Pastoral Letter on Worship

Dear People of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church,

Good news! There will be no social media in heaven! How do I know? Because John writes, “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Now, I readily admit that there is doubtless a value to each of these modern means of communication, as many of us have learned during the current COVID-19 Lockdown. Let me be the first to acknowledge that I miss being in worship corporately with God’s people each Lord’s Day and I don’t think I am alone in that. There simply is no substitute for the fellowship of believers and the hearty singing of Zion’s songs in an ARP congregation. It is the nearest thing on earth to singing around the throne. We, of course, have a long history of being the psalm singers among God’s people. But, my reason for writing now is far bigger than even that.

Making no claims to have the last word on the COVID-19, yet having studied this matter extensively for some weeks now, I write now as your Moderator to encourage you to get back into public worship in every imaginable form. I have tried very hard not to get sidetracked by the politics and pseudo-science of the moment. I hear what some people say and I remember again the Ninth Commandment. Dear friends, be careful what you say about this matter. In the face of this, and in short, I write to say, “Let’s do it all!” By that, I mean let’s worship in our sanctuaries and churches while taking every necessary caution as well as by Livestream, Facebook, or YouTube next Sunday if at all possible. I have several reasons for encouraging this. Here they are:

Before writing these words, I have sought counsel from literally dozens of people; experts in medicine, especially communicable disease physicians, music, and pastors. I have joined in ZOOM meetings with multiple groups. The opinions I have heard have not all been the same but the time has come to look more seriously at where we are as a church, especially as it relates to public worship.

First, I see nowhere in Scripture and no example in the history of the Church that allows God’s people to cease their public worship. I simply don’t and I do not believe any of you can show me where I am wrong. To the contrary, the Hebrew’s writer tells us to, “Not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). And, if it’s the Coronavirus that has you frightened, I would remind you that God promises us, “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (Psalm 91:10-11). Moreover, Scripture also assures us that, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Are you afraid of what might happen if you attend public worship? Then I remind you that the Bible also tells us that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Scripture teaches us that as God’s people we are to act on faith, not feelings and certainly not fear. We are cautioned to seek the counsel of many people: “In an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). “By wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 24:6). There is, I believe, a growing sense that we are now in an era where fear is building on fear. We are not the people of fear, but of faith. My point is simply that Scripture nowhere excuses God’s people from public worship. Indeed, they tell us that there is nothing that we as Christians are called to do that has a higher priority. I understand the Bible to say that worship is the only practice on earth that carries over into heaven. To our eternal peril, we would dismiss it lightly!

Second, I remember our history and heritage as Christians. First in Jerusalem, then in Rome, later in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and more recently, behind the Iron Curtain. In each place, Christians, including Reformed Presbyterians, were prohibited from offering worship to God in a way that was Scriptural and honoring to the Lord Jesus. Whether in houses, catacombs, or under cover of darkness, God’s people gathered publicly to honor and praise their Maker and Savior. A few years ago, I was led through a series of tunnels deep below St. Petersburg, Russia, to preach at an underground worship gathering. I will never forget the rousing praise of the singing of those saints. In Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, I had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting in secret places with pastors whose governments prohibited their public gatherings for worship. Some of the pastors I met there bore the scars of beatings they had endured in prison for worshipping. Beatings and imprisonment couldn’t stop them. I saw their wounds and heard their testimony that after being beaten and imprisoned, they resumed public worship. Some told me that they believe that Communism was brought low by the Church’s unstoppable commitment to worshipping together. I witnessed there firsthand that when Christians are serious about their faith nothing will prevent them from gathering in worship. They were people of faith not fear! Mindful that our Form of Government assigns responsibility for public worship exclusively to sessions (see FoG 6.8L), I charge our sessions to prove that we are as serious as they. Our Westminster Shorter Catechism sets out well the first priority for which each of us was born: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Let’s do it together this week!

