Over the last several days, I spoke, texted, or emailed with several members of our medical community, many of whom are faithful members of our church family. Our doctors and nurses and technicians are working diligently to provide care for the constant influx of patients. If not there already, the stress and exhaustion levels of these vital, essential, and precious servants are nearing maximum levels that human bodies and psyches can endure. They have told me heart-breaking stories of what is happening at Iredell Memorial Hospital and Davis Hospital. As I mentioned on Sunday morning, the rooms are full – every room. The COVID wing is full and overflowing. The ICU is full and spilling into the Emergency Room and the Surgical Recovery area. Almost every medical professional said the same thing: “This is different” and “It’s much worse.” Just as cases spiked following the Thanksgiving holiday, our doctors and nurses also believe cases will spike again as families gather for Christmas and friends gather for New Year’s Eve.
The individuals with whom I have spoken are men and women who love the Lord Jesus. They love his church and they especially love THIS church. They love the community in which they live and they love you (even if they have never met you). Their opinions come from actual daily experience in our town and in our hospitals; they are not talking about Charlotte, Raleigh, New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. It seems logical to me that the opinions of our Christians brothers and sisters working to serve our community in this way should be listened to and afforded much respect.
In yesterday’s deacons meeting, I shared the conversations I have had with medical professionals, four of whom are currently serving as a deacon at Western Avenue. After spending time in prayer and after much collaboration, the deacons voted unanimously to return to virtual services for a finite period of time. Even with the medical facts shared above, no one present wanted to do this. In an email to the deacons after the meeting, Brent Bowman, the chairman, wrote, “This is a decision none of us wants to make. We all want to be together, we want our church body to meet together often and see it grow spiritually and in every other good way. This action seems to go against all the things we are about.” Brent is exactly right. Yet he was also able to write, “I came home with the knowledge that we did what honors our Lord and shows care for our congregation and community.” I agree. I hope you can, too.
Because of the serious nature of what is happening right now in our immediate community, the deacons and staff have made the difficult decision to meet virtually beginning this Sunday, December 20 at 11:00 AM. Of course, this decision also applies to ministries on Wednesday nights. We are painfully aware this is the Sunday before Christmas and we certainly have a great desire to be able to corporately celebrate the birth of Christ. We originally wanted to begin virtual services on the Sunday after Christmas but felt the current situation demanded immediate action. The staff and deacons will meet in mid- to late-January to reassess the situation. Our plan is to resume corporate worship on the first Sunday in February 2021. The church office will remain open.
I realize there will be those who read this letter and will disagree, perhaps vehemently, with this decision. I understand. Throughout the last several months and especially during the last few weeks, there have been levels of disagreement in the personal opinions of the church staff and the deacon body. I even have arguments with myself in my own mind. While you may not agree with the decision made, I hope you will be mindful of the difficulty of making such a decision and the motivation for doing so.
The staff and deacons also discussed Christmas Eve. Over the years, this worship gathering has become a welcome and much-appreciated event. I always look forward to the service. We know we cannot meet indoors with all who want to come on December 24. Our plan right now is to hold our Christmas Eve service outside in the back parking lot. This is still before many people’s planned family events and we believe holding the service outdoors and in our cars will greatly decrease the chance of transmission. If you plan to attend, we want to strongly urge people to remain within their family groups (and perhaps bring your own lighter for the candles – something we were not able to do indoors). We are still working to determine the configuration for this event to allow all who want to attend to do so while also increasing the amount of space available for even more room between families. Of course, you will also be able to stay in your cars and listen to the entire service on your radios. We have no way of knowing what the weather will be like on Christmas Eve and we know some are uncomfortable in coming. For those reasons, we will also record the service a few days prior so you can watch at home at your convenience.
One last word: As we realized all our doctors and nurses are enduring, we want to work on ways to minister to our medical professionals, especially those who work in the ICU and ER. We want to thank these hard-working individuals and to encourage them to continue in their service to our community. Please be in prayer for these hard workers and perhaps think of ways you can be a blessing to them yourself.
May God bless you and keep you safe as we live to bring him glory in all we do.
Jeff Spry, Senior Pastor
Brent Bowman, Chairman of the Deacons