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Reopening Plan for Plainfield Baptist Church
May 22, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am writing to you to discuss plans for a preliminary and modified reopening of PBC this coming Sunday, May 24. The thought of seeing some of your faces together once again deeply warms my heart. While I am excited again about the possibility of joining with you for worship again, there are some important details I want to share with you.
Who should prayerfully consider remaining at home during this phase?
People aged 65 and older. We understand that 65 is in some sense an arbitrary number (i.e. a 65 year old person can hypothetically be much healthier than another 50 year old person). Even so, all the information about COVID-19 overwhelmingly indicates age to be the most consistent risk indicator for this virus. In light of this, we are strongly encouraging our precious older members to consider remaining home during this early phase. If you are over the age of 65 and yet feel comfortable attending, however, please know you are still welcome to join us.
People with pre-existing medical conditions. If you are immunocompromised, have respiratory issues (e.g. asthma, lung disease), diabetes, or other pre-existing health issues, we encourage you to stay home for the time being. The CDC has identified people who are believed to be at greatest risk for COVID-19. You can view this information here. If you have a pre-existing health condition and still feel comfortable attending, you are still welcome to come.
Who are we strongly asking to remain at home during this phase?
Households with a fever. Please check the temperature of every member of your household on Sundays you plan to attend PBC. If anyone in your household has a temperature of 100.5°F or higher, we ask that you please wait at least fourteen days before returning to PBC.
Households awaiting COVID-19 test results. If you or someone in your household is waiting for COVID-19 test results, we earnestly ask that you not return to PBC until you receive the findings of such a test. Even if you begin to feel better after being tested, we urge you to not return to PBC until you receive medical confirmation of a negative test.
What time will our services begin? How long will our services last?
Our services will begin at 10:30 am. The doors to our church will be opened at 10:15 am. Our goal is to limit the time of our services to one hour. As we mentioned in a previous email, we are taking such steps to reduce exposure via extended time spent in close proximity to one another.
How should we enter our church’s building?
In this phase, we are asking our members to only enter our building through the glass double doors under the portico at the main entrance. This entry way is wider, more conducive to social distancing, and less susceptible to bottle-necking.
As communicated in an earlier letter, we are asking all members, as well visitors, to wear masks/face-coverings upon entering our building each week during this phase. We will also have a limited supply of masks available. I strongly dislike asking this of our members, but at this point, wisdom and love compel us to follow the guidelines handed down by our state leaders. If at some point during the service your mask is making it difficult for you to breathe, or you begin to feel lightheaded, please take any steps necessary to protect yourself.
We will have restrooms open on Sundays, however, we are strongly encouraging our members to limit restroom use during this initial phase. Our restrooms will be disinfected before and after each service. We will also have volunteers on hand during the service to disinfect restrooms between each use. We understand that emergencies happen, so if you feel you must use the restroom, please do so. As part of our effort to mitigate possible exposure, we are asking you to please use the restroom before you come to PBC on Sunday.
One of my greatest joys each Lord’s Day is hearing the voices of our people singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19). Though singing together is a glorious element of our corporate worship, our current crisis is forcing us to consider creative alternatives in how we sing together. There are a few reasons for this: 1) some data suggests transmission of COVID-19 may be intensified through the raising of the voice; 2) while wearing masks reduces the chances of spreading the virus, it also increases the difficulty of singing.
What will this mean for at least the first few Sundays?
We will limit our singing to the end of our services
We will sing 2–3 songs
If the weather permits, we may sing outside without masks while maintaining appropriate social distancing.
The CDC has just released some information that seems encouraging regarding spread of the virus via contact with surfaces. Out of desire to err on the side of caution, however, we will still initially suspend printing bulletins.
It will be vital for us to maintain adequate social distancing during this initial phase of reopening. All the data about COVID-19 continues to indicate the virus primarily spreads through person-to-person exposure. Especially while we are together in our building, we are asking you and your family to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from those outside of your household.
In effort to facilitate social distancing, during these first weeks we are asking our members, as well as visitors, to sit every other row. We are also asking families to leave at least three seats between them and others on the same row. If necessary, we will explore other seating configurations in future weeks, but for right now our hope is to begin modified gatherings under this seating arrangement.