Third, as an adopted American, I remember the marvelous statement a federal judge charged me to memorize when I became a citizen: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That judge did not embolden those words, I did, so that I might make a point to you. You can see, can you not, that this First Amendment to our Constitution forbids our government from restricting our individual religious practices, guarantees our freedom of expression and the right of citizens to assemble peaceably? I like to say that these phrases might as well say, “ARPs, worship!” because that is precisely what they protect and defend for you and me. Dr. Howard Cromie in his book, Ulster Settlers in America, makes the point that because it was initiated by our forebears who opposed the efforts of some who suggested an official national religion in the settling of our country, this First Amendment was initially colloquially called, “the Ulster Scots Presbyterian Amendment.” That being the case, we ARPs, by virtue of our heritage, have an unique connection to it. I do not write these words to make trouble but to remind us all that no power of government can stop devotees of Christ or of any other religion from practicing their faith in their respective places of worship. This is a freedom for which people gave their lives and their fortunes and their sacred honor. May we never take it lightly!

Fourth, I write to you out of a pastor’s heart. My special concern just now is for those dear people, particularly our widowed church members and others who, for a variety of reasons, live alone. For many of these Christians, attending church is their only opportunity to gather with other people. We have a collective responsibility towards them at such a time as this and they have a right to expect that we will meet it. Just a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal (see Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2020) featured an article about the huge increase in the use of anxiety and insomnia medications and the vast increase in numbers of people abusing alcohol because of the Coronavirus Lockdown. I was immediately burdened also for those people, some of whom are members of our congregations. We need to meet for worship to encourage them as Scripture instructs us. They need us. We need one another! Others are reporting an increasing number of people who are committing suicide because the Coronavirus Lockdown has brought them to their wit’s end. The Church of Jesus Christ can help counter these trends through encouraging people to come worship and fellowship together.

The issue in our current circumstance is sometimes one of time and space. As I have traveled throughout our ARP Church this year as Moderator, I have seen again and again that most congregations have sufficient facilities for multiple worship settings. We can gather in many different settings at one time in our church buildings. Some will want to socially distance while others will want to exercise their right to fellowship more closely together. Some will prefer to wear masks, while others will choose not to. Some might even prefer to be in a separate room. God has given us buildings and electronics that can facilitate all these things and still gather in our churches. That is why I say that we should do whatever we must do and by all means exercise every reasonable caution we feel we must to make church worship accessible to all our people this Lord’s Day. Let’s do it all and be bold for Jesus!

Yours in the Love of Him Who Died for us All,

Leslie Holmes
Moderator

Church Resources Update

On-line Services Extended for 2020

The ARP Foundation Board has extended the March offer for on-line giving services beyond May 31st and will continue the program until year end.
So far, 25 of our smaller churches have accepted the Foundation’s offer to use the service as a help bridge the Covid giving gaps.  Central Service staff have enthusiastically stepped-up to create the individualized church accounts, process gifts, and return cash to the participating churches. The offer is still open for churches in need, but as the number of individual gifts increases, churches may expect a transition later in the year to process gifts once a month.

We will continue to absorb the 1% fee for direct bank withdrawals (ACH); Churches can also encourage donors to set-up automatic bank payments to the church to avoid the cost of  credit card transactions (3%), or by increasing their gifts to offset the cost.   

For sign-up details please see:  online request form.

Dealing with Tough Discussions in the Life of Church Leadership

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2020 AT 3PM
LIVE ZOOM MEETING HOSTED BY CHRISTIAN EDUCATION MINISTRIES WITH STEVE KERN, DEVENGER ROAD ARP CHURCH ELDER

roadsigns.jpg Covid-19 arriving and bringing havoc among so many, churches are having to make some tough decisions.  What happens when everyone doesn’t agree?  How do we best work together as a team when we are all so different?    How do you best walk through tough decisions?  Can you actually have a meeting and people get along?

Steve Kern, Elder of Devenger Road ARP Church and former vice-moderator of Synod, will bring a free Zoom training session on this Thursday, May 28th at 3 pm.  Steve brings years of experience and has a passion for church administration.  The session will have 45 minutes of lecture and 15 min of questions and answers.

Join us and improve your skills in tough discussions. Click here to register.

Prayer Request

Pray for Reverend Bill Slattery, pastor of Redeemer ARP Church. He fell off his roof today while blowing leaves off. He suffered 7 broken ribs and a collapsed lung, along with bruises to the head. A tube was inserted into the collapsed lung and he is stable. He is in severe pain, but no other serious injuries are evident at this time. Please pray for his speedy recovery, wisdom for the doctors and nurses, and peace and comfort for Heather and the rest of the family as no one can go in to be with him.

