Bi-Weekly Brief news & updates
Special Edition: August 20, 2020
From The Lion's Den
Dan Saperstein
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:9 (NRSV)

It has been over five months since the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 gripped our nations and closed our church doors. But, as has been often pointed out in the weeks and months since, there is a difference between closing our church doors and closing our churches. As my colleague Ted McCulloch stated out so eloquently last week, we need to practice a theology of faith, not a theology of building.

Most of our churches have found ways to continue to worship in new and creative ways: online via Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube; in person on church lawns and church parking lots; “hybrid” worship including a small, masked, socially distanced sanctuary fellowship and a larger online presence. I am impressed with the creativity and resilience of our congregations and leaders.

It appears that the pandemic will persist and continue to pose health threats in church gatherings well into the fall and winter. For some, this is too much to bear. They fear that if the church doesn’t resume its normal routines then there will be a permanent loss of members and money. So, they pressure the pastor or session to resume large indoor gatherings, to sing hymns, and to hold face-to-face meetings despite the clear medical danger this poses.

Some, influenced by misinformation, dismiss the virus as a political hoax or an overhyped threat. I cannot stress enough the importance of obtaining sound, impartially researched, medical and scientific advice. We are beginning to find that the residual damage caused by this virus is severe, even in young and otherwise healthy persons. International databases show that for every COVID-19 death there are 19 hospitalizations, 18 cases of long-term or permanent heart damage, 10 cases of long-term or permanent lung damage, two cases of long-term or permanent neurological damage and two additional cases of cognitive impairment. Other research suggests that even these figures may be low.

What are we to do then? Let me offer some suggestions:

1. Seek out and share reliable scientific data. The scientists researching this disease have dedicated their lives to saving lives. They rely on peer-reviewed research to obtain the most accurate and reliable data. To clear up misinformation, we are hosting an interactive panel discussion on Covid-19 and Congregations: What You Need to Know on Tuesday, August 25 at 3:00 p.m. It will feature two experts who bridge the medical-scientific and church worlds: Lisa Allgood, a research immunologist who is also the Transitional General Presbyter in Cincinnati Presbytery, and Jon Baker, our Commissioned Pastor at Rosebush Presbyterian Church who is also the administrative director of Sparrow Labs, serving hospitals in the Lansing area. Jon is also a frequent guest on “Friday Fake News,” a webcast of Hillsdale Hospital which sorts out Covid-19 fact from fiction. Registration information can be found elsewhere in this special edition.

2. Embrace the challenge as an opportunity. The pandemic is forcing the church to adapt in directions that the wider culture has already been moving: increasing our online and digital profile; discovering 21st century methods of stewardship; moving out of our buildings and into the community; rediscovering the power of partnership among congregations and with the presbytery. We might long for “the way we were,” but if we are serious about reaching new members and younger generations, going back is going backwards.

3. Live into the freedom of mission without walls. For the past three and a half years I have been writing and speaking about the 21st century church that is “inside-out, upside-down, and sticky.” Now is the time to live it. How better to become “inside-out” when all you can be is outside? Like the disciples on the mountaintop in Matthew 28, we have no building, just a commandment and a promise: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… and remember I am with you always” (Mt. 28:19-20). How better to discover the joy of serving “upside-down,” like Jesus, than by tending and caring for the most vulnerable of your members and neighbors? What better opportunity to form new “sticky mission” relationships than when all our relationships have had to be reframed?

Some of our churches are already discovering this freedom and stretching their faith in new adventures of mission. It may well be that the pandemic, for all its destructiveness, has blessed the church with an opportunity to be reborn for a new generation. Our buildings, as meaningful, sacred, and beautiful as they may be to us are just tools of God’s reign, not the reign itself. They are the pretty boxes in which we have received our gifts for ministry. Let us not confuse the gift wrap with the gift itself.

The coronavirus may have burst the wineskins of the old order. Now is the time to find the new wineskins for the wine of the Spirit as we serve Christ in the new day.

Faithfully, 

Dan Saperstein, Executive Presbyter
PC(USA) Staff Push Week of Action for Racial Justice
A “Bearing Witness” Task Force of four General Assembly Agencies is calling the church to a “Week of Action” for racial justice August 24-30.

