Dear Partners in Ministry:
For just over four months we, in the territory of NT-NL, have been dealing with the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our leaders across NT-NL have dealt with significant challenges and changes to our life together, found new ways to connect, and continued to serve their communities. As it has been said, the church has never been closed; it is deployed for mission.
You have also been wise in considering when and how we might come back together for worship. Given the variety of contexts in our territory it makes sense that various ministries have made different choices. You have heeded my counsel and been in communication and for that I am thankful, particularly as the number of people infected and dying of this virus continue to rise.
This past week a headline caught my attention. Northpoint Church in Atlanta, a congregation that regularly gathers 30,000+ worshipers at its multiple locations, has decided to cancel all in person adult worship services through the end of 2020. This move, as Pastor Andy Stanley of Northpoint notes, is controversial and not universally welcome in his community. However, he and his leadership discerned it was the right decision for Northpoint at this time. What really struck me was when asked about this decision Pastor Stanley said this…
“We are intentionally an outward facing organization. Spending time and money to create safe-ish Sunday morning gatherings struck us as insider-focused.” He goes on to say “In-person services during COVID is neither missional nor evangelistic—unless of course the mission of the church is to gather in a building on Sunday morning.”
The clarity of mission in those statements is remarkable and inspiring. Stanley realizes that for them, in their context, with their mission and organization, this decision is consistent with their values and focuses them for the remainder of this year. They no longer live in the limbo of decision making but can focus on how best to reach out with the gospel in new ways.
Please understand I am not advocating that decision for all our NT-NL congregations. Atlanta is a different context than our diverse and wide ranging territory. But what I would invite all our communities to consider is how and where are we spending our energy in this time and planning for the future. To ask the 5 questions I have invited you to ask of yourselves and your leadership. To look outward and forward, having a vision for your ministry that goes beyond when will we be able to “get back to normal.”
To assist you in this work the synod staff and our ministry at Briarwood are providing resources for you weekly in these summer months. I invite you to utilize these online resources for worship, bible study, crafts, stewardship development, and song time. Share these with your congregations and your friends as we seek to not look inward in this time but outward towards connecting in new ways. To proclaim the love of Jesus Christ in word and deed despite the restrictions we choose for ourselves on gathering in a pandemic.
Coming this fall, additional resources for Christian education for youth and adults will be provided through our ministries. These again will be provided for our communities to assist you and hopefully share a burden with you and your pastors and staff as they try to plan for fall programming in such uncertain times. Resourcing you is yet another way that we work #InMissionTogether in this time. It is my fervent prayer that when this pandemic is over, and it will one day be over, we will look back on it as a time we came together to serve our neighbors and move outward with the gospel in new, creative, and gospel filled ways. Know you are daily in my prayers, and I covet yours.
Bishop Erik K.J. Gronberg, PhD