Thinking of Reopening for Worship?

Churches are making plans now to meet in person again. Some have already met for a couple weeks and some are meeting outside in the parking lot. While live-streaming measures will still take place especially for those at higher risks, churches are working to gather again. After talking with a number of pastors, here are some of the steps they are taking to ensure safe social distancing.

    • There will be just Worship. No fellowship time or Sunday School.
    • Check DHEC and CDC for updates daily.
    • Mark every other pew for social distancing.
    • Members can wear masks if they feel more comfortable.
    • Limit the entrances used. Doors will be propped before and after services. ( One door for entrance and another for exit.)
    • Bulletins will be set out, not handed out, or they may be on the screen only.
    • Hand Sanitizer will be available.
    • Members are encouraged to use the restroom before.
    • Offering plates will be at the back for drop off.
    • A cleaning and sanitizing company will come each week.

These are only suggestions to get things moving. I pray for you as you make the decisions for your church. Please share any ideas or suggestions that you find helpful. (arpeditor@arpsynod.org)

Horizon & Quest; ARP Center

Horizon & Quest Update

We hope that each of you know that your prayers are sustaining us in these difficult times. Thank you immensely for your faithful support and prayers. This season has been discouraging and difficult. Yet we are grateful for our God and Father who is sovereign over all. We trust in His plan and look with eager expectation as to how He will use this to transform us more into the likeness of His Son.

It is with the heaviest of hearts that the Horizon & Quest Planning Team in conjunction with the Board of Christian Education Ministries announces the cancellation of both Quest and Horizon Conferences at Bonclarken for 2020. As with all of our camps and conferences, we have made this decision after seeking the advice of various medical doctors, our Board, and others. We are grateful for their wisdom and insight.

This was an especially tough call for all involved. It was tough because we love you, camp, and, most of all, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the students and leaders who attend. We are disappointed with you, especially our Senior High students. We thank you all for your prayers and your understanding as we seek to serve Christ and keep everyone safe. We would ask that you also be in prayer for Bonclarken in light of all of the cancelled events this summer.

The Horizon & Quest Planning Team is working to create a special online event for some time in June. Be on the lookout for that date. We hope that we will see you all there!

Know that we are praying for you, and we hope you have a healthy and Gospel-filled summer where you are. To God be the glory!

We look forward to seeing you at Quest and Horizon 2021!

ARP Center

While everyone at the ARP Center has continued to work whether from home and/or  different office hours, a plan has been made by the directors to open the ARP Center. Phase 1 will allow employees to work at the office as they feel safe and comfortable. This begins now. Phase 2 will begin June 1 and all employees return to a regular work schedule. At a later date, phase 3, will open the ARP Center to outside visitors. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time. We are all here to help you and always available by phone or email.

 

Announcements

Webinar Reminder

You are invited to a free webinar from Outreach North America titled “What Now?” – A Webinar Discussing Streaming Resources for Churches During COVID-19.

Join us tonight, May 7, at 6:30 pm (EST) for this webinar.

To access the webinar you will need to register beforehand. You can register at the link provided below:

Webinar Registration

For more information, click here.

Reopening of Churches

I have heard from several churches that plans are being made to hold worship services together. I have even heard of outdoor worship services. I would love to hear more from you. While we have managed to stream services and use online resources we miss so much. Corporate worship and fellowship are not the same when having them online. We know worshipping together takes a lot of work to get the logistics right, but precautions have to be made. Please share with me your concerns and your church plans for the near future.

Susan Tanner
stanner@arpsynod.org

 

National Day of Prayer

According to the National Day of Prayer website,  “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.”

With the Covid-19 pandemic, this day of prayer takes on an even more powerful meaning. Let’s pray today for our leaders of the Nation, the State, and our towns. Pray for our church leaders.

I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Webinar, Camp Joy Update & Prayer Request

Webinar Discussing Streaming Resources for Churches

You are invited to a free webinar from Outreach North America titled “What Now?” – A Webinar Discussing Streaming Resources for Churches During COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic remains a challenge for many of our churches. Short-term solutions for live streaming and pre-recording services have worked until now but may soon require more strategic, long-term methods to efficiently carry local churches through this crisis. Connor Hipps, the Chief Operations Officer of Outreach North America and Josh Kitchen, an ARP Church Planter in Millsbury, MA will be leading a webinar to assist churches with practical tips on streaming resources to assist churches at this time.