The killing of George Floyd shocked the nation. The shooting of Breonna Taylor brought the reality of police violence against people of color to the doorstep of our denominational headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky. In response, a task force of leaders from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Office of the General Assembly, the Administrative Services Group, and the Presbyterian Publishing Company have developed advocacy campaigns, education initiatives, and opportunities to join with community efforts organized by various Louisville and national grassroots groups.

The centerpiece of their efforts is a national Presbyterian Week of Action in support of racial justice. The Task Force is using the “Black Lives Matter” slogan but is not affiliated with nor does it officially endorse the Black Lives Matter organization.

The webpage explains, “As a Matthew 25 denomination, it is the vision of our church to eradicate white supremacy and dismantle institutionalized racism.

Furthermore, in an effort to do the ‘hands & feet’ work the Lord ordains, we must act and bear witness to the gospel in these crucial times.”

Each day of the week has a different focus:

 Monday 8/24: Global Day of Solidarity focuses on hearing stories of racial injustice from around the world.

◾ Tuesday 8/25: Town Hall features a nationwide town hall gathering with theologians, activists, pastors, and practitioners of anti-racism work at 1;30 p.m. EDT.

◾ Wednesday 8/26: Liberation Bible Study and Twitterchat, with a national bible teach-in and organized tweetstorm to broaden the conversation and raise awareness

◾ Thursday 8/27: BLACKOUT Day, COVID-19 Memorial and Farmworker webinar. Participants are urged to wear black in solidarity with Presbyterian Women’s “Thursdays in Black” protest against violence against women.
◾ Friday 8/28: Give 828 Day, Documentary Premiere and Young Adult Round Table. Give #828 – also known as “Give Black Day” encourages support of leadership development of people of color.

◾ Saturday 8/29: Justice Rally/March in Louisville and your own town!

◾ Sunday 8/30: Day of Service. Congregations and mid councils are encouraged to provide opportunities to serve their communities after worship.

Further information and registration information can be found on their webpage.
Covid-19 and Congregations: What You Need to Know
The Presbytery is pleased to host an interactive discussion on Covid-19 and Congregations next Tuesday, August 25 at 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. EDT via Zoom. Our special guest is Lisa Allgood, Ph.D., who has served for 36 years as a Research Immunologist and is currently the Transitional Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Cincinnati. Lisa is an outstanding resource for understanding the scientific and medical dimensions of the current pandemic and their implications for congregational worship and ministry. Her expertise has been generously shared with the wider church. She will be joined by Jon Baker, the Director of Laboratories at Sparrow Health Systems in the Lansing Area. Jon is also the CRE at Rosebush Presbyterian Church in our presbytery, and is a regular guest on "Fake News Friday," a weekly webcast of Hillsdale Hospital sorting out Covid-19 fact from fiction. Executive Presbyter Dan Saperstein will moderate the presentation and the conversation that follows. Participation is limited to 100 persons.

Please click here to register for the event. Registrants will be sent a link to join the event. Please do not share your registration link with others as registration is limited. You will be asked to identify your name, office, and church. You will be placed in a waiting room upon joining the event to verify participants.
Scholarships Available for Kaleidoscope Conference
The 2020 version of Stewardship Kaleidoscope, the interdenominational workshop to develop generous disciples, will be held online over three days September 22, 29, and October 6. This year’s theme is “Currents of Faith: The Stewardshift in Community, Technology, and Across Generations.” Each day will feature a different theme and will run from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. EDT.

Stewardship Kaleidoscope is an annual conference offering excellent plenary speakers, informative workshop leaders, provocative worship experiences, and incredible networking opportunities for all who are passionate about stewardship and generosity. Drawing leaders from across the Lutheran Church (ELCA) and the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and beyond, Stewardship Kaleidoscope is designed to help participants explore stewardship, in its many colorful dimensions! Full information can be found here.

Cost for the online event is $45, but fifty $20 scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis from the Presbyterian Foundation. To obtain a scholarship code, contact our Foundation Ministry Relations officer Steve Keizer at stephen.keizer@presbyterianfoundation.org or by phone at 866-317-0751.