It was absolutely wonderful to worship with many of you in-person this past Sunday. I have heard from several of you that it was a very moving experience. At the same time, I am encouraged by the quality of the livestream and the several reports that the “at-home” experience was similarly meaningful. Importantly, the time together also felt safe. Thank you for your compliance with the uncomfortable, but necessary, social distancing guidelines that we have set in place. Also, we thanked him on Sunday, but Bear Klenda deserves multiple rounds of applause for his work in making the worship experience at home and in person possible. Thank you Bear!
Now that we have one in-person service under our belts, many of you may be wondering about the plan for worship going forward. The COVID Commission met this past Monday and the plan coming out of that meeting is that we will continue to meet outside and in person at 9:30 a.m., as we did this past Sunday, unless there is a new state restriction preventing us from doing so. We will continue to observe the social distancing requirements of six feet separation and the mandatory wearing of masks by anyone older than ten years old. We will also continue to offer the livestream option for those of you who need to, or choose to, stay at home on Sunday mornings. As a reminder to those of you who are choosing to attend in person, notification of a cancellation due to weather will be emailed out on Saturday evening. In the event that we do have to cancel because of weather, the service will be held exclusively via Zoom at 9:30 a.m with a link to the service emailed out about an hour prior to the start. We look forward to when we can begin to hold other in-person gatherings outside of Sunday morning. For now, though, we are pleased that our first in-person worship service was a success, and we look forward to worshipping with you again this Sunday, whether virtually or in person.
If you have any questions or concerns about this plan or are curious about the logistics of the in-person service please contact me directly at email@example.com, the office at firstname.lastname@example.org, or any of the elders currently serving on Session. The peace of Christ be with you. Jonathan +
June 23, 2020
Hello First Presbyterian Church,
If you missed the service on Sunday, then you also missed the announcement that we will hold our first in-person service at First Presbyterian this Sunday, June 28th at 9:30 a.m. The time change from 10:30 to 9:30 is because we will be meeting outside and we want to avoid the heat as much as possible! These are the two major changes (time and location) to our service, but there will also be other modifications in order to reduce the inherent risk of meeting in-person while COVID-19 is still on the loose.
As our understanding of COVID-19 continues to develop, so do the guidelines associated with the virus. We are currently in compliance with both the Arkansas and Benton County guidelines and are taking a conservative approach, in relation to those guidelines, towards resuming our in-person services and activities. The COVID Commission will, however, continue to monitor the situation and recommend changes to our current plan should the circumstances in Arkansas, especially Benton and Washington counties, make such changes necessary.
As part of our return to in-person services, we will be observing strict social distancing and ask everyone 10 years and older who attends in-person to wear a mask. If you are sick or are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19 (a fever of 100.4 or higher in the past two days, cough, shortness of breath, etc.) then we would ask you to please remain at home. We are in conversation about the plan and timing for resuming CE classes, nursery, and young children’s worship, and look forward to sharing with you when and how those important elements of our life together will be resumed once it is safe to do so. Until then, we are pleased with the opportunity to worship together in person again.
The “front” of our outdoor sanctuary will be positioned at the southwest corner of the church’s property with seating available in both the grass and the parking lot outside of the church office, which will consequently be closed to any cars. The downstairs bathrooms will be open, but the rest of the building will be closed. Please observe social distancing inside of the building as well as outside. Please bring your own lawn chairs or blanket and position them six feet away from your neighbor. You may also want to bring a hat, sunglasses, water, or an umbrella for the sun. You will not need an umbrella for rain, however, because if rain is on the forecast for Sunday morning we will meet via Zoom as we have been doing for the past several months. You will receive an email on Saturday night if there are any changes due to weather.
While many will be meeting in person, we will continue to have the option to livestream the service from home for those of you who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 or are uncomfortable with meeting in-person just yet. The livestream will look differently than it has in recent weeks so please look out for details about how to participate in the livestream version of the service. These livestream details will be distributed in a separate email. The service will remain shortened as it has been for the Zoom services so that it does not become too long for those of you viewing from home. The bulletin that we create for those attending in-person will include all the lyrics and Scripture verses that will be used during the service, and a PDF version will be emailed out to everyone in advance should you be watching from home.
I look forward to not only sharing time with many of you, but also sharing space as well! If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at email@example.com, our office administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org, or any of the elders currently serving on Session.
