Dear Church Family,
I am writing to you as your pastor in this time of global illness to encourage you and inform you as part of our church community. As you know, the Covid19 pandemic continues to spread across our nation and world. To limit the spread of this virus and provide time to find a vaccine our Government continues to increase controls over meeting in groups.
In recent times religious gatherings have been stopped and new controls placed on business and gatherings of people in general. This means that our normal Sunday church service is not open to our congregation or general public. It deeply saddens me that we cannot meet in the normal way, yet I believe that this is the right thing to do to help protect lives and not overwhelm our health system. As we move into this time of restricted gatherings, I believe that the following spiritual priorities will be helpful for us:
1) Make connecting with God a priority
Life will look very different in the next few months. New rhythms will need to be established; new goals formed. What we fill our mind with will make a huge difference to our spiritual and mental wellbeing. In this time of change, please make time to regularly connect with God. Press into Hm through prayer. Pray for our leaders, pray for our nation pray for our church. Seek God earnestly and expectantly for his mercy and grace to be poured out on our world, and our own lives.
Over the next few months, it is likely that many people will be experiencing increasing levels of fear and anxiety. Let’s ask God to help us be a non-anxious presence in an anxious world. We can only do this if we remain in Jesus love and know the supernatural peace that comes from this. Remember Jesus words in John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.
2) Care for one another in love
The parable of the Good Samaritan has relevance for us in this moment. We live as part of a society that has in recent times been ‘beaten up’ with drought, bushfire, storms, and now the Covid19 pandemic. Will we ‘walk by on the other side’ or will we stop and ‘bandage the wounded’?
In these times, it’s essential we remember our common humanity and be kind to our fellow humans. Jesus said that “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Over the next few months be patient, kind and forgiving of one another. Please take time to call people in our church to just see how they are doing and offer to pray with them. A small act of kindness can make a huge difference. Our Care Circle initiative will be crucial here (more on this later in this letter).
3) Be gracious adjusting our expectations
There will be lots of tensions that arise over the coming weeks and months. Having a gracious posture and spirit of flexibility will be essential to our own mental and spiritual health. Church is going to look and feel different for a time. I would ask you to be gracious and flexible, willing to accept these differences. A key part of this is adjusting our expectations. Church is not determined by the building, nor numbers at our Sunday gathering, but our relationship with our heavenly father, the indwelling of God’s spirit and our loving relationship with another.
4) Look for appropriate ways to share the message of Jesus
Jesus offers hope at all time but particularly in hard times. It is often in the difficult times that people start to ask the hard questions and come to a new clarity about what is important. God has placed us in our community at this time for a reason. Please courageously share and show the message of Jesus as God provides opportunity. Allow your conversations to naturally move from the casual to meaningful to spiritual. As you do this God can work through you to make an eternal difference to someone searching for hope and meaning. Feel free to distribute the enclosed neighbourhood care cards.
5) Be Generous
In a society that is hording for the future, the leadership teams of the church would encourage you to continue to foster a spirit of giving both to people in need and to our church. As citizens of another kingdom, let's ask Holy Spirit to help us powerfully increase the level of unselfishness, thoughtfulness and care for others in our church family and community (more on how you can practically contribute later in my letter).
6) Remind one another
God is with us, guiding us through His Word and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are comforted by the words of the Psalmist who says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Ps46:1). Our security is not simply in our own capacity or that of our society; rather our hope and peace is because of Christ. Death is not the end for a follower of Jesus. It is a step into eternity with our amazing God. Let’s remind one another often who we are (beloved children of God) and where we are (the unshakable kingdom of God). We have read the book, we know the ending, we will be OK.
7) Remember that we’ve been here before. The world has faced pandemics in centuries gone by, and often the Church of Jesus has shone in these times. The pandemic of the 2nd century lead to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for their communities. These believers offered a spiritual model whereby pandemics were not the work of angry and vengeful God but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God. Yes, this time is very difficult, but it will not last forever.
Practical measures going forward:
Care Circles are about our church coming together and sharing the responsibility of caring for each other. Attached to this letter is specific information about the Care Circle that you are in. Each circle is made up of 8 individual or families. Each week the church pastoral care team would ask each person in the Care Circle to call another person or family in your circle. The pattern for who you need to touch base with is enclosed in the handout.
We suggest that you keep this information in your church directory so it remains confidential. For your own record, please tick the box once you have made contact. When the last person in your Care Circle is reached the process can be repeated. We will conclude the Care Circles when this period of heightened illness has passed. On the back of your Care Circle handout, you will find a brief example of what you could say when you contact someone. Care circles will start the week of 30th March. Further information about care circles can be found on the enclosed handout.
Food help for our community
Please consider dropping off non-perishable food off to our church. Because our church is now closed you cannot come into our building to do this. However, I have placed a new bin at the front of the church inside the safety gate. This will be emptied each day. Thank you to all those who have given so generously already. It is a real blessing. I believe there will be great need in this area in the coming week/months. I have already blessed one family in need from our community because of the generosity of some in our church.
Thank you to all of you who give so generously to our church. Although meeting together in large numbers is difficult, the costs of maintaining the church and staff wages will change little. It is very important that we are able to remain financially afloat so that we can help our community at this time of great spiritual and practical need.
If you do not already, please consider electronic giving. If you are really uncomfortable with this we are currently having a new secure post box slot put in the middle of the side office door of the church. This will be a place where people can make a cash contribution to the ongoing work of our church. The box will be checked daily.
Scattered church online
We are currently developing an area of our web page devoted to helping people connect and communicate during this time. This will be accessible on the home page of our web site www.lighthousebaptistnelsonbay.org
On this page we will have:
Our web page will be our central point of call for our new “Scattered Church”. Currently we are live streaming our Sunday service through our face book page “Lighthouse Baptist Church Nelson Bay” at 9:30am on Sunday. It is quite possible that this live stream or a video recording will be moved to our web page in the future. If this changes we will let you know. If you missed Scattered Church on Sunday it can be viewed on our Facebook page under videos or listened to on our web page under the sermons tab.
Please be mindful that our on-line Sunday service will look a bit different to our normal church service. I have been encouraged by NSW Baptist and others in our community to keep messages shorter and more engaging. Let’s be mindful that our digital service now needs to meet the needs of everyone in our community (from toddlers to 90 year olds). Please remember my previous comments about adjusting expectation, grace and flexibility.
Our Prime Minister had strongly discouraged the meeting of small groups of people in homes at this time. Gathering in parks and outdoor spaces in groups is also strongly discouraged. Therefore, all growth groups will take place via email or using on line video tools such as Lifesize or Zoom. The deacons will be in contact will growth group leaders about this.
If a someone does pass on to be with Jesus, we are confined by the Government to a limit of 10 people at a funeral. This will be very hard if this is required. However, if we have to hold a funeral, we will video record the funeral and make it available on our web page. It is likely that we will have a remembrance service when things are returned to normal.
If you have a question or want to give feedback please call (0412 870 508) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The contact details other leaders in our church can be found in our church directory. If you don’t have a directory please let me know as I have some spares.
I know the last few weeks have been hard for many of us. It is unlikely to get easier for some time. Yet as the veneer of our comfortable and often materialistic world is seriously disrupted, God’s still small voice calls to us to know his peace in the storm. Remember, this period will not last forever. Together we will get through this in God’s strength and by supporting each other. When we are weak, God is strong. In the past, at times like this the church has often shone, may we shine again to be a passionate community of believers reaching those who do not know Jesus.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Andrew with the support of the Deacons, Ministry Support Team and Pastoral Care Team.