Welcome Back!

Our Session met this past Tuesday, May 26, to review final preparations for resuming “in-person” worship.   The Session, after much discussion and prayerful consideration, confirmed our decision to resume “in-person” worship this Lord’s Day, May 31 2020.    We wanted to let you know what to expect as we resume.

Please note that we will begin worship at 10:30 am.  This is earlier than our 10:45 am start time before we moved to live stream only.   Announcements will start at 10:20 am and the service will begin at 10:30 am.   We will NOT meet for Bible Study before worship until at least September 2020.

Some of you expressed through our survey that you are not comfortable resuming.   For some this was because of restrictions related to your work.  For others it was due to your own health vulnerabilities or those of loved ones to whom you provide care.   The Session wants to stress that, while gathering with others for worship is fundamental to Christian discipleship, there are times when this must be balanced by our duties and responsibilities to others.  

If you must be more cautious about returning, do not feel anxious about that decision.   You may continue to gather with the congregation for worship via the live stream.   We have invested in the technology necessary to continue live streaming from now on.  Going forward, this will be an option for those unable to attend in-person.

Let me say the same thing for those who have been sick.   If you have had a fever within the last 48 hours, or have had symptoms of any respiratory illness, or have had contact with someone COVID-19 positive within the last two weeks, please stay home and join us via live stream.  Furthermore, if you have experienced any type of contagious illness and have been recently symptomatic, please stay home.  

Just as those who must stay home are exercising caution and concern for others, those who return must also exercise caution and concern for others.   As we gather, we will practice social distancing and we must not express judgment toward others.    Just as we are warned in regards to the Lord’s Table to examine ourselves, let us restrict our examination regarding resuming and social distancing to ourselves as well.  

Below are a few things you need to know about social distancing for those who resume.

  • As you arrive, please enter in an orderly and distanced fashion.  Parents take care to keep your children with you as you enter and exit and as you find a seat.   Someone will be at the door to greet you and assist you with a low-touch entry.
  • We will have hand-sanitizer available at every entry and in the restrooms.  
  • If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please do so.   The use of cloth masks is a courtesy and benefit to others.   While they may not protect you from illness, they will protect others from illnesses you may have, even if you are not showing symptoms.   Most of you indicated that wearing a mask was an important factor in your comfort in returning.   So, let me encourage you to wear a mask as much as you are able.  
  • We will not be able to provide masks.  If you do not have a mask, please contact me and I will find one for you.
  • We ask that families to sit together. 
  • Please try to maintain a distance of 6 ft between family groups.   This can be accomplished by keeping one row of seating between you and others.
  • Orders of service, containing everything you need to participate in the liturgy, will be placed on each end of alternating rows of seats in order to limit “touch.”   These will also continue to be available online.
  • You may continue to give your tithes and offerings by mail or online.  We will also have a secure offering box by the door as you enter and exit.   Thank you for your faithful giving.
  • Our service will include singing, but it will be more limited than usual.  Each service will include two hymns and we will conclude the service with the doxology.     It is more difficult to sing in a mask, but also more important.  You are not required to wear a mask. But if you are unable to wear a mask while singing, please sit so that no one is closer than 16 feet directly in front of you.
  • Pastor Wheeler will wear a mask while outside of the pulpit, but will not wear it while leading the service.  For this reason, everyone will be asked to sit at least 16 feet from the pulpit.
  • Please avoid all physical contact with others.   You can greet each other with smiles and warm words, but not with a hug or a handshake.
  • You may enjoy in person fellowship outside before and after the gathering.   But even outside please limit contact and maintain distancing.
  • Refreshments and fellowship meals will not resume at present for our corporate gatherings. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us.

Plans for Resuming In-Person Gatherings.

Beloved congregation, our Session met this week to consider plans to resume “in person” gatherings for worship.   We will resume no sooner than May 31, with the tentative plan of reopening on that date.  Between now and then we will be working to thoroughly clean and sanitize our facilities and prepare for livestreaming for those who need to exercise more caution about returning.  We will not resume small group Bible study at this time.   The Session will meet again on May 26 to confirm this date for resuming “in person” services.  With that said, I want to speak to two aspects of our plans to resume.  

The first aspect is regarding to those who are torn between concerns for their health or the health of others and the biblical command to gather for worship.   A friend and colleague, Rev. Rob Patrick addressed this concern very well in a recent article to his congregation.

Is it essential for Christians to meet together for worship on the Lord’s Day? A global pandemic and resulting restrictions on “mass gatherings” has led to much discussion of that question, and related questions on the authority of the civil government to regulate gatherings for worship. Leaving aside issues of civil liberty and authority, the question of the essentiality of gathering for worship remains important.