Families with children
Since we are not yet able to offer childcare during this first phase, children will need to remain with their parents during our services. It is likely that younger children will squirm and become restless during services. This is OK! Our children are blessings from the Lord and never unwelcome guests. If you feel that you or your child needs to step out of the service, however, we are seeking to expand our foyer by opening up the partitions into the dining hall.
In these first weeks, at the close of our service we will dismiss one row at a time. Out of our desire to reduce the overall time inside our building, we will request you begin exiting our building once you are dismissed. If you have ever carefully read one of our bulletins, you will know that we enthusiastically encourage our members to fellowship with one another after each service. Though we look forward to Sundays of lingering fellowship after our Lord’s Day service, our present situation is not yet conducive to extended time together inside our building.
Will audio and video of our sermons still be available?
Yes, we are still seeking to make audio and video of our sermons available online. The video content, however, may not be available until a few hours after our service each Sunday.
Some final words of encouragement
Wisdom might compel us to alter our plans during this initial phase of reopening. In light of this, brothers and sisters, we are seeking to remain openhanded with our plans as new information and/or future guidelines oblige us to modify them.
As mentioned in my last letter to you, it is also deeply important for us to forbear with one another during this difficult season. Some of our members may view the steps we are taking as needlessly restrictive. Others may not yet feel comfortable gathering during this initial phase. Wherever we find ourselves in these troubled days, oh how critical it is for us to remember that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7)! Let us ask the Lord to give us grace to believe and speak the best of one another even when we may prefer different approaches in reopening. Let’s also ask him to grant us the strength to endure the challenges—and savor the joys—of this initial phase. Above all, I pray that God would give us the “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18–19; ESV).
King Jesus is still on the throne, brothers and sisters. I love you all and look forward to being with some of you this Sunday, Lord willing.
In HIS grip,
A Letter on Gathering Again as a Church
May 7, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Lord Jesus told his disciples in his final hours, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; ESV). What encouragement we have to know that Jesus has overcome this troubled world in which we live! Though far less encouraging than the words of King Jesus, I have news to share that I also pray will encourage you in some true way: we hope to resume gathering for corporate worship in a modified capacity beginning Sunday, May 24. Though few things would bring me greater joy than to pick up exactly as we left off, I want you to know that our Sunday mornings at PBC will not immediately look the way they did when we last met together. Because our state leaders have an interest in protecting life, we will seek to reintroduce our time together on Sundays in ways that honor Indiana’s five part plan. I’m sending this email, in part, so that 1) you might gain clarity about what we are humbly requesting of our dear members; and 2) you can begin to prepare yourself for some of the things to expect when we return. I’ve divided the rest of this email into headings so that you can refer back to it more easily, though I suspect it may make this message feel more like a press release than a pastoral letter.
Corporate Worship Gatherings
Sunday morning corporate worship services are an indispensable part of our Christian life. Our love for the physical well being of our members—and non-Christian neighbors they come in contact with—will oblige us to inconvenience ourselves for a while as we begin resuming Sunday services. In this season of reopening PBC, one of the ways we will seek to mitigate the risk of exposure to our members is by reducing the typical amount of time we spend together in our building on a given Sunday. As of right now, we are planning to initially limit our entire corporate worship service to one hour. This means that we will be scaling back certain parts of our service, including the number of songs that we sing each week. We will also be implementing some modifications to our seating to accommodate our government’s social distancing guidelines.
Our state’s leaders are asking us to continue wearing masks at least through June 14. Part of what this means for our church is this: even though masks can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and visually unsettling, out of love for our people and our community, we are humbly asking all attendees to wear them upon entering our building each week. Before I say more about this, I want to try to offer some words of pastoral concern and transparency. I will confess to you, dear brothers and sisters, out of all the precautions we are asking our members to take, this is one of the ones I personally dislike the most. For me at least, there is something that makes me feel uneasy about seeing faces covered by masks when I first enter a grocery store. If you’ve experienced such feelings of discomfort, please know that I share such emotions with you. It is another chilling reminder that the days we are living in are deeply troubled.
