Dear Hope City
Just over a week ago I preached on the need for us to gather regularly in worship and so it feels really weird to be writing to inform all of you that our Sunday worship services will be temporarily suspended from now until the Easter weekend. There are only rare and exceptional circumstances or occasions that would result in the suspension of Lord’s Day worship – what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “duties of necessity and mercy” (WCF 21.8). We believe that the current coronavirus pandemic is such an occasion.
On Sunday evening, our president calmly and confidently addressed us, calling on us to take the necessary precautions in order to minimise the impact of the virus. And so, at this time, as a church, we ask ourselves, “what does it mean for us to be good citizens?” That is a thoroughly biblical question to ask. During the time of the exile the people of God were encouraged to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7). More than that, Christians are called to be good neighbours and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:31). And so, in the time of COVID-19 we ask the question: How do we love our neighbours?
Our president, the department of health, and the World Health Organisation, have given us several ways in which we can care, not only for ourselves, but for our fellow citizens. You’ll hopefully already be familiar with many of them (washing your hands being the most important). You can read the president’s address here, and find several resources, tips, and press releases on the Department of Health’s coronavirus website. We encourage all of our members to take the time to become educated in this area for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.
A specific way in which the impact of the virus can be minimised is through social distancing. Numerous experts from around the world have noted that while social distancing will not completely eradicate the virus it will certainly slow down the spread ensuring that our health facilities are not overwhelmed, and the mortality rate is not unnecessarily high. The Department of Health has released a set of guidelines in regard to social distancing.
As church leaders we believe that social distancing is one of the key ways we can love our neighbours during this time, and as a result, we have taken several steps that will temporarily affect the week to week life of our church:
As already mentioned, we will be suspending our Sunday services until the Easter weekend at which point we will review the situation. Although our gatherings are under 100 people, and therefore technically still permissible, we feel that it’s better to obey the spirit of the law rather than the mere letter. We’ve consulted with several other churches and pastors in South Africa and Cape Town and have decided this is the best course of action for the present.
In place of the Sunday service we will be pre-recording a simple worship service including basic liturgy, prayers, music, and a sermon. The service will be uploaded to our website and be available each Sunday morning in both video and audio format.
We recognise that there might be people in our church community who don’t have access to stable and reliable internet and so we would encourage people in such situations to reach out to us (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can try and make alternative plans for you.
While we recognise the immense importance of community and fellowship we have decided – based upon the Department of Health’s social distancing guidelines – to temporarily suspend City Group meetings. Despite not formally gathering, we encourage our existing groups to continue to reach out to each other via whatsapp and phone calls. Let’s continue to regularly check in with each other during this period of social distancing. We have been advised that while small group gatherings in apartments are unwise, at present it is still feasible to meet up in very small groups (less than 6) in outdoor spaces like parks or the beach where it is easier to maintain social distancing, provided all other necessary preventative measures are in place (regular washing of hands, etc.). We ask all of you to use your discretion when engaging in such activities. We’re going to have to be creative in the ways in which we maintain community over the coming weeks.
We understand that the social isolation over the coming weeks has the potential to become quite intense. We urge you to please reach out to us if you’re struggling. We would love to pray with you and for you, and can attempt to arrange meet ups in precautionary ways in order to alleviate the isolation.
In place of our weekly City Group meetings we’re going to experiment with Zoom over the coming weeks (Zoom is basically Skype for cool kids – or so I’m told – you can download it here). We’re going to endeavor to have a Zoom Bible Study every Wednesday evening at 7:30pm, starting this coming Wednesday where we’re going to do a Q&A around coronavirus, church, and community. We want to continue to give time to theologically engaging with this extraordinary time we’re living through. You can join the meeting by downloading and installing Zoom on either your laptop or phone and then following this link (https://zoom.us/j/164707102).
This is really a time for us to lean into deeper dependence upon our sovereign God. Prayer is the way we do that, and so I want to ask you all to join us in a day of prayer and fasting on Thursday (tomorrow). This will be a day for us to humble ourselves and call out to our gracious God. Throughout out the day I’ll be sending out things to pray for and readings to guide our prayers.
Times of crisis are also times of opportunity to serve people more broadly. Numerous groups of people are affected by the virus and the general shutdown of normal activities. As a congregation we want to keep asking the question: How can we help? In consultation with our deacons we are busy working on ways in which we can practically help each other and others in our city, including things like shopping and running errands for people who are high risk, working with organisations that provide feeding schemes for children who will now be missing meals due to school closures, and ensuring that people have access to basic materials during this time. Details on opportunities to serve and assist will be made available soon.
We want you to continue to engage with God during this time through private devotion and worship. To this end, Trevor Skead, our worship director, will be producing a new daily devotional that you will be able to subscribe to and receive daily updates for Bible readings, prayers, and meditations on Scripture. Details for this will follow shortly.
For those of you with children we recommend making use of the New City Catechism. This question and answer teaching tool is a great way to help kids learn basic theology and it incorporates songs (some of which we already sing in the Sunday School) to help in the process.
In order to be as effective as possible during this period we need everyone to get onto our communication portals and platforms. Our 2 main ways of communicating are through whatsapp and email. If you know of people in our church who are not on either our whatsapp group or our mailing list then please encourage them to reach out to us so that we can add them.
Friends, these are uncertain times but what is certain is that our God reigns (Psalm 93:1) and before us is the opportunity to love God (albeit in some creative, out of the ordinary, ways) and love neighbour. Let us prayerfully and devotionally make the most of these opportunities. Please be assured that our elders and leaders are persisting in prayer for you, loved ones, and our country at this time. We are here to serve you as best we’re able to during this time – don’t hesitate to reach out.