plan for all staff to be back on site in July. Common spaces will remain closed, the staff will wear masks in the building and will answer basic health screening questions at the start of each day that they are on campus.
While we are so very eager to see you, visits to the church office will be by appointment only in June. If you desire to meet with a pastor or staff member, please call the church office to make an appointment. Like the staff, all visitors will need to answer health screening questions before entering.
All other normal on-campus activities remain suspended through June. That doesn’t mean that nothing else is happening! Please check the Friday email and the website to connect with the creative ministry opportunities that our staff has planned for this month.
New Series Starts this Sunday
Starting this Sunday we will begin a short, 3-week study of the book of Habakkuk. Only three chapters long, this minor prophet is a major gift to us in those seasons of life when we are disappointed in God and wondering what, if anything, he might be doing. The book plays out as a conversation between God and the prophet in which Habakkuk makes a complaint and then God responds. I encourage you to read through the whole thing ahead of Sunday.
My gratitude for you has not wavered over this season. Your patience and encouragement have been a gift, as I know they will continue to be as we wade now into the adventure that awaits us! I’m glad to be together with you all in it.
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Sent by Email at 9:45 AM
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:33 PM
Dear Church Family,
After many hours of planning with the staff and the elders, I am excited to be able to share with you some specifics about our plans to resume gathered worship in the weeks ahead.
Before I get into sharing the plans, a couple of notes. First, these plans are subject to change. Should our state or county officials or our team of medical officials offer new guidance, we will revisit these plans.
Second, next week in this space we will provide all of the details about how these services will work in order to best ensure the safety of those who gather. That will be a long letter, as there are a whole lot of details to cover! Between now and then I want you to know that we are not taking the idea of gathering together in person lightly. Far from it, we are balancing our desire to gather with our priority of caring for our congregation and our wider community. Next week’s letter will be evidence of that!
Our plan is to begin gathering for corporate worship on Sunday, June 7. In order to allow for adequate social distancing, we will have three services: 9:00 am, 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. Each service will be capped at 200 people (about 1/3 of the capacity of the sanctuary) or when social distancing between family units is no longer possible, whichever comes first. Limited overflow seating in Marr Chapel will be available at each service as well.
Each of the three services will be open to anyone who desires to come. That said, if you are over age 65 or if you have other pre-existing conditions that might make you more susceptible to risks associated with the virus, we strongly encourage you to stay home and worship with us virtually. If you or someone you have been in contact with is sick (fever, cough, lethargic, etc…) we are asking you to stay home and worship with us virtually. Finally, if you have flown or traveled to areas where the prevalence of the virus is widespread, we are asking you to stay home and worship with us online for two weeks after you return home. Please know that those who need to worship at home will be every bit as much in our minds as we plan the services so as to ensure that they are welcomed and connected with the church family.
This Sunday, May 24, some officers and their families will be present in the sanctuary during worship. The goal of this “dry run” is to help us test and amend our plans for safe entry and exit, social distancing, etc… so that things will run as smoothly and safely as possible when we resume in June. This Sunday will also be when we test our livestream from the sanctuary (so if you tune in at 10:45, everything you see will be live). Of course the recording of the livestream will be available on Facebook and YouTube after the service concludes.
When you read next week’s letter detailing how things will work, and perhaps even now as you read these plans, there will be differing opinions. Some might find the plans too conservative, others not conservative enough. Some of us might be made uncomfortable by changes that are necessary either for the sake of safety or including those who are present remotely; others of us might wonder why more is not being changed. While that is inevitable, it is far from inevitable that the church is sucked into the kind of polarization that is happening all around us based on the question of “reopening.”
In fact, this season and these differences provide our church with a unique opportunity to love one another as we demonstrate the kind of patience, grace and forbearance that mark us as followers of Christ.
I invite you to join me in praying this week for yourself and for our congregation. Specifically pray that a spirit of trust, charity, patience and flexibility would define us as we walk together into a period of time that will be unlike anything any of us have ever experienced!
I am confident that will be the case. As I have shared over these weeks, I have been blown away by the encouragement that this congregation has given during these weeks to me and to our whole staff. The Lord has been at work among us, reminding us of and binding us together in his gracious provision. That is why I have confidence that we will come out of this season having gained far more in lasting grace than we have lost in temporary inconvenience!
Your input to us via the recent church survey was very helpful as we have planned for re-gathering. If you are interested, here is a link to those results. I think within them you will see much of what had led to the schedule mentioned above and many of the details to come next week.
Please stay safe and wise as our community continues to open up in these days ahead. I am eager about the chance to begin gathering together once again!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:05 PM
Dear Church Family,
Even as the weeks of our separation drag on, I assure you that you are still loved and missed by me, the entire church staff and officers! We continue to pray regularly for you, and to be on the ready to care for you in any way that we can.
Thanks to your generosity, our Good Samaritan Fund, especially designated to care for the needs of our own church family, is funded at its highest level in recent memory. Please, if you have lost a job or if you find yourself in unexpected financial hardship because of the pandemic, do not hesitate to look to your church family for assistance. Who knows what blessings the Lord has for all of us as we bear one another’s burdens in this season! To inquire about accessing the Good Samaritan Funds, click here. These requests go before a small team of church members who oversee the fund.
Signal Pres also has a significant fund specifically reserved for providing financial assistance to those who desire to enter counseling. There is no doubt that this season has forced to the surface all manner of challenges within our lives and our families that will be best addressed with the help of good counseling. I know that, for me, good counseling has been an enormous blessing over these last few years of my life. If finances are the reason that you are hesitating to begin counseling, our fund is able to cover between 50-75% of counseling fees for one quarter or 13 visits, whichever comes first. Again, you can inquire about accessing these funds here.