We are hoping to provide masks in some capacity, but some questions remain as to how many masks we will be able to offer. In light of this, we will be asking our people to bring their own masks whenever possible. If you have questions or concerns about acquiring masks, however, know that we will seek to serve and accommodate you as much we can.
Initially, we are asking our members to continue suspending all physical meetings of our various Sunday school classes. There are at least a few reasons why we feel it is prudent to suspend these Sunday school classes for the time being. One reason is that a number of our classrooms are not spatially conducive to the current social distancing guidelines. Another reason is out of the desire to limit the overall time together in our building on a given Sunday.
During this period, we will continue to suspend childcare during our Sunday morning services, as well as Wednesday evening Awana activities. There are at least a few reasons for this. One key reason is that a substantial number of our faithful childcare volunteers fall under the high-risk category for this virus. Partly out of concern for these volunteers, we wish to avoid putting them in situations where they might be exposed to an asymptomatic child carrying COVID-19.
Another challenge we face in resuming our Sunday morning gatherings is the issue of maintaining adequate restroom sanitation. Part of this challenge pertains to keeping certain surfaces clean after each use. Another challenge is the difficulty of practicing adequate social distancing in our restrooms. Such challenges are not insurmountable, but they will likely require irregular procedures for using our restrooms. As we get closer to May 24, we will send you more details concerning what we are requesting in regards to the use of our restrooms.
A Final Word of Encouragement
Brothers and sisters, I’m sure some of you have opinions about COVID-19 and the challenges it is forcing upon all of us. Among the pastors I’ve spoken with in recent days, many of them are concerned about divisions being sowed in their congregations over how quickly—or slowly—to reimplement our Sunday worship gatherings. Within our own congregation, it is likely that some members may be skeptical of the severity of this virus and view such precautions as unnecessary at best. Others may even be reluctant to gather in a normal capacity until a vaccine is developed (I’ve spoken to at least one such member today with this concern). Whatever your feelings on these complex issues, let me encourage you “walk worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2–3). I might also point you to what I myself have had to be reminded of again and again these last weeks: there is so much about this challenge that remains unknown to us. Though we may have strong opinions about quarantines, social distancing, and the effects of shutdowns on the economy, we must remember that only with the Lord can it be said, “there is no limit to his understanding” (Isa 40:28). We should continue to pray for God to grant our government leaders and health officials wisdom on these matters. Let’s also pray for the Lord to give us grace to “outdo one another in showing honor” to our brothers and sisters when we may disagree on these issues (Rom 12:10).
I love you and look forward to seeing you Sunday, May 24, Lord willing.
In HIS grip,
March 29, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Another week has come and gone since we were last able to gather as a church family on the Lord’s Day. With each passing day, my longing to be with you again increases. Let’s continue praying that the Lord will be pleased to work in such a way that we can safely gather together again soon.
This morning I preached a sermon from Ephesians 3:14-19:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. 16 I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, 19 and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
I pray this message might be a blessing and encouragement to you this week. You can watch a video of this sermon here.
As you likely well know, millions of Americans are facing financial challenges because of the severe restraints this virus is placing upon our national work force. Brothers and sisters, if your family is facing an economic hardship during this time because of this virus, please reach out to us so that we can pray for you and also might work to be a financial blessing to you.
As I mentioned in a previous email, I am planning to begin leading a Bible study via Zoom for our members on Friday mornings, Lord willing. Our first Bible study is planned for this Friday (4/3) at 8:00 AM. I will send out more details about the study this week. On Thursday I will also send out a link for the Friday Zoom call.
I love you and am praying for you in these days, dear church family.
In HIS grip,
March 23, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I’m sending you a link to a message I preached from John 16:31-33 this Lord’s Day. You can view the sermon here. In verse 33, Jesus tells his disciples just hours before his own death, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33; CSB). This text reminded me of the powerful words of the song “O Church Arise,” that we have sung together numerous times:
Come, see the cross, where love and mercy meet,
As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet,
For the Conqueror has risen!
Praise the Lord that Jesus has conquered the world with its sin and sickness! I pray this message from God’s word will be a source of encouragement to you this week.
