Planting Congregations
Strengthening
Churches
Raising Up
Leaders
Editor's Note
Happy Easter! We know celebrating Easter at home is not how most of us prefer to celebrate, but it was a blessing to see so many from our diocese celebrating as church communities, even from a distance. We trust that upon returning to our buildings, we will proclaim the risen Lord with glorious celebration!

As social distancing has continued, energy has drained among many. These new circumstances are not, and should not, be normal. Our very beings recognize that we are a covenant people, created for relationship with God and others, and relationship requires connection.

This month’s Communique challenges us to pause during this disconnected season, to consider where we see the Lord working in the midst of our helplessness, our loneliness, our darkness. We will hear from Bishop Neil and Marcia, from one of our church planters, and from one of our laypersons, sharing how she finds beauty amidst darkness. Be encouraged: the Lord is with you. Talk to him, ask him for his comfort and his provision. He will meet you where you are.

Our prayers are with you.

Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
From the Bishop
Dear diocesan family,
We are in unprecedented and difficult times. 
 
But as I reflect on our situation in this midst of this pandemic, I find comfort in the fact that God is our refuge and strength, our help in times of trouble, and therefore we need not, indeed should not, fear (Psalm 46).
 
As I shared with clergy earlier this week, there is a weighing of what seem like competing values going on in the culture, most notably public health and economic vitality. The reality is that both are valuable, and thus there is tremendous need for wisdom for our governmental leaders whom we must keep in prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
 
Our values as Christians include loving our neighbors, and thus caring about their health, while at the same time being called to worship the Lord together.
 
Our diocese stretches across four states, and in some of these states, regulations have been lifted. As we head into a season of re-opening our churches one careful step at a time, each congregation will be working out their own path forward. We are working together and will follow the guidance of the CDC guidelines and state guidelines as best we can. Please be praying for your leaders and clergy as they make decisions as to how best re-open in your situation.
 
No one in history has faced a pandemic that has operated like this one. Be aware that the Enemy will try to appeal to our pride and divide us by whispering in our ear that “they are doing it wrong, you would do it better.” We are thus tempted to follow in the steps of Diotrephes who liked “to put himself first” and not submit himself to those in authority (3 John 9).
 
Returning to life in general, and church in particular, by stages linked to our age and vulnerability will be difficult for many of us. But remember that the Lord Jesus promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and we can worship in Spirit and in truth anywhere (John 4:23). 
 
I just finished reading a recent biography entitled  Victorious: Corrie Ten Boom and the Hiding Place  by Stan Guthrie. During the Nazi reign in Holland, Corrie along with her family bravely hid Jews in their home. She and her family were eventually caught and imprisoned. Corrie lost her father, sister and brother but was herself miraculously released, spreading the gospel and working with war-torn refugees for the rest of her life. I was struck by her utter confidence that Jesus is Victor in whatever we face, as we trust in him. Her story helped me to put our present troubles in a healthier perspective. I commend it to you. 
 
I believe likewise that as we are released from our stay-at-home imprisonments, the Lord will give us opportunities to share the gospel in a pandemic-torn world. Please pray that what has been a time of loss and hardship will be redeemed by the Lord so that his kingdom will expand in miraculous ways in the days, months and years ahead.
 
May the Lord uphold you all.
 
In the love of Jesus, the Risen and Reigning Lord over all,

+Neil

The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
Planting Congregations
My family and I moved from Europe to Fleming Island, Florida, this past January to help Grace Anglican plant a church in St. Johns County. Just like the rest of the world we have been caught up in this Covid-19 storm. Our church planting efforts have moved online and we are finding ourselves in uncharted waters.
 
However, God has promised to never forsake us and, instead, to prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5). I would like to invite you to have a seat at his table for a moment and to receive the good things he has in store for us as believers and also for our church planting endeavors.
 
I believe the first thing God is teaching us to do is to learn to discern that He is here. He is not watching from a distance. When the disciples were struggling in the storm all night (Mt 14:22-33), Jesus came walking on the water in the midst of the waves. No matter how big the waves around us, Christ is still Lord over the circumstances.
 
Are we able to see Him? Or are we too distracted by the news and bad reports?


Strengthening Churches
These are dark times, aren’t they? Most of us haven’t experienced anything like this coronavirus and the complete upheaval it’s causing in our lifetimes. And beyond the inconveniences of sheltering in place or not finding toilet paper, there is serious fear and uncertainty, real suffering, devastation, loss, and death.

There are many things we could talk about as believers in the midst of this: God’s sovereignty in all situations (it is still true), the need to have faith and not worry (a perennial prayer) and the urgency for those of us with more than enough to share with those in need. Yes, yes, and yes. We need to let all three of these realities guide our hearts and actions.

But here’s another one: make the time count. It’s one thing to appreciate clear skies and benevolent, care-free times . . . that’s beauty sitting on the surface, like a flower, easy to pick.

Being able to see beauty in dark times, however – well, that’s God’s domain. It’s not that He will just “get us through this” or help us endure. He can fill every dark moment with His light, infuse His resurrection goodness into the very shroud of heavy uncertainty and fear.

Raising Up Leaders
I'm constantly intrigued with the threads of plot or character that run through the whole of the Scriptures. Like repeating melody lines in a symphony, or themes in a novel, they speak to the unity of the text and the sovereignty of its Author. One of those threads feels particularly pertinent to me as we endure this traumatic Covid-19 season.

God frequently renders his people utterly helpless.

It's a stark reality we saw in the Wilderness . . . the people of Israel landing a million strong, and at God's direction, in a place with no discernable source of food or water. Add to that the additional restraint of gathering only enough miraculous manna for one day. Further, on one day out of seven nothing was to be gathered at all, but rather God must be trusted for unique preservation of the previous day's supply (Exodus 16:19-26). Helplessness within helplessness!

(See that? It's right there in the Bible. No hoarding! When I see pictures of people with Costco carts loaded to the top with toilet paper, I have to stifle a hope that it will, similarly, be soggy with maggots by the next morning. Neil says no, because then nobody will have any to lend us when we run out!)

This theme of God-engineered helplessness carries on in biblical history. God takes his people from Egypt, a land of abundant and predictable water supply, to Canaan, which relies upon him to provide rain in its season. He weakens his people with a mass circumcision right when Joshua had the military advantage to conquer the Land. Later, God repeatedly strips his armies of weapons and then sends them into battle! Then God, the Son, sends his disciples out on their first missionary journey, instructing them to take absolutely nothing with them. Helpless, in every case . The end of all these stories is victory and jubilation when God's people hear and obey him despite their fear. Could it be that it is only when we are out of options, stripped of human agency, that we discover, most powerfully, God's power to protect and provide?


Looking Ahead
Please know that we will continue to update our website and have encouraged your churches to do the same. If you need help getting connected online, please call your church office or let us know. Once connected, be sure to check church and diocesan social media accounts and websites for up-to-date information on future events. Thank you for your patience.
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Rev. Dr. Jessica H. Jones Editor-in-Chief, Communique
Canon for Next Generation Discipleship
Gulf Atlantic Diocese of the ACNA
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