Join us this Thursday, May 7th at 6:30 pm (EST) for this webinar.

To access the webinar you will need to register beforehand. You can register at the link provided below:

Webinar Registration

Note:
– Please join the webinar 7-10 minutes prior as we will begin promptly at the designated time.
– The webinar will last 45 minutes with 15 minutes allotted at the end for Q&A.
– Connor will be available to set up a scheduled meeting with you in the days following the webinar to answer any further questions. To schedule a meeting, please see the link following:

Schedule a Consultation

Creating a ZOOM account is optional, but you must have the software to join the webinar. Registration is required to receive the webinar link. To learn how to use Zoom before the webinar, view the tutorial here. If you have a smartphone, you can download and install the app to instantly join the call via the link. To download and install ZOOM to your computer, visit https://zoom.us/download.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Connor Hipps
Outreach North America

Important Update Regarding Appalachia & Camp Joy

This season has been one of the most difficult in our history at CEM. We have been so grateful to each of you as you pray for us and faithfully minister to us as we strive to do God’s work through equipping the saints for ministry. Your joining with us in prayer makes our work possible.

It is with a heavy heart that we bring these decisions to you. Know that we have been diligent in seeking the advice of various medical doctors, our Board, and others. We thank everyone for their input and their wisdom as we seek to keep everyone safe and fulfill God’s calling to us.

Due to the nature of COVID-19 and the impossibility of proper social distancing at our camps and conferences, we have had to make the difficult decision to cancel all Camp Joy NC & TN sessions of Camp Joy 2020 and our annual mission trip to Appalachia.

Our first priority is the safety of our campers, our staff, our counselors and all the children and youth in the Appalachian mountains. We love each and every one of them dearly and we cannot risk their health.

We have had to make the difficult decision to cancel all Camp Joy NC & TN sessions of Camp Joy 2020 and our annual mission trip to Appalachia.

We understand and feel the disappointment with you. This disease has changed our entire year, but we know that God is sovereign and we trust Him to work even in our disappointments. He works all things for our good, and we are so very grateful that our God is bigger than disease and can turn our hurts into joy.

This was to be our 40th year of our Appalachian Mission Trip. Due to its cancellation we are postponing this beautiful celebration to next year. We hope your churches can join us for Appalachia 2021 up in the mountains as we celebrate our 40th year and minister to the children and youth there.

We look forward to seeing all of our beloved Camp Joy family at Camp Joy 2021. With disappointment, yet filled with J-O-Y, we thank you for your understanding.

Continue to pray for us as we seek to serve the Lord and His Kingdom.

Prayer Request

Would you please stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to pray for one of our folks at Old Providence? Mattie Marsh is a wonderful young woman who is facing a very difficult and frightening time. She has been admitted to UVA Medical Hospital and is facing complications from a spinal cord issue. Doctors have been doing all sorts of tests but are in need of wisdom to know how to treat her condition. Mattie’s faith is very strong, but would you join your hearts with mine in prayer? Pray that her situation would improve, that her pain and discomfort would be minimal, that the Lord would bring healing and that Mattie would have a real sense of His presence with her. Please pray for Mattie’s family who are unable to be with her due to all of the COVID-19 restrictions. Also please pray that doctors would have wisdom in knowing how to proceed. The Lord hears the prayers of His people.
Rev. Patrick Malphrus
Pastor, Old Providence ARP Church

May/June ARP Magazine

The ARP Magazine is available online.

Be sure to read the cover story on page 22 by Trip McGill on Preparing for Camps & Conferences in a Pandemic. During these unusual times, pray for Bonclarken on page 9. Page 27 is an article from Rev. Bryan Crotts sharing a different side of the pandemic to take it as an adventure. Try the recipe on page 21 from Rev. Patrick Malphrus. There are resources on page 25 for online services and setting up online giving. Rev. Clint Davis shares a devotion on page 30.

I hope you will enjoy this issue. If you would like to receive a complimentary print copy, please contact our office. If you would like to submit an article or suggestion, please email me, arpeditor@arpsynod.org. I would love to hear what you and your church are doing during these unusual times.