Dear friends in Christ,
I want to say thank you to everyone who participated in the online survey regarding the subject of when First Presbyterian should resume gathering for in-person worship. Your engagement is quite helpful as we continue to plan for the day when we regather for in-person worship. As we read through the results, a few common questions came to the surface. We’ve organized the answers to those questions on a FAQ page, linked below and you can find a summary of the results of the survey, linked below for you to review.

Please take a few minutes to watch this video as Dr. Barnes shares some of the staff's and session's
decision-making process as
we have discerned the next
step forward in
our regathering plan.

As states across the country reopen to varying degrees, there are some churches that have chosen to gather in-person for worship indoors, sometimes regardless of their state’s orders, and others, like ours are choosing to only offer online services. There are different biblical, theological and philosophical rationales churches have used for gathered worship during this pandemic. Our church has chosen a more cautious approach to regathering for corporate worship for a host of reasons, and you will recall that the Session made a decision not to regather for worship until North Carolina was at least in Phase 3 of reopening. Sadly, we’re not there yet.  

However, we are going to begin offering opportunities for folks in our church community to gather outdoors for prayer gatherings with attendance restrictions and guidelines for social distancing to the purpose of fellowship and prayer. Pastors will be available for these prayer gatherings, and we also hope to offer communion if it is the desire of the group along with a brief devotion. Details about these new opportunities are on the church's website (linked below) and are also in First This Week, and will be updated regularly, so check often.

I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of being separated from our full gathering of covenant partners, and I miss seeing all of you. I miss the sense of connectedness that comes from a public, Sunday morning gathering, and I miss the hugs and handshakes. I suspect you do too. In times like these, it’s tempting to ask, “When can we go back to church?” My encouragement for all of us is to remember that church isn’t something we go to. Church is something we are. 

We are being the church whenever we wear a mask and practice social distancing. Scripture calls us to love our neighbor self-sacrificially in the way that Jesus loved us and sacrificed Himself for us. We’re also being the church when we follow our Governor’s orders, and Scripture calls us to submit to the governing authorities unless and until they ask us to go against God’s Word. We don’t have to agree with the decisions, but we can respectfully submit to them. And we’re being the church when we lament and grieve and mourn the season we are in, all while placing our ultimate hope in Jesus Christ and His coming Kingdom.

We’re not the first generation of Christians who faced significant obstacles to public, Sunday morning gatherings. Our brothers and sisters throughout church history and those in the Global Church around the world today know full well that God has often His most done powerful work when the church was forced to scatter. 

In these challenging times, we have an opportunity to creatively and powerfully live out the truth that church isn’t something we go to on Sunday mornings. Church is something we are every single day of the week. The call on our church community and our individual lives is the same even if the context has radically changed. Let’s partner together for the sake of the Gospel. Let’s continue to be the church. One day soon, Lord willing, we will be able to gather again and celebrate all that God has done while we were scattered. 

If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, feel free to write or call me or any of the pastors and elders at the church. You can find the contact information for First Presbyterian pastoral staff linked below. I look forward to the day when we will be able to gather for worship in person once again. Until then, keep your eyes on Jesus, be safe and stay well, wear a mask and love your neighbor, and be the church wherever you are and wherever you go.  

Psalm 91 says, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’  Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” Let’s stand on these promises in the midst of this strange and challenging time. He is with us.

In the grip of His grace,

Peter Barnes
Senior Pastor  

First Presbyterian Church
300 N. Cherry Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101