This Sunday: From the Sanctuary
Tonight our full Session will meet for our regularly scheduled monthly meeting. In a preview of what will become the norm for all of us over the coming months, some elders will be present physically (we will meet in a large room that allows us to spread out) while others will be present virtually. We will spend a lot of our time discussing the details and plans for resuming in-person gatherings at the church, and I hope to have some details to share with you next week.
Until then, this Sunday you will notice that our virtual worship service will have shifted from the studio (aka Room 301) to the Sanctuary. This is the first step to arriving at a place where we can gather in person while also welcoming those who need to continue worshipping at home.
I know that you will all join me in expressing enormous gratitude to the two people who have been behind the virtual worship services over these past weeks, Andre Dantzler and Matt Broom. I can’t count the hours that they have put into planning, recording, editing and uploading video content over these weeks. Together with our Director of Communications, Allison Dowlen, they are also hard at work planning and preparing for the live-streaming that will be the norm for the foreseeable future.
As we return to the Sanctuary this week, you’ll notice that the “online experience” looks and feels different than these last weeks in the studio. While the previous weeks have been arranged thinking exclusively about those who are watching, this week we launch into our new normal – a service that considers those who are present and those who are watching (even though, at this point, no one other than those participating will be present). We will need to learn how best to execute this, and that means some trial and error. Thanks in advance for your patience!
One more note about Sunday. Our text will be Acts 21:15 – 23:35 (don’t worry, we won’t read it all!). While it’s a big chunk, it tells the unified story of Paul’s troubles in Jerusalem. I strongly encourage you to take time to read over the passage a couple of times before Sunday so that you’ll be able to more easily follow along as we move through it. His story is a great reminder to us of the invisible hand of God’s providence, and of how we are to live in light of that.
Healing Service, Sunday at 5:00 PM
Our monthly Healing Service will take place this Sunday at 5:00 PM over Zoom. As usual, we will gather, greet one another and worship by way of music and a brief message before we spend time in prayer with elders of the church (there will not be communion). Whether you are a Healing Service regular or whether you have never been before; whether you have a crucial need for prayer or just want to be in prayer for others, please do join us by clicking here. If you need help with Zoom you can contact Christie Gilliam ahead of Sunday.
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Sent by Email at 3:05 PM
Dear Church Family,
On behalf of the staff and elders, thank you again to all of you who took the time to answer a few questions for us about your thoughts in regards to how you are feeling about gathering again as a church body. Not surprisingly, there is a diversity of opinions among us, but also a very clear and consistent longing to be together again. That longing is from the Lord, even as it reflects the words of Psalm 84: My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord!
So then, how long until our longings are satisfied? The short answer is that we still don’t know for certain, but we certainly appear to be drawing closer to that day. As you know, through this whole process we have been in close and constant communication with medical officials, even as we have been closely reading and following guidelines from the CDC and the governor. It is on that basis that we have decided that we will continue our virtual gatherings through the month of May. That said, over the course of this month you will notice that we are transitioning our service from the studio to the sanctuary, and from a pre-recorded service to a livestream. These necessary steps will take us to the point where as soon as it is wise and permissible we will be able to welcome worshippers in the sanctuary and online simultaneously.
At the same time, helped by your input on the survey, the staff and Session Commission have made great progress in planning for the how of re-gathering. While there are still too many unanswered questions for me to provide you many details at this point, there are a few assurances and comments that we want you to know at this point.
- Services will continue to be streamed online indefinitely. We agree with those of you who said that the best option for you, though you long to be with your church family, will be to stay home. We will make sure that you can still be “with” us!
- On campus children’s activities and nursery will remain suspended, even when we resume in-person worship.
- Safety and love will mean that we make some changes. The elders share the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of you who said that we should ensure proper spacing, eliminate items that are shared or passed, not use a common loaf of bread for communion, control foot traffic to avoid crowded aisles and hallways, etc…. At least for me, some of these changes will be easier to swallow than others – It won’t feel like our church to be spread out in the pews and not shaking hands. We will all be helped in remembering the why behind these changes: sacrificial love. Nothing feels more like our church than that!
Update on PPP Loan
Last night, the elders met virtually and voted to withdraw our application for funding from the Payroll Protection Plan. This decision was based on recent clarification of the eligibility requirements and on two months of real data about the church’s financial situation. In summary, the SBA has stated that applicants must be able to make a good faith statement at the time of applying for the funds that the current economic uncertainty makes the loan necessary to support ongoing operations. Based on your incredible generosity, that is not a statement that Signal Pres is able, in good faith, to make at this point.
It strikes me that the decision to withdraw this application is both the cause of great rejoicing and a call for faith. The rejoicing is because of you. Our April 2020 giving far exceeded our April 2019 giving. We have continued to be able to support our staff, our ministry partners and our operations. The faith is because none of us knows what tomorrow brings. Without the “security blanket” of the PPP funds we are brought back to a place of relying on the Lord to provide, both for our church and for each one of us as we continue the sacrificial generosity to the Lord’s work through the church. I am eager to see the Lord show himself faithful, even through your generosity in the season ahead!
Opportunities to Love & Serve in the Days Ahead
Thursday, May 7 is the National Day of Prayer.
Normally that provides us with a chance to gather with believers all over the mountain at the Town Hall for a time of prayer for our community, nation and world. Though that is not possible this year, tomorrow remains a day when we can join the body of Christ in prayer. You’re encouraged to set aside time to pray for our leaders on a local, state and national level (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
This Saturday, May 9, EPC churches from our area will be joining together to help our friends at Brainerd Presbytery Church clean up their property after the recent tornado that came through the Brainerd area of Chattanooga. We invite you to join us in this effort – sign up by e-mailing Christie Gilliam at the church! We’ll meet at Brainerd Pres (1624 Jenkins Rd) to get started at 9 AM. All members 16 and over are welcome. Please bring a rake, work gloves, and a mask. If you happen to have a chainsaw please bring that as well. If you can stay through lunch, please bring your own lunch as well.
