June 25, 2020
Dear Church Family,

On June 14 we resumed the opportunity for congregants to join us for worship in the building. We offered two worship opportunities- 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM. We had capacity for fifty worshipers spaced out in the sanctuary, twenty to see a simulcast in the chapel, and ten chairs spaced out in the Gathering Area. On Sunday, June 14 we had 18 total worshipers between the two services. Last Sunday, June 21, we had 24 total worshipers. Because participation is so far below our safe seating capacity, we are suspending the 9:30 AM worship service at this time. If worship attendance becomes a weekly average of 40 people, we will reinstitute the 9:30 AM option. As we have previously stated, the 11:00 service will continue to be live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Below are some reflections on worship and church life together. They are intended to help us think biblically and theologically about what it means to be faithful in this new season of life.
Why Return to In Person Worship?

Biblical Guidance

One of the principal theological ideas in Christianity is the “body.” In the prologue to the Gospel of John we hear, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Christmas is the celebration of God coming among us as a human person, in a body that experienced all of human life.

Jesus’ ministry cared for the bodies of others, healing the sick (e.g. Mark 3: 1-6, 5: 1-20), eating in homes (e.g. Mark 2: 13-17, Luke 19: 1-8), raising the dead (Matt 9: 18-26, John 11), and calling people to restructure their embodied lives to reflect the Kingdom of God (Luke 4: 16-21). So important was the body, that the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that the bread they were eating and the wine they drank were his body and his blood (1 Cor 11:23-26). His body, filling our bodies. His body on a cross, reclaiming our bodies for God.

Important to all four Gospel accounts is that Jesus rose from the dead in a body (Mark 16: 1-8, Matt 28: 1-10, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-18). He shows Thomas his wounds in his hands and side (John 20: 24-29). He eats with the disciples on the beach (John 21: 9-14). He is not a ghost or a Spirit. He is a body. Jesus cares about our bodies.

Christian life, therefore, is not able to happen in its most faithful form online. It must be embodied. The Apostle Paul centers his entire theology in this idea. We are the body of Christ in the world (1 Cor 12: 14-27). We are members, one of another (Romans 12:5). We rejoice and weep together (Romans 12:15), and when one member suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor 12:26). Together we bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), and we sacrifice our personal freedoms, our hostilities, and our superiority for the sake of being embodied together in the way of grace (1 Cor 8: 12-13).

Theological Affirmations

“Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace.
Here are table, font, and pulpit. Here the cross has central place.
Here in honesty of preaching, here in silence as in speech.
Here in newness and renewal, God the Spirit comes to each.”
(Fred Pratt Green, “God is Here”)

Since Jesus rose from the dead, men and women have gathered on the first day of the week to celebrate the Resurrection. Together we sing and pray. Together we speak and listen.  Our sacraments are tactile with water, bread, and juice. We seek to learn names, pray for needs, and learn about how we can serve God in the world.  

We cannot be Christians alone. YouTube does not a disciple make. It takes others, embodied others, to really be a Christian. Frankly, to be a Christian alone is too easy. To be in relationships where we have to repent, ask forgiveness and grant it, and live in reconciliation- this is the test of the Gospel. When we are not gathered together, we cannot witness, learn, or grow into the fullness of Christ who is the head of the body, the Church (Eph 4:15).

To neglect communal worship because the time of day isn’t convenient, that it requires too much effort to dress and drive to the gathering space, or because it is true that God is everywhere, these neglect the depth of Christian witness. It violates the faith of the saints from the past. It diminishes our attention to the Holy Spirit. It is a failure in discipleship. Christians must be Christians together, in their bodies.
Nuances and Precautions

We must, however, care for the most vulnerable, for this is our charge from the Lord Jesus as well. We are seeing new spikes in COVID cases. Neglectful practice in social outings and the refusal to wear masks is causing more people to suffer and die for the sake of recreational fun for others. This is unfaithful and harmful to do as Christian people. We absolutely do not want to participate in the spread of COVID-19 through communal worship. This is why we are advising those with compromised immune systems or who are elderly to continue to engage online. Without a reliable way to distance children from one another, we are not yet able to provide nursery services or Children’s Worship, and so we ask families to worship together online.

For those who are capable of attending, however, we are taking every precaution we can to ensure the health of all who enter our building as we gather for worship in an embodied way.
When you arrive at church, you will find a sign outside the building asking you to evaluate if you exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. If so, we ask you to please return home.
Upon entering the building, there are signs reminding everyone that they must wear a mask while inside. Masks are provided for those who need them. Hand sanitizer, additionally, is available. Signs reminding us to keep six feet of distance are posted six feet apart throughout the Gathering Area as you venture into the Sanctuary.
The pews of the Sanctuary are taped off. Each seating section is clearly marked, and every single seat has been measured to 7+ feet of distance from any other seat in the room.
Attempting to limit physical touch, all of the liturgy and music is displayed on the walls on either side of the chancel. Masks remain on until the Welcome and Opportunities for Discipleship. Because of the physical distance between worshipers, and the fact that no worshiper is speaking during this time, those in attendance are invited (if comfortable) to remove their masks until the end of the sermon. Once the sermon ends, we ask that masks be worn again until outside of the building.
After the benediction is pronounced, we ask all who have worshiped with us to exit all the way into the parking lot before sharing in conversation. Outdoors, however, and spaced out, conversation and catching up is most welcome as we celebrate that we are together the Body of Christ.
Thoughts for the Future

Based on what we are seeing with this pandemic, I do not anticipate any of our regular church activities to continue in ways we have previously done them for several more months at least. Somehow, in every aspect of life, we are going to have to find a responsible way to be good stewards of one another while not living in lockdown, paralyzed by fear. Schools, offices, government, and religious institutions must navigate this new reality and find ways to persevere.  

I do not anticipate that worship, fellowship, mission, or spiritual formation will occur in the ways most of us have known our entire lives until a vaccine for COVID-19 is successfully developed and widely administered. Church may never again look as it did before March 15, 2020, but it may be raised to new life never before imagined.

Please continue, then, to exercise caution in this pandemic time. Check in on one another as we are able to- telephone, text message, email, social media. Stay up-to-date on RCPC activities through Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and email. Join with us as you are able and safely. And please remember that we are Christians together, that we care for another, and we seek to worship and serve in person as we are able. May we chart this course together, looking to Jesus as our guide.

Gratefully,
Andrew
Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church
1837 Grandin Road, Roanoke, VA 24015 | (540) 343-5541