In light of the barriers presently inhibiting us from safely and responsibly gathering for worship, our current plan is to offer our people a video recording of a sermon each Lord’s Day. A link to the video will be posted on our church’s website each Sunday at 11:00 AM, Lord willing. Some of our people have limited internet access, so we are also exploring ways to offer these sermons to them as well.
Our earnest hope is to resume Lord’s Day worship as soon as possible. As of right now, we are still seeking to follow the counsel of our national, state, and local leaders concerning this COVID-19 pandemic. So far, they remain consistent in urging people not to gather in large groups at this present time.
Brothers and sisters, I pray that you are still nourishing your own souls with the Scriptures each week in the time we are apart. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus who taught us, “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). I’m hoping to lead a weekly Bible study on the Zoom video conferencing platform on Friday mornings. I pray that this might supplement your own Bible reading. I will send you more information about this in the coming days, Lord permitting.
In these challenging days, we also want to serve our congregation’s precious older members in light of some of the risks associated with public exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Based on all the information that continues to come down from the CDC and our nation’s other health experts, people over the age of sixty-five are at the greatest risk for 1) contracting this virus and 2) being most severely impacted by this virus. If you are one of our older members, we want to bless you during this time by coordinating arrangements to pick up groceries and other household items for you. We have already reached out to many of you about this during the past week. To our dear elderly brothers and sisters, I pray you will consider letting us serve you in this way.
If you have not yet had an opportunity to hear the song “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death,” I pray you will listen to it if you haven’t already. The song was written by Keith Getty (co-author of “In Christ Alone”), Jordan Kauflin (“All I Have is Christ”) , Matt Merker (“He Will Hold Me Fast”), Matt Papa, and Matt Boswell (“His Mercy is More”). Here is a link to a short video about how these brothers came together to write this song. I can hardly think of a more encouraging and timely song that could be written at our present moment.
I miss you, church family. I am praying for you and look forward to the day when we can meet together again.
In HIS grip,
March 16, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
So much has changed—and continues to change—since last week. Last night the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that “for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.” Today the White House counseled against people meeting in groups larger than ten. Obviously, choosing to follow such recommendations would have significant implications for our church in coming weeks. Today, Indiana’s state leadership essentially made a decision for congregations like ours. Governor Holcomb released a statement saying that “Indiana will adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for large events and mass gatherings. The guidance recommends no in-person events of more than 50 people.” You can read the full statement here. This sort of news is difficult to receive. There are occasions when, as a church, a mandate of our government might so strongly oppose the righteous reign and rule of King Jesus that it would require us to engage in civil disobedience. I do not believe we are presently faced with such a dilemma. As a church, I believe this sort of government mandate currently falls under a biblical command like Titus 3:2: “Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:2).
One early implication of this news for our church is already becoming clear: this is not a challenge that we are going to overcome in one week’s time. In other words, brothers and sisters, it appears we must now begin preparing for the reality that it may be multiple weeks before we can safely meet together again for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. This is saddening and unsettling news to take in. I never dreamed that as a pastor I would have to share this kind of news with the people God would call me to shepherd. Out of concern for our beloved older church members, community, and our corporate witness for Jesus, however, it seems that this is the action we must start planning to take. I’ve already communicated with a number of pastors in our area today who are preparing to make changes that would have seemed unthinkable just a couple of weeks ago.
In coming days, we will continue communicating with you through email, and in other ways as necessary, more about what this will mean for our church. Please reach out to us if you need something or have questions. More importantly, Pastor Deven and I ask that you would remain faithful to pray for us during this time. We are continuing to listen to counsel from other pastors and denominational leaders about the wisest ways to move forward at this moment. We are also seeking to gather information concerning the COVID-19 virus from the most reliable sources possible like the CDC. If this feels like a lot to take in, please know that I have had those same sorts of feelings too. What great hope we have in moments like this to remember that we worship One “who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory”! (Eph 1:11-12; ESV).
Yes, much is changing quickly in these troubled days. Praise be to God we have the glorious comfort of knowing that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8).
I am continuing to pray for you, dear church family.
In HIS grip,