I look forward to being with you for online worship on Sunday. Our text will be Acts 20:7-12. Make sure that you get good rest the night before (that’s a tease to make you read the passage ahead of time)! In this unforgettable story, I hope that we will be made to anticipate and appreciate what the Lord has for us as we are made able to gather together again in the – hopefully – very near future!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:30 PM
Dear Church Family,
As we come to Acts 18 this Sunday, we will meet Aquilla and Priscilla, a husband and wife who remind me of us. They had staked out a very comfortable life for themselves in Rome, where they made a good living making leather tents. Then in the midst of the normal rhythm that they enjoyed, their lives were thrown into chaos by the decree of an angry emperor. Aquilla and Priscilla flee to Corinth, where they meet another man who makes tents, the apostle Paul. And from there, the invisible hand of God’s providence takes over as God does amazing things in and through this ordinary husband and wife. I have been very encouraged this week by what their story reveals about the kinds of thing that our God is up to, even in the midst of a great disruption. I am looking forward to considering with you this Sunday how that translates into our stories!
Help us Plan for What’s Next
Our staff and Session commission continue our conversations about the when and how of resuming our gathered church life. I hope to have some first steps to share with you next week.
To be clear, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your willingness to return to gathered worship versus your desire to keep worshipping remotely for now! Even as the world around us politicizes these decisions, as the body of Christ we bear with one another, refusing to pass judgment. If you haven’t read Romans 14 in a while (or even if you have), now is a great time to revisit it. You can substitute “wear a mask” or “gets out of the house during a pandemic” for eating meat and observing certain days! We will continue for the foreseeable future to make plans for our life together that equally honor those who are present in person and those who are present virtually, with neither group having an advantage over the other.
Face-to-Face Greeting & Prayer, Sunday May 10, 5:00 PM
One of the highlights of last week for me was the time that I got to spend virtually “face to face” with several of you on Sunday afternoon. It was a gift to see and hear from you, to look briefly at God’s word together, to hear reminders from you about how the Lord was showing himself to be your hope even in the midst of disappointment during this season, and to pray together. We will do this again one week from Sunday on May 10, at 5:00 PM. I will include the zoom link in next week’s letter. Up to 100 households can join in. Please make plans to be one of them – your church family wants to see your face!
I look forward to being with you for worship this Sunday. In addition to looking together at Priscilla and Aquilla, we will also be recognizing our graduating high school seniors. As always, you can join us via facebook or youtube. Until then, know that we love you, we miss you and we rejoice with you in the hope that is ours through the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:45 PM
Dear Church Family,
The apostle Peter opens his first letter this way: To the elect exiles of the Dispersion. God’s people had been scattered about Asia Minor, where they faced rampant persecution and trouble, seemingly far apart from one another. But that makes all the more significant his next line: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Right about now I find myself longing for things to go back to how they were before the Coronavirus. Peter reminds me that my hopes are too small. Our living hope is not that we would go back to a routine that is liable to be interrupted again, but forward to the glories that have yet to be revealed. It’s a good reminder to me as I live in these days, and I hope to you too.
Generosity: Thanks & Update
Your continued generosity has been an encouragement to me, to the staff and elders, and to the wider Church (remember, financial offerings do not merely go to Signal Pres but through Signal Pres to the ends of the earth!). In particular, your support of the Good Samaritan Fund has us now in excellent position to support those in our own congregation who find themselves facing unexpected needs in this season. Thank you!
Two weeks ago I told you that the Session had voted to apply for funding from the CARE Act. As you have likely seen in the news, the funds designated for payroll protection of small businesses and non-profits went very quickly. Signal Pres did not receive funds. As of yesterday, Congress approved additional funding. We will update you as to whether or not the church receives anything in the next phase. That said, the uncertainty around this emergency funding accentuates what is true regardless: the Lord in this season is calling you and I deeper into the freedom and joys of generosity, and it is in this way that his work in and through Signal Pres and the wider Church will bear fruit in this season.
When will we meet again?
As I told you last week, this is a question to which we are turning our attention, and these last couple of days have been significant in that regard. You have likely seen that Governor Lee and Hamilton County Mayor Coppinger have suggested an initial phase of reopening begin on May 1, even as the White House has laid out a plan for a three phase opening. We will watch and abide by government instructions, ongoing local health data, and in particular any apparent changes that occur in local health conditions following the lifting of the Governor’s Order.And we will monitor any guidance provided by the re-opening Task Force being established by the mayors of the 4 major Tennessee cities.All of us desire to be back together as soon as is safely possible.
While I still do not have a date to share as to when that may be, I assure you that discussions of both when and how are underway, and it will happen as soon as love, law and wisdom allow! Even as the issue of reopening the country becomes politicized, our desire as shepherds of this flock is to do only what is best for you, for your church family, for Signal Mountain and Chattanooga. I know that our sister churches on the mountain and in the city are thinking about reopening along the same lines. Congregation size and demographics will mean that even as we all long to meet again, we will not all begin meeting on the same timeline! Let’s be intentional about supporting the body of Christ as local churches do what they deem to be best. We all love the Lord, we all desire to be together, and we are all in this together!
Church-Wide Prayer This Sunday
This Sunday night at 5:00 PM I will be hosting a church-wide time of prayer on Zoom. If you desire to join, simply click here, (password 042439). After a few minutes of general greeting, we will break into smaller groups for prayer for each other, our church, our community and our world. I look forward to seeing your faces and hearing your voices! As we try this for the first time, the meeting will be limited to 100 people. I am well aware that we find ourselves in different places as this season continues. There are some of us who are eager to get back to normal. There are others of us who are fearful about what might happen if we start getting back to normal. None of us are alone. Just like those Peter called the Dispersion, we are spread out from one another but bound together in God’s work past, present and future which has secured us to our living hope. His name is Jesus! Take heart!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Sent by Email at 4:26 PM
Dear Church Family,
He is risen! Easter is not just a day, it is a season. So as we enter into these next weeks still unable to gather in the way that we desire, we do so carrying on the confidence of the empty tomb. As we saw in Revelation 5, Jesus is alive, the one worthy to unroll all of God’s purposes for all creation and to take the story of our lives to the glorious ending in which all things are made new. This season is part of that!
