Updated Letter sent Friday, May 15
The deacons of Grace Church want you to know we continue to pray for each of you. These are trying times but we know God is still faithful and we continue to go to Him in prayer on your behalf. This last week we met as a group to pray and discuss church business and we want to share with you some of the items we considered.
Worship Service News
On May 24, Memorial Day Sunday, we plan to host a drive-in church on our property. The service will start at 10am, our regular service time, and we will meet in the yard straight east of our new addition. Because our parking spaces are limited we ask that the younger families in our church would park in the west lot and bring chairs to sit in the yard where a loud speaker system will be in place for you hear. For those higher-risk individuals, you may park in the south lot, stay in your car and tune your radio to FM 88.1 to hear the service.
Annual Meeting Announcement
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to have our annual meeting the third Sunday in April. As we looked ahead to the coming months, we chose to have our annual meeting on July 19 after our Sunday worship service. During this meeting we will set our annual budget and choose new committee members to serve in the next fiscal year. If you are a member of Grace, we encourage you to do your part as an active member and participate in this meeting.
Exciting News about Pastor Daniel
Many of you are aware that Pastor Daniel has been working on earning his Master’s Degree for the last several years. This past week, he turned in his final assignment and is now scheduled to graduate through a virtual graduation ceremony on June 27. We want to celebrate this accomplishment with him by hosting a card shower and fireworks show on Sunday, May 24. This celebration will be at the Smith Welding Shop north of town. The show will start around 9:30pm; feel free to arrive any time after 9pm. We will have a place for you to give him your cards or you may mail them or drop them off at church if you are unable to come to the show. Please join us as we congratulate him for this significant achievement. (Note: If you would like to help with the cost of this celebration, please contact Mark Lucht at 308. 750.1641).
In October, 2018, the church membership tasked the deacons with finding someone who could serve our church part-time in an additional pastoral role. We knew it would need to be someone local as we knew it was not reasonable to ask someone to move to St. Paul if we were only going to pay them for 10 hours of work per week. The deacons did discuss some names and we gave permission to Pastor to talk to a few local people but God chose to close all of those doors before we brought them before you to consider. Until now.
This past February, we were contacted by a man by the name of Eric Townsend. He and his wife Lura (Yes, it is spelled Lura) are moving to St. Paul this June. Eric and Lura are friends of Pastor Daniel and Rachel and they have been part of Pastor’s prayer team since he came here in 2015 and have also been financial supporters of Grace. For the past year, Eric and his wife have felt led by God to move here and begin attending Grace. His first thought was he would just volunteer his time as a lay-person but, since we were looking for someone part-time, he asked us if we would consider hiring him. We read his resume and met with him over video conference in March and our initial impressions are very good. He has a lot of beneficial life experience and is well-educated with two under-grad degrees in ministry and two master’s degrees as well; one in Pastoral Counseling and one in Biblical Studies. While we don’t know if he is the person God has for us, we do want you to know we see him as a good possibility for a part-time staff member.
We still have a lot of details to work out but one thing that impressed us was when Eric said, “We are moving to St. Paul this June whether you hire me or not. Hiring me would be frosting on the cake for us.” He and his wife truly feel that God is leading them here. No date has been set to vote on hiring him, but please be in prayer about him and pray God would lead all of us as we consider whether he is the right person for our staffing needs.
As you can see, God is doing a lot at Grace and we as deacons have been busy. Please continue to pray for us as we pray for you. We are honored to be serving you as deacons during these exciting times. We love you all.
Your Grace Church Deacons,
Brian Smith (Chair), Zack Ireland (Sec.), Glenn Jares, Mark Lucht & Pastor Daniel (Ex-Officio)
Updated Covid-19 response letter–May 4, 2020
Dear Grace Church Family,
The Grace Church deacon board has been contemplating our next step after the governor lifts our meeting restrictions beginning May 4. We know this is a hot topic for almost all of us and one we wish to address. We recognize there are essentially two sides to this issue:
- “It’s too soon to worship together. Too many people are going to be put at risk.” People in this group are motivated to show our love for others through social distancing.
- “It’s past time to open. We need to meet together as a congregation and encourage each other as we worship together.” People in this group are motivated to show love for others through gathering together.
Notice: The motive for both groups is love, but love shown differently. Not wrong, just different.