A portion of Hebrews 10:19-26 is helpful in examining two aspects of this question. The first aspect is the access Christians have to God’s throne of grace, at any time and in any place.  Hebrews 10:19-22 speaks of the intercession of our great high priest, Jesus, in whom Christians have access to God, and are even brought before His throne of grace, whenever and wherever we call out to Him in Jesus’ name! Christ’s blood and righteousness have secured this access. Jesus is at the right hand of His Father, interceding on our behalf. Whether we are at church, at home, in exile, or prison, our prayers and worship are received by Him!

But what about gathering?  Hebrews 10:23-25 addresses the second aspect of our question, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Spiritual access to the presence of God anywhere at anytime through the name, blood, and righteousness of Jesus doesn’t mean Christians no longer need to gather together. The promise of a coming day when we will be glorified together in the presence of God should fill us with desire to gather now, in anticipation of that day. As we gather, there is fellowship in Christ that encourages love and good works among God’s people through our shared ministry.

When it comes to the essentiality of gathering for worship, these verses remind us that God commands our gathering for worship. Unless providentially hindered, there is something spiritually amiss when Christians intentionally absent themselves from public worship. It is for His glory and our common good that we must not neglect the assembly of the saints.

Yet there are occasions of providential hindrance. Sickness, our own or that of those for whom we care, works of necessity and mercy, and imprisonment are among the circumstances that may prevent one from gathering with others for worship. During this pandemic, increased risk of infection for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems are among the factors that may make it imprudent for some to gather for worship. In such circumstances of providential hindrance there is great blessing in knowing that we can still offer prayers and praise to God. In Jesus’ name we can worship in spirit and in truth before His throne, wherever we may be.

Even with the precautions and provisions outlined below for resuming “in person” gatherings for worship, those with good reason to remain home due to circumstances of health should have no crisis of conscience over doing so.  We pray that your continued faithful worship at home will only increase longing to gather with the Lord’s people when it is again prudent to do so! May we say with David, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord!”

These words offer a helpful perspective regarding biblical balance in navigating both the command to gather and care for one another.  This biblical balance also governs those who return.  A faithful expression of corporate worship is one that has concern for the spiritual and physical needs of others.   Paul’s introductory statements regarding the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff make this clear.  

To that end, please find below guidance from our Session regarding how we may faithfully resume “in person” corporate worship while exercising Christian prudence and concern for the spiritual and physical needs of others.

  1. We will continue to live stream our service for those who need to be more cautious about gathering in person.
  2. If you are sick or exhibiting symptoms of illness, or have had fever within 24 hours, or have had contact with any Covid-19 positive individuals within 14 days, please remain home and join us for worship through the livestream.
  3. For those able to resume “in person” gathering:
    1. We will have hand-sanitizer available at every entry and in the restrooms.  
    2. If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, we encourage you to do so.   The use of cloth masks are a courtesy and benefit to others.   While they may not protect you from illness, they will protect others from illnesses you may have, even if you are not showing symptoms.
    3. We encourage families to sit together. 
    4. Please try to maintain a distance of 6 ft between family groups.   This can be accomplished by keeping one row of seating between you and others.
    5. Orders of service, containing everything you need to participate in the liturgy, will be placed on each end of alternating rows of seats in order to limit “touch.”   These will continue to be available online before the service as well, and we may be able to project them.
  4. You may enjoy in person fellowship outside before and after the gathering, but please limit contact and maintain distancing when inside our gathering spaces.
  5. You may continue to give your tithes and offerings by mail or online.  We will also have a secure offering box by the door as you enter and exit.   Thank you for faithful giving.
  6. Refreshments and fellowship meals will not resume at present for our corporate gatherings.  The Session will continue to evaluate when this is advisable.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact one of the elders.

In Christ, Pastor Wheeler

Update on Resuming “In-Person” Gatherings.

We will NOT be meeting “in-person” at the church this Lord’s Day, May 10, 2020, but will continue to meet this Lord’s Day, as we have, via Facebook Live at 10:30 am.   

Our Session will meet Tuesday, May 12, to review our plans and procedures for resuming in-person gatherings, both for worship and for smaller groups, such as Bible study.  Please pray for your elders as we meet.

We will consider what must happen before we reopen, what cleaning must be done, what our procedures will need to be implemented for social distancing, and what aspects of worship will be affected by contact precautions.  

Furthermore, we are also working to be technically ready to continue live streaming from the sanctuary, for those who need to be more cautious about returning. 

This past Monday, May 4, Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson released “guidance” regarding the resumption of “in-person” gatherings for Houses of Worship and other large venues.  This guidance encourages churches resuming “in-person” gatherings, to practice some measure of social distancing.  Here is a link to the Governor’s recommendations.

