“Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.” -Ezra 4:4-5
Not everyone was enthusiastically supportive of the rebuilding of the temple to God in the time of the book of Ezra. The neighboring peoples first asked to assist, but when they were refused because they did not worship the same God as the people of Israel, they made trouble for the progress. It took a very long time to get back to normal worship and rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem as well as the temple. And yet, the people of God persisted; continuing to worship in whatever ways they were able – daily sacrifices, honoring the festivals and feasts, prayers in their homes.
We have a somewhat similar experience at the moment with our online worship/in-person outdoor worship conversation. People are enthusiastically and sometimes impatiently wanting to open up and have church in person again. Others are hesitant to meet in person while we are still at Phase 1 and infection rates continue to rise in our community. It is not easy to discern what is the best way forward. We have plans in place and will continue to share those plans with all of you as we keep watch on the local recommendations from the Health Department as well as our Governor’s office and Presbytery Guidelines for corporate worship. No one is working to frustrate our plans or stop our worship activities, that is one major way the story of Ezra vastly differs from our current situation. But there have been many times the past few months when we make a plan, the situation shifts, so we have to scrap that and adjust to make new plans. It’s like attempting to hit a constantly moving target.
Yesterday, our Session approved a plan for outdoor worship, with modification, for future implementation once we have moved into a phase where it is safe to do so. We will share the plan in detail once those modifications have been made. In-Person Outdoor Worship will not be considered until both Benton and Franklin Counties are in Phase 2. At that time, I will call a Special Session Meeting in order to discern if it is safe and prudent for us to pursue an In-Person Outdoor Worship Service. We highly encourage people over age 65 and individuals who have risk factors to NOT attend in-person worship. We will continue to provide meaningful and high quality online worship services.
It may feel as though people are attempting to frustrate our progress with delays and restrictions, but just as the people of God prevailed and persisted, so will we. Just as the people of God continued to love and serve the true God in the time of Ezra, so we, too, continue to love God by worshipping in new and creative ways AND we will love our neighbors by protecting the vulnerable among us and be faithful to serve our community. One way we can creatively be the connected Body of Christ is to share in the sacrament of Communion. Please come by the church parking lot between 11am and 1pm this Thursday to receive a “Drive-Up” communion. If you would like to host a “home church” gathering in your neighborhood, contact me in the church office and we will discuss strategies and resources to assist you. The church is not closed. The church is alive and well and mobilized into the world. Let’s be the heart and hands of Jesus Christ.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have the whole world in your hands. Help us to feel your embrace, your presence and your love. Continue to direct our church and our thoughts as we serve and love our neighbors, our community and the world. Give us hope for the future and joy on this new day. Amen