Francis Schaeffer, a theologian from the 1900’s, in his last days pleaded our disagreements would prove to be golden opportunities to show the world how to love – not by avoiding conflicts, but by how we handle them. This is one of those “golden opportunities”.
We need to recognize this is not a moral issue with one side being right and one side being wrong. Nor is this a political issue with us being under religious persecution vs. practicing our religious freedoms. Rather, this is a Christian liberty issue of how we can show love to each other when we disagree with the action the other is choosing. Rachel and I have family members that believe women should never wear pants. We have others who believe to use a Bible translation other than the King James Version is a sin. They have taken Christian liberty issues and changed them to be moral issues. We need to be careful not to let that happen with this issue at Grace.
We know that no matter what decision we make; someone is going to disagree. Rather than focus on what we disagree on, can we instead focus on what we agree on? All of us wish things were as they were a few months ago. All of us miss church and can’t wait to get back together again. Most importantly, all of us love each other. This same love impacted the decision the deacons made. I have said all along I believe it is honoring to God to follow the instructions of our government, so long as they do not violate God’s commands. Hebrews 13:17 states the same attitude should be shown toward your church leaders. The Grace deacons are not perfect but they are doing the best they can. Please respect whatever decision they make, just as I will. They love you and want the best for you.
After meeting as a group and after discussing this with the Howard County Medical Center as well as the Merrick Medical Center, here is the conclusion of the deacons:
At this time the deacons have chosen to NOT reopen the church on May 10. They will reevaluate this on a weekly basis and as soon as they deem prudent to do so, services will begin again. Here are some of the reasons affecting their decision:
- The number of COVID-19 cases in Howard County are still rising. They have been advised that it would be best to wait until those numbers begin to go down. While they were told the risk of us infecting others during a worship service is low, especially if we follow the social distancing
guidelines, there is still a risk. Out of concern for our congregation they wish to wait until the risk level lowers even more.
- While the governor did lift many restrictions upon churches, the deacons saw some of the continued guidelines from his office as divisive, such as encouraging people over the age of 60 to stay home. While Grace is definitely a younger church in average age than it was a few years ago, we still have a large group of people over 60 we want to include in the first Sunday back.
- The social distancing guidelines, applicable even while worshiping, would limit our seating to about half of our average attendance. Again, the deacons saw this as potentially divisive, rather than unifying to our congregation.
Until we are able to meet again, the sermons will continue to be recorded and available on our webpage – www.stpaulgrace.org. For those without the internet, a DVD of each week’s sermon can be made available at your request. Please contact the church office if you would like a DVD.
Moving forward and as stated earlier, whether or not we have church is something that will need to be decided on a weekly basis. We will keep you informed as this situation continues to unfold.
Churches fail all the time because one group thinks the other is being too hasty while the other group thinks the first is holding them back. I pray Grace does not become one of those churches. During this time let us focus on the mutual love we have for each other and allow each other the freedom to worship where they wish to worship without condemnation. To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you worship at home or at church, do all to the glory of God.”
I love you all and am more than willing to discuss this further with you if you wish.
Have a blessed week and we will see you when we see you!
Original Covid-19 response letter — March 18, 2020
We are experiencing a time that will be recorded in history books around the entire world. People are frightened as they see the impact of an enemy that cannot be seen. For many, that which we cannot see is frightening. As believers, we have an opposite perspective. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While the Coronavirus is real, though invisible to the naked eye, its effects can be seen and measured. The same is true for my God but in a much bigger way! Someone shared with me an acrostic this week that the letters, COVID-19, could stand for Christ Over Viruses and Infectious Diseases. Those of us with faith believe this to be true. Hebrews goes on to say in 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” This is a time when our faith may be tested. Part of growing to become a mature follower of Jesus Christ is going through a time of testing. We must remember God is not surprised by this and God has not lost control! May your faith continue to grow as you trust in the unseen God to fight against that which we cannot see but that which He does have control over.
The deacons met on March 17 to discuss our response to COVID-19. We know we are entering a time when “normal” is going to look “abnormal”. Earlier this week the state of Nebraska passed down a mandate asking organizations and businesses to limit groups to no more than 10 people. Because of this mandate, and out of compliance to Romans 13, effective immediately, Grace Church will no longer host the following ministries:
- Sunday Morning Worship
- Sunday School
- Monthly All-Committee Meetings
- Tuesday Afternoon Bible Study
- Thursday Morning Women’s Bible Study
We will reevaluate this the first week of May and, Lord willing, begin services again May 3. This, of course, will be dependent upon our government’s recommendation.