It is important to note, as did the Governor, that this is just guidance.  While we are not bound by it, it is reasonable guidance and will not be considered lightly.  

Our move to on-line worship was not required by or in response to any directive from our civil magistrates.  We, as a Session, elected to do this out of Christian prudence and a responsibility to properly care for one another.  (See citation from the ARP Directory of Public Worship below)  We will seek to continue to respond in a way that provides the best spiritual and physical care of our congregation.

If you have questions, concerns or comments, please speak to me or one of the elders as we prepare to meet next Tuesday. We are thankful for God’s favor to provide for and protect our congregation during this time.  We pray for wisdom as we continue to grow in His grace together.

In Christ, Pastor Wheeler

Certain matters or circumstances concerning worship have not been fixed by a definite rule in the Holy Scriptures, such as the order of worship which is to be followed, the appointed time or place for the gathering of God’s people…. In such matters or circumstances, the church must be guided by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.  The service of worship shall be under the authority of the minister and the session.  

ARP Directory for Public Worship, II.3, 5.

COVID-19 Survival Guide

Featured

In the exercise of Christian prudence and in response to calls for social distancing, our elders have decided to limit our corporate gatherings to online only. Below is a quick reference guide of links for you to use as we live life together as a church, online, until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

  1. We will gather at 10:30 am via Facebook Live.  This stream will be simulcast both to our Pottsville ARP Facebook page.   If there are technical issues or if you are not on Facebook, the video will be posted on YouTube for later viewing.
  2. The service will be simple.   We will have a call to worship and response, I will lead us through our confession of sin, assurance of pardon, and confession of faith.  Then we will share a time of teaching.  Our service will conclude with a pastoral prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and then the Benediction.
  3. Each week we will post a full order of service which also includes the lyrics to some of the songs included on the YouTube playlist.   You may listen to these or sing them together in your home gathering.  We will not sing them together via the live stream.
  4. Continue your giving by giving online or for other options go to the Giving link on our website.  
  5. Pray for one another and check in with one another via phone, text, email, social media and even cards and letters.

COVID 19 Update

Each month as we come to the Lord’s Table we are reminded that our fellowship there extends much further than that table.   As we move out from the Lord’s Table to every other table in life, you hear exhortation from Hebrews 10:24-25.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But in the brave new world of social distancing how can we continue to live life, “not neglecting to meet together.”  The word translated, “meet together” means to bring together at one place or time.  Yet, the origins of this word emphasize the fact of gathering and the unity of gathering, not the location of the gathering.    For this reason, the Westminster Confession and our ARP Directory for Public Worship view the “where” of worship as one of those circumstances that must be ordered in light of “Christian Prudence.”

“Certain matters or circumstances concerning worship have not been fixed by a definite rule in the Holy Scriptures, such as the order of worship which is to be followed, the appointed time or place for the gathering of God’s people … must be guided by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” ARP Directory of Public Worship, II.3

Why is the important?  Because we take seriously the importance of corporate worship in the life of the Church.   But at the same time, our elders, in exercising their care and oversight for the congregation, must weigh carefully how to balance the demands of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Commandments.   

We believe that faithfulness to these commands demands that we continue our Lord’s Day gatherings only via live streaming at least through the month of April.   All other gatherings for prayer or Bible study will take place through video or audio conference.  Our Session will meet the first week of May to reassess our plans going forward. 

We will gather each Lord’s Day at 10:30 am via Facebook Live.  This stream will be simulcast both to our Pottsville ARP Facebook page as well as to the River City ARP Facebook page.   If there are technical issues, the video will be posted on YouTube for later viewing.

The service will be simple.   We will have a call to worship and response, I will lead us through our confession of sin, assurance of pardon, and confession of faith.  Then we will share a time of teaching.  Our service will conclude with a pastoral prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and then the Benediction.

I will email a full order of service each week which includes the lyrics to some of the songs included on the YouTube playlist.   You may listen to these or sing them together in your home gathering.  We will not sing them together via the live stream.

Of course, some elements of gathering are hard to reproduce as we practice social distancing: fellowship, service, and giving.

Experience fellowship through the means of virtual communication.   Take time to revive the old custom of writing letters and cards to one another.  And, of course, use all the modern means God has given us.  

Serve one another.  Find out what others need.   You may be surprised by the needs of others.  Need for conversation, need for encouragement and of course practical needs.

Continue, or begin, your faithful giving by giving online or for other options go to the Giving link on our website. But if you prefer, you can either:

  1. Mail your tithes and offerings to:  Pottsville ARP Church c/o Matt Wylie, PO Box 156, Pottsville, AR 72858 or
  2. Set up “Bill Pay” from your online banking to send a check to the address above.