When will we meet again?
This is a question that is heavy on my mind, as I am sure it is on yours as well. It is also one that your staff and elders are considering. All of us desire to meet together as soon as possible! Of course, the short answer to the question is, I don’t know. None of us do!
That said, we do know the general way in which we will go about answering this question as the days go on. First, we will be subject to the governing authorities. Scripture reminds us (Romans 13:1-7) that these authorities are put in place by the God who has redeemed us. Our faith is expressed, then, not mostly as we do what we want to do, but as we submit ourselves to these authorities.
Second, we will be guided by love. The decision about when and how we meet again will be guided by the fact that we are not merely members of a church that gathers for worship but citizens of a community with a responsibility to serve the good of our neighbors. As a large church, we must be mindful of how our gatherings have an ability to affect our community in significant ways. We will continue to lean on medical professionals for guidance about how our actions as a community can best serve the common good.
While the suspension of church gatherings was immediate and total, we are mindful of the likelihood that the resumption of those gatherings will be more gradual. In light of that, we are planning for multiple scenarios that we might see in the weeks ahead. We are asking questions like, ‘How can we gather if meetings are limited to 50 or 250 people?’ and ‘What does it look like to meet while still practicing social distancing?’
I know that the paragraphs above are void of concrete answers to the question at hand. But I hope that it gives you a sense that your staff and elders are making plans to ensure that as soon as it is safe and faithful to meet again, we are ready to go on short notice. I can hardly wait for that day!
New Wednesday Night Study
Right now many of us live in uncertainty, our schedules are disrupted and our future unclear. The story we have written for our lives no longer seems to work. But what if there were a way to find meaning for our current story within his bigger story? What would it look like to find meaning we could give our lives to in these strange times? In the book of Ruth we see how God works wonderfully in the strangest of circumstances. We invite you to join us for a four-week study of this wonderful story, where we see God up to big things with people who feel small, empty, and vulnerable. In Ruth, we find that God is inviting us to be a part of the bigger story he is always writing in every situation.
Beginning on April 22 (at noon on Facebook Live and YouTube), Joey Sherrard and Beth Rowlett will lead a study for men and women to find meaning for our current situation in God’s beautiful story. We’ll include online teaching, a study guide, and the chance to discuss with others (whether that is a group you are already a part of or a chance to join a new one). Find out more here and e-mail Hannah Sims to join us!
As you know, many of our neighbors in Chattanooga were affected by tornados and severe weather in the early hours of Monday morning. There are several ways that we can come alongside of our neighbors right now.
- Our own Eric Merkle is a liaison between the affected communities and the sheriff’s office. There is an immediate need for food, water, tarps, work gloves and monetary donations (to the Chattanooga Red Cross). If you are able to help in these ways, please contact Eric. Those interested in volunteering in hands-on ways can call the Hamilton County Government Sheriffs Department at 423-209-5400.
- Additionally, you may donate or volunteer through Samaritan’s Purse. Details are found here.
Day of Prayer
Clearly there is a lot going on in the city of Chattanooga right now. In God’s providence, our friends at Chattanooga House of Prayer have organized a day of prayer for the city this Friday, April 17. You can find a prayer guide and more info here.
This Sunday we will return to our study of the book of Acts, picking up in chapter 16. Maybe I am alone, but in a season in which all of my plans have been thrown off, there is something appealing about returning to something that was already going on before the craziness set in! More than that, I think that we will discover together that the story of the first century church has much to say to us now, even more than it did a few weeks ago! I look forward to returning to Acts with you.
Once again, we love you and miss you, and long to see you face to face very soon!
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Sent by Email at 6:30 PM
Dear Church Family,
Hello again on Wednesday of this Holy Week! I hope that you have benefited from our daily evening services this week as we walk together towards the cross. We are considering together the last words of Jesus as they speak to us so clearly of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished for us at the cross. These services premiere each evening at 6 PM (12 noon Friday) on Facebook and YouTube.
This past Sunday afternoon, the Session met via video conference to discern how our church would respond to the opportunity presented to us by way of the CARES Act. Many of you are familiar with the bill that was passed by Congress on March 27. It set aside $349 billion for the purpose of providing conditionally forgivable loans to small businesses, non-profits and churches. Since these loans are specified for providing relief to payroll and a portion of other fixed costs (utilities, rent, mortgage), the condition for loan forgiveness is that employees are kept on the payroll for the period of time covered by the funds, approximately 2.5 months.
Like churches throughout the country, we needed to decide whether or not we would apply to receive these funds. Guiding this conversation were two convictions that all of your elders share, no matter their opinion on whether or not we ought to receive these funds. One, we are committed to carrying out our vision – equipping all people to live ordinary life as the faithful presence of Jesus’ love – even if circumstances demand that we find new ways to do that. Two, we aim to do that through the faithful, gospel-fueled generosity that the Bible describes as both a mark and calling of the local church (Acts 2:45-47). In fact, we see this season when financial conditions are uncertain for many of us as a God-given opportunity to step more and more into the freedom and joy of biblical generosity.
In the end, guided by these convictions, the will of the Session was to apply for the approximately $300,000 for which we are eligible. You have been wonderfully generous thus far in this strange season. Our March 2020 giving exceeded January and February giving, and exceeded March 2019 giving as well! Signal Pres, your faithfulness and God’s goodness amaze me! Yet at the same time, we face a season of unknown duration in which there is potential that while some of us are called to give more, many of us could be rendered unable to give at the level we desire. In the event that this means a decrease in revenue over the next two to three months, these funds, which must be used exclusively for payroll and utility expenses, will allow us to continue to retain our staff while at the same time carrying out our commitment to ministry and to our international and community missions partners (we intend to fulfill every penny of the over $650,000 that we have committed to them in our 2020 budget).