Here are some things that influenced our decision-making:
- As a church, we want to comply with the God-given authority that has been placed over us and honor those in that position of authority. Leadership decisions are tough and God has placed leaders over us who are charged with our safety. We want to honor those leaders and in doing so, honor God.
- This is not an issue of religious persecution. Should it become clear that the government is stepping outside the authority delegated by God to the state, we will refuse to comply. While there may be some who are using this situation to further a particular agenda, we do not believe this has come to a point where disobedience to the governing authority is biblically mandated or permissible.
- We do not want to damage the public witness or future ministry of Grace Church. If someone drives past and sees a bunch of cars in the parking lot, they could easily think “those people don’t care about the community” or “those Christians just do whatever they want and ignore guidance given for public safety and health”. While we do not make decisions based upon public opinion on matters of doctrine or truth, we also don’t want to erect unnecessary barriers to future ministry or damage the name of Christ.
These decisions were not made in fear nor were they made in complacency. They were made with the best information available, with careful application of God’s word to the best of our ability, and with a heart desiring to honor God and see others come to treasure and trust Christ.
While we have a lot of unknowns, what we do know is just because we have been told to no longer meet in groups, this does not mean we are required to stop ministry. Every week I will record a devotional and post it to our website (www.stpaulgrace.org) for you to watch on Sunday. I will also be praying for you and throughout the week I and others from Grace will call as many of you as possible to check on you and pray with you. In addition, the church office will remain open for your calls and/or visits so please contact me if you need anything at 308.754.4770.
We also want to remind you of a number of ways you can continue to support Grace financially through this time. Christians are known for their generosity, especially during times of need and I believe we are entering a period when many people in our community will face financial hardship. If you would like to give to the continued ministries of Grace and/or to our benevolence fund to meet needs in the community, here are some available options:
- You may mail a check to Grace Church, 123 9th St., St. Paul, NE 68873.
- You may deliver your check to the office of slide it through the mail slot by the north entrance. Mark the envelope “Grace Treasurer” and it will be delivered to her unopened and confidential.
- Some banks allow you to do online, free bill-pay. You can set up your account for the bank to send your gift directly to Grace.
- You may use our online giving platform – http://stpaulgrace.org/online-giving-3/. This will allow you to set up one-time or recurring gifts to Grace.
- Note: Undesignated funds will go to our general fund to keep our ministries operational. Giving for benevolence, missions or the building fund must be marked on the check or envelope.
If you have any questions about this, please let the church office know or contact our financial secretary directly at 402.613.3356 or email@example.com.
In consideration of our Missions Pledge Drive, this will be extended until we can come together as a congregation. Please continue to pray about how much you and your family could give to missions each month. You can email your pledges now to our missions treasurer (Dennis Jameson – firstname.lastname@example.org or 308.440.7692) or you can place them in the offering plate within the first two weeks of our meeting again.
Moving forward, we need to be sensitive to potential needs within our community. Some parents might need childcare now that schools are not in session; especially if those parents need to work. Some families may need groceries they can’t afford to buy. The elderly may need someone to pick up and deliver their medications and groceries. If you are willing to help with one or more of these needs, or if you know someone that needs assistance in one or more of these needs, please let us know. This is a time when we can show grace in a very real way.
In closing, the past two Sundays we have read from Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus told His disciples to Go, Make Disciples, Baptize and Teach. Now is the time for us to live this. We have a great opportunity to use our witness for God’s glory. We can GO to our neighbors, offering assistance and hope. We can MAKE DISCIPLES by illustrating our faith to them and showing how a relationship with God can make a difference. We can even BAPTIZE them if they so desire upon their testimony of salvation. We can also TEACH them. You can take them to our website and have them watch sermons that deal with a topic they may be struggling with. You can come by the church and take them through one of our resource booklets or devotional booklets that are available. We have a lot of resources available but it starts with you GOING. Please consider how God can use you for His glory during this time.
Please call me if you have any questions, any needs, or if you just miss picking on me. In addition, the deacons are also available to listen and pray with you. You may call them at the numbers listed below:
- Zack Ireland – 435.938.8433
- Glenn Jares – 308.381.0540
- Mark Lucht – 308.750.1641
- Brain Smith – 308.754.8288
I love you all. I can’t wait until we can be together again!