Grace and peace, Jonathan +
May 4, 2020
Hello First Presbyterian Church, Today, on Monday, May 4th, Governor Hutchinson made an announcement that places of worship may begin to resume a modified version of their in-person services beginning Sunday, May 10th. Naturally, this has raised the question in many of your minds about our plan to resume in-person services at First Presbyterian Church. As you are aware, the Session has formed a Coronavirus Commission to study and monitor the ongoing situation surrounding COVID-19. At our meeting this past Wednesday, the Coronavirus Commission set Sunday, June 7th as our target date for resuming in-person services at First Presbyterian Church. This is obviously one month later than the date our state government has identified as the time when churches are allowed to resume in-person services, but there are several reasons why we have scheduled our in-person services to resume on June 7th. The first is that it is unknown whether or not “opening up” Arkansas will result in a surge of new cases. There is the possibility that Arkansas will need to return to more strict social distancing guidelines should such a surge occur. Given this lack of assurance and the fact that the incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days (the time when someone has contracted the coronavirus and is contagious but doesn’t yet have any symptoms), we have decided that it is wise to wait at least a full three weeks to watch if a surge of new cases will occur once our state is “opened up” again. The second reason for our June 7th target date is our desire to ensure that all of the Federal criteria for the first phase of reopening the country have been met by our State and County before we resume in-person services. Those Federal criteria can be found at the official website of the White House. The Coronavirus Commission is tracking Arkansas’ performance against those stated thresholds as they are reported at the State and County levels, and during the month of May you can expect regular communication from us to keep you informed about how we are doing. Since the situation is fluid, we are ready to resume our services later than June 7th if circumstances dictate a further delay. When we do begin to meet in-person again, our time together will look and feel a bit different, but we will let you know what to expect as we draw closer to that date. I, for one, am so excited to see your faces again, to worship with you in the same space, and to hear your voices singing praise to our Triune God. He remains good and he remains powerful and I pray that you would remain in him. If you have any questions, you can reach out to me directly at email@example.com or through the office at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you may reach out to any of the elders currently serving on Session. We would be happy to discuss this plan with you. May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord, be with you. Jonathan +
March 19, 2020
Hello First Presbyterian Church,
Our first Sunday together while remaining apart is rapidly approaching, and I am sure that you have many questions about how this is going to look week-to-week. This letter aims to answer those questions for you.
What? On Sunday mornings we will be using Zoom to meet online and worship together. Zoom is a user-friendly online platform that will allow each of you to participate in worship from home.
When? The worship service will begin at 10:30 a.m., as usual. If you join the worship service before 10:30 a.m. you will be greeted with an image of our logo and a reminder that worship will begin at 10:30 a.m. If you are late and join the worship service after 10:30 a.m. you will still be able to join without a problem, but you can no longer blame traffic as the reason why you are late!
How long will worship last? The worship service will be somewhat abbreviated and last somewhere between 30-45 minutes.
Will there be a bulletin? No. Any words that you need to speak or sing will be on the screen for you to follow along. I would encourage you to have a Bible on hand, though!
What happens if I miss the service? We will be recording every Sunday morning worship service and will be making the videos available in several locations. You will be able to find them on our Facebook page, under the “Resources” tab on our website (fpcsiloam.com), or on our dedicated YouTube channel that we are in the process of creating. The variety of viewing options should make it easy to access these services for yourself or to share with a friend or family member.
Can I still give my offering? Yes, and we encourage you to do so! The act of giving is an important way to acknowledge that all we have has been given to us by God. We are actively pursuing ways we can make online giving a reality, but we do not have an avenue for that just yet. In the meantime, I would encourage you to mail a check (made out to First Presbyterian Church) to the following address: First Presbyterian Church PO Box 606 Siloam Springs, AR 72761
What about the rest of the week? We are exploring ways (as a Session and a Staff) to best connect as a church outside of our time together on Sunday morning. A more formal way will likely include a brief time of announcements and a devotional mid-week in either video or traditional text format, but the details of how that will look are not yet final. I will share more details about this opportunity as it develops. One thing we are sure of is that we want to be creative in the ways we are caring for each other and for our city during this time, so you can expect communication from us about how you can participate in our ongoing life together in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned! But don’t just wait on us, because this is an opportunity for you to get creative on your own in reaching out to your neighbors and to each other in the love of Jesus. One simple but powerful thing you can do is to use that computer you carry around in your pocket as a phone! Did you know it makes phone calls too? Give someone a call just to check on them, to chat, or to encourage them in their faith during this uncertain time. I am confident there will be kinks to work out in our use of Zoom and I want to thank you in advance for your patience with the process. Over time we will hit a stride and the process will become smoother, but no matter how smooth it becomes it will never be able to replace the joy of seeing each other face-to-face. I look forward to whenever that may be and pray that God will graciously keep us in Jesus Christ as we wait for that day apart from each other.
Grace and peace, Jonathan
March 16, 2020
Hello First Presbyterian Church,
I am writing today to inform you that the Session of FPCSS has made the decision to postpone all in-person church activities—Sunday morning worship service, Christian Education classes, all mid-week activities and events, as well as all committee and Session meetings—for the foreseeable future. In addition, the church office will be closed to all in-person visits and the church building will be closed for all meetings of any size. These changes are all effective immediately.
This was a hard decision, but the new recommendation out of the CDC discouraging gatherings of 50 or more people across the entire United States over the next eight weeks, helps us to feel confident that our decision was the right one at this time. Unfortunately, we are not able to predict how long this separation will last, but I want to reassure you that the Coronavirus Commission that the Session has established will continue to monitor the situation and recommend that we resume our gatherings as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. Details of this Decision As we implement this change, I do want to be clear about the specific details for those who are wondering about committee meetings, staff availability, or smaller sized meetings at the church, etc. Below are some specifics for you.
