When it comes to communicating on matters related to the Coronavirus, the elders have been operating on a very basic philosophy. First, at a time when information about the virus is subject to rapid change and factual conflict, we are only communicating that which we know for certain. Second, at a time when the approaches to and perspectives on Covid-19 are being circulated in abundance, we are only communicating that which we believe is necessary. As a result, the elders have communicated to the Grace Family eleven times over the last five and-a-half months. In this, our twelfth communication, we want to explain where we currently stand on Covid-19 and, in light of that, what we believe to be the way forward for the Grace Family.
What do the Elders Currently Believe About Covid-19?
Because of its pervasive presence from coast-to-coast and around the world, many of the elders believe that the Covid-19 phenomenon is a bona fide pandemic. While many of us believe in the reality of the pandemic, we all believe that Covid-19 is being used by some for self-serving purposes. This is most clearly seen when politicians overlook or violate protocols with one group, while continuing to enforce them for another group. It is also seen when protocols are erratically enforced (e.g. the back and forth opening/closing of businesses and public spaces) or corruptly enforced (e.g. threatening to withhold money from a subordinate municipality that legitimately refuses to enforce an order).
The dynamic and multi-faceted nature of this crisis has lent itself to a variety of opinions and responses throughout society at large.
How do the Elders View Covid-19 and Grace?
Like the society at large, we recognize that members of our Grace Family hold to differing views on Covid-19, as well as regathering on site. These views can be generally divided into three categories:
- Those who want to continue gathering online
- Those who want to begin gathering in person, but want to be assured that “the church” knows and communicates the appropriate protocols
- Those who want to begin gathering in person with few to no restrictions
While these are not hard-and-fast categories (i.e. a person may drift from one category to another, or identify as being in one, while advocating for someone who is in another), most people seem to fall into one of these groups.
Do the Elders Want to Regather on Site?
Since March of this year, public health orders have been generally viewed as provisional and aimed at returning our community to a state of normalcy. But after five-and-a-half months, it appears that these constantly changing orders may no longer be provisional but in place for the foreseeable future. As a result, this summer the elders have been discussing what it is to which the Lord is calling Grace in this unique season.
After many discussions amongst ourselves and with a variety of ministry leaders, we believe it is time for us to move away from a mode of congregational life-support to one that is supporting life!
Therefore, it is our desire to begin regularly, physically and safely regathering for fellowship, instruction, and the ordinances (i.e. baptism/communion) as soon as possible (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 14:26; 11:20; c.f. Acts 18:8).
Do the Elders Plan to Defy County Orders and Meet Indoors?
While Los Angeles County protocols have greatly limited and even prohibited indoor gatherings, they have allowed for outdoor ones with few restrictions.
Unlike other parts of the United States, where people are limited to seasonal outdoor gatherings and subject to unpredictable weather, Southern Californians by-and-large face neither of these problems. We can meet outdoors year-round.
Further, the Grace campus has a variety of spacious gathering areas that, with some modifications and/or developments, could accommodate a year-round, onsite ministry program.
When do the Elders Hope to Launch an Outdoor-based Ministry?
While some ministries have already returned to regularly meeting on site (e.g. Sunday morning service, as well as Wednesday evening Student Ministry), and others are commencing now (e.g. Adult Bible Study and Women’s Bible Study), we hope that many more will be gathering again on a regular basis by mid-September.
What steps are the elders taking to carefully and safely embark on this new season of ministry? We will be calling through the membership roll
Our aim is to follow-up on the calls made last spring at the outset of the pandemic. These calls are mainly intended to inquire about the well-being of each member at this time. We will also be sending out a survey to in an effort to discern the range of views held by our membership on Covid-19.
We will be developing a comprehensive ministry plan
Our priority is regathering the Grace Family on site, but we are also placing equal importance on ministering to those who cannot be physically present. Therefore, we want to develop a protocol appropriate visitation program so that those at home can continue feeling a part of church life. We are also committed to maintaining a high level of cleanliness on campus so that God’s people, no matter what their response is to Covid-19, can safely and confidently begin regathering.
We will be striving for creativity
We have plenty of usable outdoor spaces and are willing to develop them in ways that may differ from their intended purposes (e.g. turning children’s playgrounds into meeting spaces). We also want to ensure that our web presence is readily accessible to, as well as stimulating for, a variety of ages and learning styles, while remaining true to our ministry values. Finally, we want to encourage and promote sanitary practices in ways that are upbeat.
We will be refreshing Grace Group ministry
We believe this season is a natural opportunity to emphasize the centrality of household in gospel ministry. Toward that end, we intend to refresh our Grace Group ministry by encouraging our Shepherds (especially with guidelines for gathering that apprise them of County protocols without binding their consciences), resetting existing groups by way of two newly developed documents (a charter and a covenant), and launching new Grace Groups for those currently not in one.
As the elders look ahead, we are encouraged and grateful. We are encouraged by the Lord who will never leave us or forsake us and, as we trust in Him, promises to make our paths straight.
And we are grateful for you, our gracious, “can do” Grace Family. As we began regathering outdoors in mid-July, we said that it would be a work in progress and asked for your understanding and flexibility. Through the regular, weekly adjustments and periodic, last-minute changes, you have given both and more – thank you!
So, as we press on in ministry, to one another as well as our community, let us do so as we have from the beginning of this unusual season
- In other-centeredness and not self-centeredness (1 Corinthians 8-10)
- In humility, looking first to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4)
- In gentleness, patience, love, and an eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3)
and all so that, on the Last Day, we may find ourselves complete in Christ.