Dear PCWS Members & Friends,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how Paul begins his letter to the church in Rome. The past several weeks we’ve been in the midst of a sermon series using the lectionary texts from this letter. Paul is separated from the church physically, but he uses the tools he has available to him to bridge the distance. Even then, he wishes things were different: “For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11-12)
We, too, are longing to see one another. At the same time, like Paul, we’re finding ways to be connected. We have found a rhythm with gathering online for worship by utilizing technology, several of you are participating in our Midday Prayers, evening story times, early morning book discussions, and even some exercise and wellness programs. Hopefully you’re taking advantage of these opportunities or finding your own ways to connect with others from PCWS.
The question we have been asking ourselves since March, when we first closed our campus and transitioned to online-only gatherings, is taken right from Psalm 13: How long, O Lord? We’ve been asking the question each time the Session meets and, like many of you, we’ve absolutely been hoping for the time when we can return to some sense of normalcy. At the outset of the pandemic, the Session met every other week to discuss the ever-changing circumstances. We have now returned to our regular monthly meetings and at each meeting we discuss the status of our campus closure. At this time we have extended the closure of the campus at least through the end of September. This means that we will continue to worship as we have been doing. We will also continue to have no events inside our buildings.
We want to share some of the rationale here. While restrictions have eased as we have seen improved numbers, it remains true that the highest levels of transmission happen in contained areas. In order for us to prevent transmission, we would need to take the following steps. We would need to limit in-person attendance to approximately 45 people in order to keep people six feet apart. This would require a reservation system and, potentially, turning people away. Contact-tracing would be required by keeping track of those who attended and the people in their proximity in case someone were to report an infection. Masks would be required at all times. There would be no congregational singing or fellowship. Restrooms would likely remain closed except for emergencies. As we considered these restrictions, it became clear to us that although we would like to gather, this is not the way that we want to do so.
We know this news is disappointing. It is not the direction the Session wanted to go, but given the realities we face, we have decided it is the right decision. During our discussions about our current status, it was important for us as the Session to take time to celebrate the things that are going well at PCWS right now. We recognize that while the conditions aren’t perfect, we are still finding ways to continue to grow with one another on our journey. Please join us in celebrating for a moment:
In May we called a new associate pastor to work with our youth and support all aspects of ministry. Lottie MacAulay Friedman will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament and formally installed as a pastor at PCWS by the Presbytery of Chicago on September 13, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. PCWS will host the service on Facebook Live and all are invited and encouraged to attend! Lottie has already been getting to know the youth and their families and she has gathered the youth for outdoor mission projects and other meetings.
In an attempt to faithfully respond to the racial tensions in our nation, our congregation has embraced the invitation to grow together. More than 45 people attended two “Discussion in Community” forums where we looked at the Confession of 1967 and the Confession of Belhar in trying to understand how our faith could guide us. We were honored to have Professor Dirk Smit from Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the primary authors of the Confession of Belhar, join us at Lottie’s invitation. In addition, many of you are reading books and discussing them in small groups. If you haven’t done so already, all are encouraged to participate.
Many of you have engaged in spiritual growth by participating in the midday prayer sessions which were initially taking place Monday-Friday and are now on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While these sessions were in response to the initial stay-at-home orders, they have become a valued part of our ministry at PCWS as people learn new tools for their prayer lives.
Our children are gathering for Story Time with Pastor Erik & Friends on Thursday evenings. Initially meetings two nights a week, these weekly gatherings enable our youngest to have a place where they can share about what is going on in their lives (including new pets and other celebrations) and see their friends.
Each Sunday, we have gathered for a live worship service utilizing Facebook Live. Our Music Director, Stephanie Coates, has done a wonderful job of thoughtfully arranging many of our talented musicians to help in leading worship and our liturgists and pastors have adapted to the online format. Those who are able to attend worship live are able to chat with one another and remain connected. The services are also available online for later participation.
Our Summer Mission Project has collected more than 4,000 books and we are within striking distance of collecting 5,000 books for Bernie’s Book Bank! You still have a few more weeks to participate by donating new or gently-used books for children from birth through 6th grade. You can also contribute financially to support the project.
Thanks to your donations, each week we have delivered several containers of nonperishable foods to the Second Baptist Church of La Grange food pantry. This is huge! And it has truly been a wonderful way for us to make a difference right here in our local community. Keep “Filling the Can” by bringing your contributions.
Many of our regular programs have continued to flourish using alternative means of gathering. We even held a couple of fellowship gatherings over Zoom. If you would like to meet outside at PCWS in a socially-distanced way, you are welcome to do so. There are a few spaces where we have benches (the labyrinth is one) and you can even bring your own chairs and enjoy a shady spot under the trees. This can be a good way to meet with a friend at a place you love and miss. Our pastors are also available for discussion outside.
While our office and buildings remain closed, our administrative staff members are working both on campus and from home. Our Church Administrator, Terri Angarone, and our Financial Secretary, Patrick Rivers are available by email and the church telephone and voicemail.
Because of your continued and faithful financial support, we have been able to continue to support our mission partners and maintain our staff positions. Thank you! We have also been able to move forward with some improvements to our physical plant, including the long-anticipated refresh of the Narthex, the purchase of new pew cushions, the installation of safety rails on the walkway up from 53rd Street to the Sanctuary, and safety improvements in the Chancel. We have also been working on several projects around the campus, as well as beautifying and maintaining the church landscaping (thank you to our weeding crew and the more than 30 people who came and helped spread mulch!).
Friends, we continue to be the church even while we are separated from one another physically. Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is good news, indeed, and it is a good word for us as a congregation right now!
One more piece of news is that Pastor Erik is going to take some much-needed time away. After worship next Sunday, August 16, Erik will be going on vacation taking an extended road trip to California in his new travel-trailer. On Sundays August 23 and 30, Lottie will be preaching and leading worship. During Erik’s absence, Lottie and Ann De Vries, our Deacon Moderator, will be coordinating pastoral care needs. You can reach Lottie by email or by calling the church office. Our current programming will continue during Erik’s absence. Erik will return to worship on September 6.
After Erik returns, he will be sharing some news about additional upcoming remote and socially-distanced in-person gatherings being scheduled for this Fall. Keep your eye on the Weekly Connection and listen for announcements during worship. Speaking of worship, see you online on Sunday mornings!