The church office will be closed for in-person visits. Sandy Phillips will continue to work in the office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. as usual, but she will only be available via phone and email. If you need to make contact with the church office or staff please contact Sandy at (479) 524.5935 or email@example.com. You may also contact me directly at (860) 970.8033 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The church building will be closed to all meetings of any size.
Only those meetings that are “essential” to the life of the church should be held. “Essential” is defined as urgent matters pertaining to finances, facilities, or personnel that are vital to the ongoing operation of the church. Any “essential” meetings should happen via phone or video-conferencing, if at all possible.
These changes are all effective immediately.
What’s Next? These changes have created many questions about how our life as a church will look during this time apart, and we are actively working to provide you with answers to those questions. In the days ahead you can expect communication from us regarding our corporate worship of God, our care for each other, and our service to our city. Thank you for your patience as we diligently and thoughtfully put together a plan that will cause the church to shine brightly in this confusing season of life.
In the Meantime...
In the meantime there are a few things that you can be doing. (My thanks to Kris McDaniel, the senior pastor of Trinity Anglican Church in Atlanta, for providing us with these helpful suggestions)
First, we must strive to remain as calm as possible by cultivating a commitment to live in the present. Too much speculation about the future breeds anxiety. We have an opportunity to fight against tendencies toward panic and fear, as these emotions never produce good fruit in us. Remind yourself that God exists outside of time, which means that He exists in the eternal present. He sees all things at once and he holds your life securely in the palm of his hand. Nothing in either the past or the future can separate you from his love and concern for you this very moment.
Second, we must act as responsible humans. We should take care of ourselves, and those who have been entrusted to us. We must make wise choices about hygiene and community contact for the sake of the wider community.
Finally, we must be creative in maintaining our relational connections. We should do everything within our power to fight isolation, in ourselves and in the lives of the people we love. It is possible to connect with folks in creative ways even as we create a little more space than is typical for us.
“I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts in this most unusual time. Grace and peace,
March 13, 2020
Dear First Presbyterian Church,
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation continues to develop in our country, the Session of FPCSS has established a commission to monitor the situation and implement changes to our time together. We have not formed this commission out of fear, but out of a desire to implement reasonable, responsible, and recommended changes that will protect the most vulnerable in our congregation and larger community.
In John 16 Jesus tells us that we can expect trouble in this world, but he then encourages us to “take heart” because he has overcome this world. Through faith in Christ we are promised victory beyond this world, and therefore we have nothing to fear in this life. Psalm 46 reminds us of the comfort of knowing God in a broken world.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. At the same time, though, we are called to care for this world and the people of this world by doing those things that encourage flourishing. It is in the spirit of both security in Christ and concern for others that we are asking you to participate in the following temporary changes to our life together as a church.
The first thing we are asking you to do is to pray. This should always be our first response to everything. Pray for those who are sick, for those caring for them, for those who are grieving the death of a loved one, for those who are anxious or fearful, and for those who are conveying information to the public about this new virus.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of the coronavirus then please stay home, but please let us know you are sick so that we can be praying for you and your recovery. We pray that, with days of rest and following the instructions of your physician, you will rejoin us soon. If you are not able to come to church, or are choosing to stay at home, you can still listen to the Sunday sermons. They are posted here by Noon every Wednesday.
The coronavirus spreads from person-to-person in much the same way as the flu. Therefore, prevention of the coronavirus requires the same things you do to avoid the flu. There are hand sanitizers mounted on the walls throughout the church (each entrance, nursery, and in the downstairs classroom area) and kleenex in every classroom and bathroom for your use.
We will be taking steps to make sure that “high touch” areas in our building are sanitized before we gather together on Sunday mornings.
There are three changes we will be making to our liturgy on Sunday mornings
We will temporarily refrain from shaking hands in the passing of the peace during our worship service. Feel free to bump elbows, wave, bow, or give the peace sign instead.
Instead of passing the offering plate through the pews, we will place the offering plates on pedestals located by both sets of double doors that enter the sanctuary. You can drop your offering in the plate either before or after the service.
During the Lord’s Supper we will be walking forward to receive the elements instead of passing them through the pews. You will receive more specific instructions for participation in the Sacrament on the Sundays when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. All those who will be distributing the elements will have sanitized their hands prior to serving.
Lastly, all Christian Education classes, Fellowship Time, Choir practice, and any other planned events outside of Sunday morning worship will be canceled from Sunday, March 15th through Saturday, April 4th. This will provide us with three weeks to monitor the situation as it develops and implement any further changes that might become necessary.
I want to thank you in advance for your participation in these proactive measures out of concern for those who are more susceptible to this virus in our church and community. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly (phone: 860.970.8033 / email: email@example.com) or through the church office (phone: 479.524.5935 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Through all of this time, may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts and minds.
Grace and Peace, Jonathan + (The members of the commission are Wendy Togami, Brock Erdman, James Cooke, and Heather Thurman)