While your Session felt that accepting the provision of this forgivable loan was sound and wise as we shepherd this body through uncertainty, our absolute hope, prayer and even expectation is that the Lord will continue to provide through you, the body, and that we will subsequently be able to return any money received through the CARES Act in what will be for all of us (and we pray, even for the lender) a testimony of God’s provision.
It is important that you know that definitive guidance has been given that assures us that receiving these funds in no way restricts our ability to share the good news of the Gospel and to work under our biblical principles both now and in the future, guidance that has been confirmed by our own denomination and by other evangelical organizations that share our convictions.
As an aside, I want to commend the Session to you. This was a complicated matter, with good arguments on both sides. Your elders were immensely wise in their thoughts, gracious in their dealings with one another, and, most of all, committed to being faithful to the Chief Shepherd and to guarding you, his flock. It was one of those moments when I am thankful to be a Presbyterian, united with godly elders who are all seeking the same goal.
Good Friday Prayer & Fasting
Speaking of being Presbyterian, it is a gift to see that the EPC will be joining with our brothers and sisters in the PCA, as well as the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) for a day of prayer and fasting on Good Friday. You are invited to participate with believers all over the country as we cry out to God in this time of affliction. A guide to this day is provided for you and your family here.
I look forward to Easter Sunday, as strange as it might be this year. Whether you break out the seersucker or stay in your pajamas, my hope is that as we ‘gather’ on Sunday at 10:45, all that we don’t have this Easter will have us well-positioned to see and enjoy what we do have – an empty tomb, a risen Savior, an unshakable hope that God is at work making all things new! He is risen indeed!
That said, I can’t wait to see you all face to face, in the flesh! We are not meant to walk through life alone, or even with disembodied voices on screens. Fellowship isn’t truly fellowship without a touch from your brother or sister in Christ. Preaching isn’t really preaching without being able to look in the eye of the ones you are hoping to encourage and feed. I miss both of those things, and I miss you! It will be so good to gather together again. Until that day, stay safe and well.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Sent by Email at 4:13 PM
Dear Church Family,
Happy April! What is likely my favorite month of the year has a different feel to it this year, no doubt. And yet the warm weather and budding Spring of these past days has been a great encouragement to many of us. The changing seasons, especially from Winter to Spring, speak to us of the God who reigns in his providence over all creation, and of the promise of renewal that he has made to us in Christ. We know that the same hand that causes the trees to bud is the hand that holds the Church, the same hand that rules over a virus, the same hand that was pierced for our transgressions. In all seasons, we are in good hands.
Next week – Holy Week – is for many in our church one of our favorite weeks of the year. Some 20 years ago at Signal Pres is when I first encountered the rhythm of daily Holy Week communion services, and I have valued that practice ever since. And Easter! From the beauty of the Sunrise Service to the majesty of the sanctuary service, spending that day with the church family is a great gift.
Whether it’s because of the absence of these services or the cancellation of a Spring Break trip that you had planned, many of us feel disappointment as we look towards next week. Still, my hope is that we won’t waste the disappointment but turn it into a more genuine appreciation of what God has done for us in Christ.
Consider the crowds that lined the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus entered the city. They cried Hosanna and treated him as a king. Imagine their disappointment when the one they expected to conquer Roman occupiers quietly retreated to Bethany for some rest (Mark 11:11). Consider the disciples, so sure that they were in the inner circle of the long expected king, destined for a seat of power at his right hand. Imagine their disappointment when he hung on a cross and was laid in a tomb.
Brothers and sisters, we are not the first ones to feel disappointment over the fact that things have not gone like we expected or hoped they would. In fact, that disappointment sets us up to enjoy not only the Easter service but the Easter hope: Christ is risen! Ours is the God of the resurrection. He turns mourning into dancing. He is making all things new. Even with all that we miss this Easter, I hope and pray that for you and me both the promise and hope of the empty tomb will be real and relevant to us in fresh and new ways this year. There is a reason that we do not lose hope even in a pandemic!
To help each other along in that, we will virtually gather this Holy Week in some special ways. From Sunday, April 5 through Thursday, April 9, we will have 15 minute Holy Week services each night at 6:00 PM. A pastor will lead us in a brief liturgy and message centered on the last words of Jesus. Then on Good Friday, we will have a similar service at noon. All of these will appear on Facebook live, and then will appear later on our YouTube channel. On both Palm Sunday and Easter, our worship service will stream on Facebook and YouTube at 10:45 AM.
Here to Help
Please remember that we continue to have college students and others who stand ready to assist any who need help with grocery or supply deliveries. Any who have need – or any who want to help meet the needs of others – should visit the website here.
I love to hear that some of you have asked about continuing the practice of announcing concerns for prayer during the Sunday worship service. While we absolutely want to be praying for one another, we do need to be mindful of privacy in this season of being broadcast on the internet. To that end, please take advantage of Prayer Place, a daily recording that informs the church family of those who have particular need for prayer. You can access this anytime at 886-2160.
We continue to call one another to the privilege of generosity in this season, keeping in mind the words of Paul that “your abundance at the present time should supply their need.” As we have said and will keep saying, your giving to the church and to our Good Samaritan fund in this season is a primary means by which our God will in his providence supply for the needs of his people. Perhaps some of you who are accustomed to giving at the end of the year might have the ability to offer that support early this year. To learn about ways to give, go here. Thank you for your faithfulness in this. And for those in financial need during this season, the church stands ready to come alongside of you. Please let us know how we can help by going here.
On behalf of the pastors, staff and elders, I close by saying that we love you, we miss you, and we pray for you daily! Stay safe, stay well, and stay focused on the empty tomb that stands before us. Remember, there is a reason that we hold on to our hope in the midst of a pandemic!
