May 22nd, 2020 – Church Has Always Been Essential!
Hello Friends! President Trump said today that churches are essential. I couldn’t agree more! He also said that churches should open up as it becomes safe. I want to address that for a minute.
No one wants to go back to gathered worship more than myself and our church leaders, including the Board of Elders and the Staff Leadership. However, after speaking with our local Health Dept. regarding gathering for worship it is clearly not appropriate to do so at this time. In all things, our leaders are committed to first “Do no harm,” even before we strive to “Do all the good we can.” If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Covid 19, it’s that there are more unknowns than knowns about Covid 19. Many people who are infected don’t even know they have it and have been known to infect others.
At Hillspring, we strongly believe that the church is not a building. Church is a people through whom God is working in the world. Jesus didn’t create a building, he created a movement. Gathered worship is one element of that movement, a time we celebrate what God is doing in and through the church. But worship is not the only element.
Through this season we have focused our resources on creating online worship; connecting people and local and global missions program that have been designed to foster community. We’ve been amazed at the amount of people who gather weekly and worship with us on Facebook and Youtube. We have created a system of online small groups that is now thriving and we recently raised over $50,000 for local relief and sent another $15,000 to Honduras for Medicine, PPE and food. We will continue to support our local food bank, our partner families in East Kennewick and Honduras throughout this season.
Recently, churches in Arkansas and Texas have reopened and then closed within two weeks as large percentages of their congregation contracted Covid 19 and people died. In March, 60 people gathered for a choir rehearsal in Mt. Vernon, Washington (Skagit County). Even though they practiced social distancing, 45 people were later diagnosed with Covid 19, 2 persons died. Again, in conversation with our Health Dept, we believe to gather in worship would put our intergenerational community at high risk. But there are several other criteria we have strongly considered.
1. Quality. A social distance worship experience will frankly, be disappointing at best. If we were to hold multiple small worship gatherings (people with the last name starting with A-D are assigned an 8:30 worship, then E-L come at 10:30 after we sanitize the sanctuary) it would take a phenomenal amount of resources away from our online ministries. The reality is, many people have said they are not ready to come back to gathered worship. A small gathering of people social distanced in a big room with minimal worship leaders would be a huge negative at best. We have had over 1,000 views per week on Facebook and Youtube. While we have no way of knowing how many people are watching per view, we do know we are providing quality online worship. This has taken a phenomenal amount of staff resources. We can not sustain that level of quality at this time if we begin to have multiple small gatherings.
2. Children. We do not feel many people will bring their children to organized Sunday school and we support that. It would be impossible to care for our kids in a social distanced, safe environment, particularly in the nursery but for all ages. We could skip Children’s Sunday school and have them join in the low quality socially distanced worship gathering, but that’s not going to help anything.
3. Worship. The reason so many people contracted Covid 19 at the choir rehearsal in Mt. Vernon was that they were singing. You expel quite a few more droplets when singing and projecting vocally.
4. Volunteers and Staff. We have many volunteers as well as staff who have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to serious problems from Covid 19. To say we will be under resourced is an understatement.
We agree with everyone that this is a miserable season, however we firmly believe God can redeem any situation. It already has refocused our efforts to be a New Testament Church. Jesus created a people to continue his work of bringing redemption and hope in the world. We look forward to a phased approach culminating in excellent gathered worship, but until we can ensure a safe path for our intergenerational church we commit to do no harm.
Please continue to pray for our church, our community, our nation and our world in this midst of this pandemic.
In Christ’s Love,
March 23rd, 2020
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 emergency. I want to share:
- How we have prayerfully responded to our new reality.
- Some decisions we’ve made in order to enable us to continue to connect with and serve our community during this time.
- Our plans for the foreseeable future.
Our primary focus at this time is to create new systems for our community to stay connected during this crisis. Connection is critical, particularly as we really need to stay home. We are quickly learning more and more about ways to connect online.
All meetings have moved to online meetings.
We are providing weekly online worship, daily videos and our Wednesday night class via Facebook and YouTube. We are also moving the Daily Study Guide to a daily video on the same platforms. So far, the daily videos have come from staff but we plan on incorporating more people from our community. Our content will evolve to meet the needs of our community as we learn more about those needs.
We are also focused on developing systems to mobilize us to be a church who seeks to serve our neighbors. It is my prayer that as we look back on this experience we realize this was a time we grew in our capacity and calling to care for our community.
The duration of the ban on gatherings will directly affect our long-term path for the church. The longer the length of the ban, the greater the need for restructuring to reengage our community. We are brainstorming and dreaming what this might mean and are excited to pursue new areas of ministry. I firmly believe this will reiterate the missional direction we have been pursuing modeled after the New Testament Church. We’ll have much more on this to come.