One of the remarkable things about the church is that it is a community that creates culture, it is not a community created by culture.  It thrives and flourishes in every place, in every people and in every language.   It transcends its circumstances and creates community and culture no matter what soil it is planted in.   God has placed us here as the church in a very unique time in our history.   Graciously He has also given us remarkable means to express our community as the Church in a way that enables us to meet together even when we are not together physically.  

This pandemic will end.  When it does, some things will go back to the way they were before, but in God’s providence, there will be many things we learn from this trial about living life together and about engaging our world with the gospel that will change us as the Church.  Now is not the time for fear, but a time for worship.   I look forward to seeing you online this Lord’s Day at 10:30.  

How to Survive the Pandemic

The video above explains our rationale and our plans for how we will move forward with corporate worship in the midst of calls for “social distancing.” The video outlines a few important steps to participate in our virtual gathering on the Lord’s Day. These are listed below with links.

Responding to Coronavirus

We, like people of every era, live in uncertain times.  Recent reaction to the COVID-19 virus has been stunning.  While we must guard against overreaction, it is important to make appropriate preparation.

First a few things to remember.   Our Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 7 and 11 remind us of two very important points regarding the COVID-19 virus.

Q7: What are the decrees of God?
A7: The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.

Q11: What are God’s works of providence?
A11: God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

First, nothing comes to pass except that which God has purposed and ordained for His own glory.  Second, God is absolutely sovereign over the world in which we live, including COVID-19 and all our responses to it.

So, how should we respond?  Let me encourage you with a few common sense precautions.

  1. Wash your hands and do so with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. In that time, you can recite the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostles’ Creed, or a passage of scripture you are working to memorize.  Or you could simply sing “Happy Birthday” two times.  Wash thoroughly and regularly throughout the day.
  2. Avoid touching your face. Ask someone to keep you accountable.
  3. Boost your immunity. Eat things that boost immunity.  Avoid things that suppress your immunity.   Take lots of Vitamin C, either in foods or through supplements.   Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.  Foods with high-fructose corn syrup or refined sugars will suppress your immunity.  Especially avoid soft drinks.
  4. Stay hydrated with WATER (not soft-drinks or Coffee – those will only dehydrate). Try to drink 64 ounces of water throughout the day.
  5. Don’t hibernate, but do be sensible about physical contact with others. Minimize physical interactions.   Avoid large crowds.  At church please refrain from hugs or hand-shakes for now.  Limit eating out as well.
  6. If you are sick, or have been recently, stay home from church. Your immunity is compromised and you are vulnerable.  And you might affect someone else who is vulnerable.   Follow the principle of Philippians 2:3 to “consider others more significant than yourself.”   We will get the sermons and orders of service posted on social media for your use at home.    The command to “not neglect to meet together” in Hebrews 10:25 does not mean “at all costs” to yourself or others.
  7. Keep updated with accurate information at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/

At present the Session is not recommending we suspend our public gatherings for worship.  If you are uncertain about whether to come, please contact Pastor Wheeler or one of the elders and let us help you think through your concerns.   We will evaluate other weekly or scheduled activities on an individual basis. Please monitor our facebook and twitter feeds for updates.  We will also send out emails and texts as appropriate regarding any cancellations.   Please make sure that we have your current contact information for email and texts.

Throughout history, the Church’s response to health crises has been to care for the community.   Let me suggest the following ways in which we need to be prepared to care for our community.

  1. Think about the vulnerability of others, those at church, your neighbors, and at-risk people in your spheres of influence. Keep close contact with one another.   Establish a pattern of calling, texting, or emailing.   Ask how you can help.  Love your neighbor as yourself.
  2. Remember that physical and emotional distress often produces spiritual distress. Take time to ask, “how are you holding up right now?” and “how can I pray for you?”   Encourage others to express their fears, concerns, and frustrations, then point them to Christ.  Your neighbor’s uncertainty goes beyond Coronavirus.  This is an important time to consistently share the gospel.   If you are not sure how to get started, talk with Pastor Wheeler or one of the elders.

And for a few final considerations.  Remember that the greatest danger in this crisis is not infection from COVID 19, but the fearful response of our society.   In view of this here are a few practical tips to keep in mind.

  1. Top off your tank every time you go out. Gasoline shortages often accompany ramped-up panic.   If you have some gas cans, fill them just to be safe.
  2. Keep plenty of nourishing food on hand. If you need something and can’t get out to get it or can’t find it, or are simply concerned about being out, ask if someone can help.   Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  3. Be careful not to get caught up in the social media vortex of panic that will only grow. As believers in a sovereign God, we are called to bring comfort and assurance, not fear and uncertainty to our neighbors.
  4. Take more time in prayer and in the reading of God’s Word so that you can remember that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and that He still rules and reigns.

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope: 
T
he steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”  Lamentations 3:22-24