With love and gratitude,
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:34 PM
Dear Church Family,
I don’t think I had ever paid attention to how much the Bible talks about disease, and God’s protection of his people in the midst of it! I have been living in close connection with Psalm 91 over the last few days. It promises you who dwell in the shelter of the Most High that the Lord will “deliver you from the deadly disease” (v.3); that “you will not fear the disease that stalks in darkness” (v.6); and that “no plague will come near your tent” (v.10). Of the many blessings that I trust will come for us this season, may a renewed confidence in the relevant and living nature of the word of God be one of them for us!
I just finished a staff “meeting” on zoom. I’m so happy to report to you of the continued faithfulness, creativity and intentionality with which the church staff is serving in this strange season. Most staff members will never appear on a facebook live session, but I don’t want you to be unaware of all that they are doing to stay in touch with those under their care and to carry on our vision of equipping you to live ordinary life as the faithful presence of Jesus’ love (even if, right now, ‘ordinary’ takes on a new look!). We have a great staff team!
NEW! Shepherding Plan
In the same way, your elders and deacons have stepped up to continue their work of serving and shepherding this church. As of last weekend, the congregation has been divided up into 31 groups, each under the care either of a pastor or an elder and a deacon. Members of the church should be hearing from one of these officers this week. This gives us a way to regularly check in with you and to know of any needs that you might have, as well as a way to remind you that you are not alone!
Worship this Sunday
As much as this season has proven to be a surprising way for us to connect with one another, we long even more for it to be a season in which we are able to connect with the Lord in new and fresh ways. Hopefully you have figured out how to access the Sunday services. There will be one slight change this week – the service will stream as it has on facebook, but it will also be accessible at 10:45 AM on YouTube. Our Tuesday and Thursday prayer services will also continue on facebook (you can access those after the fact as well by scrolling to the Video section).
NEW! Weekly Guide for Morning & Evening Prayer
Last Sunday we spoke about being brought back to the “good portion” that is Jesus. As we seek to do that together, we are also now providing for you a pattern of morning and evening prayer that we can practice together as individuals, as families and as a congregation. This season has disrupted the routines and schedules we have lived by. Anxiety and fear are knocking on the doors of our hearts. If there’s ever been a time we need to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear his voice to us, it’s now. Here is a video from Joey with more detailed information, and you’ll find the prayer guides which will change weekly, here. We invite you to join us.
Emergency Funds Available
There have been a few virtual meetings of elders over the last few days. The finance team met to talk about what sort of adjustments we might need to consider during this season. We are certainly blessed to have entered this season in a position of financial strength, but rest assured that we are monitoring the situation that we might continue to fund both the fundamental parts of our life together AND to bless others around us. To that end, the Session is considering steps to ready the Good Samaritan Fund for what we expect will be increased use in the coming season. We know that there are those among us who are facing financial challenges that would have been unimaginable a few short weeks ago. If you are in that category, be on the lookout for an announcement in Friday’s weekly update about how you might be able to access these emergency funds. If you are in immediate need of assistance, contact me or one of the other pastors. At the same time, if you have the means to do so, the coming trials that many will face are a great opportunity to use what God has given you for the good of others. One way to do that is by giving to the Good Samaritan Fund.
So many of you have made the transition to give online and by mail. Thank you! The fact that many around us will face financial insecurity in the days ahead means that it is more important than ever for those who are able to give generously in this season.
Personally, I want to thank you, on behalf of the other pastors and staff, for all of your encouraging emails, calls and texts during these last couple of weeks. It is such a privilege to be your pastor. As much as I am ready for this season to be over, I am grateful for the way that it has brought us together in the bond of the gospel that no virus can touch. During this season, so much of what we do and love as a church has been taken from us. Yet in ways far deeper than that, I have seen who we are as a church with clarity like never before. May that encourage us in this season, and may it guide us once we are back together.
Please continue to reach out to me or any of the staff as you have need.
With love and gratitude,
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Sent by Email at 8:15 PM
Serve Saturday – Plan B!
There are two main ways that we can love and serve our neighbors here on Signal Mountain. The first and most important is to practice social distancing as we work together to stop the spread of COVID-19. But alongside that, we are working to provide you with simple, safe ways that you can take concrete action to live as the faithful presence of Jesus’ love in these unordinary times. Below are three simple ways that together we can do this:
LETTERS TO MEMBERS
There are a number of Signal Pres members who won’t be able to get out much as we wait for the virus to subside. We’ve compiled a list of these folks with their addresses, and we invite you to write a letter to these friends to brighten their day. E-mail Christie Gilliam by Friday, March 20 at 9 AM and she’ll get back to you with 1-2 names and addresses of people to whom you, your children, or your whole family can write.
REACH OUT TO YOUR NEIGHBORS
This is a great time to let your neighbors know that you can help them if they have needs in this season. Give the neighbors whom you do know a call or send them a text to say that you’re thinking about them and that you’d love to help if they have needs. For those you don’t know, write a note and put it in their mailbox or at their front door introducing yourself and letting them know that you’re available.
KIDS OF GROWTH FOOD BAGS
Kids of Growth is a ministry that works with kids and their families in the Chattanooga Westside neighborhood. These families are some of the most food insecure in our city, and there are no grocery stores in their area. We partner with Kids of Growth throughout the year, but the closing of schools presents a unique challenge to this community, as students who receive free school lunches will be out of school for the foreseeable future. Some of our members are working to provide these kids and their families with food in a time that they otherwise won’t have access to this source of nutrition. Below you will find items that are being requested. You can drop off food supplies at the homes of Camille Ward (907 Adams St.) or Sara Fowler (12 St. Ives Way). Monetary gifts can also be made through the church (designated to Kids of Growth) for groceries to be purchased.