We have no way to project our income, but we are anticipating a significant drop in giving, most likely the drop will increase as the ban lengthens. We have taken quite a few steps to lower our costs and have dropped our operating budget by over half. Unfortunately one of our largest costs is labor and we need to ensure our staff have an income during this season.
The following staff are being placed on temporary furlough status so they can be eligible for unemployment benefits:
Tami White, Debbie Toner, Grimelda Sanchez, Jean Blok, Janelle Mercado, Lindsey Shelton, Annette Warga and our entire preschool staff.
The remaining staff have taken a 25% reduction in pay:
Bryan White, Peggy Zumhofe, Trevor Owen, April Bergez, Trevor Hollenbeck, Justin Porter, and Jeremy Johnson.
The staff knows this might not be the extent of the decisions depending on what happens.
We love and value all of our staff. The difficult decision of who to put on furlough was made based on several criteria.
1) Do we have work for them?
2) Who is absolutely necessary for operations?
3) Can they help our community connect in new ways online during the ban?
4) Can they help us create new areas of ministry that we can pursue after the pandemic is over?
Please pray for all of our staff and their families. We highly value them and these were very difficult decisions that we had to make. They were not anticipated just as this pandemic was not anticipated by anyone. Our world is in a state of shock and grief. Every member of our team is deeply grieved by these actions.
During the stand-by furlough we have reassigned several staff positions so all areas of ministry are covered. I have asked them to contact our ministry leaders and in turn those leaders to contact everyone in their areas of ministry. Very soon we will have another communication blitz discussing ways we can be the church for our community but right now we just want to check in on everyone, keeping the lines of communication open. It is my hope and desire that this becomes a habit for all of us.
Please pray for our church family, our community, our state, our nation and our world. It is my prayer that God will redeem this situation in many ways, one of which is to halt the division that has become so prevalent in the last years and reinstate basic care and decency for our fellow human beings and for creation as a whole. I also hope this is an opportunity for the world to experience the hope of Christ felt through the actions of our church and others.
I am praying for you all,
March 13th, 2020
Dear Hillspring family and friends,
Grace and peace to you through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I have been praying for our community and world as we come together in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. There are many uncertainties, but one thing that is not uncertain is that Jesus conquered death as He rose from the grave and reigns as Lord forever and ever!
As resurrection people, we are called to bring hope in the midst of the darkest tombs our world can face. We do this because we know that our ultimate hope is not in the things of this world; rather, our hope is in the God that made this world. His son, our redeemer, is our source of salvation. His Holy Spirit is our continuing source of comfort and presence in the midst of any and all fears.
While others might give way to panic and anxiety, we stand firm knowing that God is in control.
Our Leadership Team has been prayerfully considering our best responses to this epidemic. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency. In response to these and other recent events, as well as conversation with health professionals, we have decided to limit our worship gatherings to online and home church gatherings at this time.
We have learned a great deal about how COVID-19 spreads and who is at highest risk for infection. Experts tell us that one of the most important ways we can prevent its spread is to limit large gatherings. That clearly means one of the ways we can expedite the spread of COVID-19 is to bring large groups together. We do not feel that is a way Christians honor and glorify God at this time.
We have no other choice. We want to keep our community safe and healthy and do the right thing for our multi-generational community.
The Early Church gathered in small house groups; they sought to be viral agents for the Kingdom. We are going to be focused on ways we can do the same throughout this season as we seek to be the church. We at Hillspring believe church is not a building; it’s a people on a movement. We are praying that God will use us in new ways to bring light in the midst of darkness as we seek to be the church in the world.
We will gather online this Sunday morning. We encourage small groups to come together and worship. We pray that this will be an opportunity for us to grow in new ways as a church family. Our ministries will continue and grow through this time. We are so grateful that many of you already give online. Thank you for that blessing. If you would like to start and need assistance, please contact us via email at email@example.com or through the church office.
God will get us through this time. Please join me in praying for our church, our community, and our world.
In Christ, your pastor,
- Worship will be online only at 10:00 A.M. on Sundays (no gathering will take place at the Hillspring Campus).
- Watch the Sunday messages on Facebook, YouTube, or the Hillspring App after they go live. If you don’t catch it at 10:00 A.M. you can watch it after, anytime!
- Church is verb. How can we “be the church” during this season?
- We’re available to help our at risk Hillspring family members get groceries and other supplies when it is not safe for them to be out in public.
- Stay connected via the the Hillspring App (Android, Apple) & digital communications for ways we can “be the church”.