Suggested Foods (preference is for non-perishable):
Bread, peanut butter and jelly, fruit cups, canned soup, canned ravioli, Hamburger Helper, fruit snacks, Goldfish/Cheese-Its, pudding cups, apple sauce, Easy Mac, peanut butter crackers, granola bars, cereal, Cuties, oatmeal, Pop-tarts.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, Joey or to Christie Gilliam. These three options offer simple, concrete ways we can love and bless our neighbors in our church, in our neighborhood, and in our city. Please join us in praying that God would bring about fruit from this work, and that most of all people would see in the name of Jesus the hope and life that we realize we need so clearly now.
Every blessing in Christ,
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Sent by Email at 3:49 PM
Dear Church Family,
As promised, we want to keep you updated on our actions and plans during this season. There are a couple of things that have not changed since last we talked.
First, God is still on the throne. The Lord reigns! The proclamation of Psalm 97 is still true, which means that the promise of Romans 8:28 is as well. Even this season is one in which our sovereign God is working all things for the good of his people and the glory of his name. That means that you and I are still safe when we run to the promises of God as our refuge, even as more and more worldly ‘refuges’ close around us every day.
Second, the church is still the church. As you’ll read below, we are continuing to take steps to ensure the safety of our staff, our congregation and our wider community. That means that pretty much everything looks less than normal right now. But beneath that, we are still seeking to care for you, to teach you, and to point you to Jesus, even as we are hopefully equipping you to do the same for your family and neighbors.
SO, WHAT IS THE CHURCH DOING RIGHT NOW?
As of today, we have asked all staff to work from home for the time being. Like many of you are doing with your own jobs, we will be carrying on the work of the church through online communication and meetings. If you need (or just want) to speak with someone, or for a pastoral emergency, call the church office at 886-2190. The recording will direct you to a pastor who is on call. If you have a non-urgent question or need, you may contact any staff by email. Staff email addresses are found here.
Worship will be online only this Sunday. Everyone is encouraged to join us at 10:45 on the church’s facebook page. We have decided that facebook will be the primary gathering spot for our online content during this season. Like many of you, I did not have a facebook account (or any interest in one) prior to all of this. But I signed up for one this weekend in order to be connected to the church family over these next days. I encourage you to do the same by visiting facebook and following the simple steps. The recorded service feed – as well as the feed for other live events we will have over the next days – will be available on facebook after the live feed is over and on YouTube later that day. You will receive a bulletin (and children’s bulletin) for our online worship this Friday via email. It will also be available on homepage of our website.
ONLINE GATHERINGS & CARING FOR ONE ANOTHER
There are other ways that we will be meeting virtually this week. Student Ministry D-Groups are meeting online tonight, and tomorrow, Thursday, at 6 PM we will host a time of prayer through our Facebook page (the same place we hosted Sunday morning worship). During that time we’ll join together in prayer for our world, country, city and church. Instructions for accessing the service and a guide for this time of prayer will be posted on the church website on Thursday, and the entire family is welcome to join as we pray together and hear from God’s Word. This gathering will last around 15 minutes.
This Saturday’s Serve Saturday has now become Safe Serve Saturday. We have three options of ways to serve our church, our neighbors and our city all while honoring the guidelines about social distancing. Look for an email from Joey about this later today.
Many of you have asked about how we might be caring for older members of our congregation during this season. We continue to work on ways that we can do this, even while protecting those members by maintaining our social distance. One of the best things any of us can do is pick up the telephone and check in with those we know! Again, whether you are young or old, if you need any assistance and are not sure who to ask, please contact the pastor on call.
We continue to ask that you remember to honor your financial commitment and giving to the church. We are committed to paying our salaried and hourly employees during this season, as well as to maintaining our support of ministry partners at home and abroad. If you are able, consider giving as well to the Good Samaritan Fund. We know that some in our church will find themselves in unexpected financial hardship as this season continues, and this fund is the way in which we will be able to support them. You may give online, through the tithe.ly app, or you may mail checks to the church (612 James Blvd). Any contributions to the Good Samaritan Fund should be so indicated on the check.
Once again, thank you for your patience and flexibility in this season. It is evidence of your faith in the God who is on the throne, and who is at work among us now and always.
You will hear from us on Friday of this week with a worship bulletin and any other updates. Until then, stay well, and keep on heeding Paul’s charge to the Corinthians: Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
With much gratitude,
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
As we seek to continue living as the faithful presence of Jesus’ love while entering unchartered territory as a church body, we are committing to you to communicate as consistently and transparently as possible. Bookmark this page and return to it as your source for updates about our response to COVID-19 and information about how to continue living out our mission in these changing times. You can also follow us on facebook (Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church) and instagram (@signalpres).
Sunday services are now streaming live at 10:45 AM on Facebook Live. To access the service, you’ll need to go to facebook.com on your phone, tablet, or computer (sign up for an account if needed). In the search bar at the top left, search “Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church”. Our church will be the first result.
Be sure and “Like” the page so that you get updates and notifications.
On Sunday morning, go directly to facebook.com/signalpres, where you will see our live stream.
If you miss the live service, you can view it immediately after it ends by going to the Videos section on the facebook page. It will also be posted on YouTube, though not immediately following the conclusion of the service.
Now more than ever your gifts to Signal Pres are making a difference in our ability to love and care for our members, our community, and our world. Through your regular financial giving, you not only enable the pastors and staff to continue to meet the changing needs of our congregation, but you also are making a direct impact on many of our long-time Community Partners who are on the ground serving our community in this difficult season. Additionally, your support sustains our missionaries all over there world, many of whom are in high-risk areas as Coronavirus continues to spread.
A growing need we have in this season is to provide for church members who have suffered income loss due to the economic effects of Coronavirus. Designated gifts to the Good Samaritan Fund are used exclusively to support our congregation through financial assistance to pay bills, buy groceries, provide medical care, and other such essentials. Simply write “Good Samaritan” in the memo of your online gift or check.There are three ways to continue to fulfill your financial pledge to support Signal Pres:
- Give One-Time or Recurring Gifts Online here
- Give One-Time or Recurring Gifts through the Tithe.ly app
- Mail Checks to 612 James Blvd, Signal Mountain, TN 37377
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Sent by Email at 10:31 AM
WATCH VIDEO UPDATE FROM SCOTT BOWEN
Dear Church Family,
We (your elders) met this morning to consider the best course of action for these next weeks. As we talked, there were a couple of assumptions and convictions that guided us, and sharing those with you seems a helpful way to begin.
First, we have a responsibility to care for and protect our congregation, especially those who are older or in ‘high risk’ categories. This goes without saying.
Second, we have a responsibility (and a special privilege as the church) to care for and serve our entire community. In other words, we need to think not only about doing whatever we can do in order to make sure that our people do not get sick, but also about doing whatever we can do in order to make sure that no one gets sick. This means that we need to think about altering the way that we gather and live as a church in order to do what we can to help curb the spread of this virus in our community, city, nation and world (this is called flattening the curve, and is what is behind recommendations by our governor that people not gather in large groups).
In the end, this second conviction has played a large part in the following steps that we will take as a church community:
Effective immediately, we are suspending all gathered church programming. That means that there will be no worship services held tomorrow, 3/15. We will have a short, live broadcast at 10:45 am on facebook live. We invite you to join us virtually for that by visiting facebook.com/signalpres.
Effective 3/22, we will hold worship services in an online only format. Between now and 3/22, the staff will work diligently to prepare for live streaming, to communicate with the congregation about how to participate. We will do this until further notice.
A group of elders, doctors and others are working over these weeks to adapt what we do in order to continue the work of ministry in a way that honors the kind of social distancing that we need to be practicing right now.
Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church is not a Sunday morning service in the sanctuary, nor is she a people confined to a building. The church is a community of people who have given their lives to the Lord who redeemed them, and to the mission he has given them. That means that Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church will be open and at work during these days of uncertainty. Our church will be at work as you worship with your family and small groups in homes, as you reach out to one another and as you serve and love your neighbors, shining as lights of gospel confidence and love for a panicked world to see.
While none of us is excited about this season in which we find ourselves, it is not lost on us that we are entering a season in which we will be forced to live in ways similar to the early church that we have been studying together in Acts. We know that was good for the church – a season of great power and fruitfulness for the people of God! We have every expectation that it will be the same for us.
Along those lines, please do remember to continue your financial support of the church in this season. You can do that by mail, or online at www.signalpres.org/give. We desire to continue to supporting not only our staff but also our mission partners across this city and world.
Again, in the days to come, we will follow up with more information and with answers to the many questions we know you have.
Do not be afraid…you are mine (Isaiah 43:1). These are good words to remember! They apply now as much as ever, even as they remind us of the God who reigns over us in every season. To him be all glory and honor as we explore these unchartered waters together!
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Sent by Email at 5:23 PM
Dear Church Family,
As things change quickly around us with news of closings and cancelations, your Session desires to remain in communication with you concerning our latest thoughts and plans about our schedule.
The Elders will have a special called meeting on Saturday morning at which time we will discuss what, if any, changes need to be made to our schedule and practices in the days and weeks ahead.
At this point, the plan is to proceed with our normal Sunday morning schedule. That said, we would like to reiterate what we said in our communication to you earlier this week. If you or someone in your household is sick, please stay home. What’s more, if you are particularly vulnerable because of age or underlying health issues, please use your own best judgment, which might mean staying home.
As your Session meets, certainly we will do so in confidence that our Lord is not surprised by any of the twists and turns that these last days have brought. As we have planned for Lent as a season of repentance and renewal, this is not what any of us had in mind. That said, I am reminded of Luke 13 when Jesus was asked about tragedies that had struck the region of Galilee and Judea. People wanted answers and reassurance, and he told them to repent. His point is good for us right now: the frailty of life and the uncertainty of the world around us remind us that we have one rock, one fortress, one deliverer. Our safety is always only in him. As the psalmist says, The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
You can expect to hear from us again on Saturday afternoon about any changes that we deem to be in the best interest of the church in these days ahead. Rest assured that we will be seeking to make decisions that honor the Lord even as they witness our confidence in him and our desire to be a part of the overall health and well-being of our community, city and nation. We covet your prayers for the Session!
I am grateful for you all,
Monday, March 9, 2020
Sent by Email at 2:05 PM
Dear Church Family,
On behalf of the Session, I want to share with you the steps that we are taking as a church in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In truth these are wise practices year-round, even if this current virus were not present.
First, we will not be having the extension of the gospel during worship—at least through Lent. This reflects the wise practice during times of illness, recommended by health professionals, of refraining from shaking hands, hugging, etc. Certainly, we want to greet one another and our visitors warmly, and we will continue to do this even if smiles and elbow taps replace handshakes for a while!
Second, we are asking you not to come to church if you are sick with a cough, fever or malaise. We appreciate those of you who place such a priority on corporate worship and gathering with your brothers and sisters in Christ! You show great love for your brothers and sisters in your faithful presence with us. But if you are sick, remember that you best show that same love for them by staying home. Sunday service recordings are available on CD in the church office and MP3 sermon recordings are posted online here.
Third, your Session is in communication with local health professionals and will enact any precautions that those professionals deem wise or necessary if/when this particular virus comes to our area. As with health professionals, we are and will be particularly mindful of older members of our congregation. We will do everything possible to make sure that our congregation and visitors stay healthy! Should that mean changes to normal practices in the weeks ahead, we will certainly communicate that with you.
Finally, let’s remember that even this COVID-19 outbreak is an occasion for us to live into our vision as the church, living ordinary life as the faithful presence of Jesus’ love. Some around us will panic. Others will be dismissive. Let’s be faithful as we entrust ourselves to our good and sovereign Father, always using common sense but never succumbing to fear, and never ceasing to pray for and serve the weak and vulnerable among us—including the sick.