Let me begin by saying, I miss all of you. While it seems a lifetime ago, it has only been 17 days since the NBA announced that they were cancelling the remainder of the basketball season. This was the first move that shook the nation and got the attention of many of us as to the seriousness of the situation we were facing. In the following days, the NCAA canceled the championship tournament, MLB suspended baseball season, and colleges across the country began to send students home and lock their doors. Like many of you, it seems as though it has been months since it all began when in reality, it has been days. To say that things have moved quickly is an understatement. Many communities, organizations, schools, businesses and churches, like ours, were caught off guard. We have found ourselves reacting to the circumstances we face because we were unable to be proactive in planning for events like these. The week of March began with me making comments concerning the crisis prior to my message. Late Monday, the 16th, we were all shocked by the news that Hannibal Public Schools had made the decision to continue learning from home for the foreseeable future. It was then that I began hearing from larger churches in Hannibal that were immediately faced with a need to plan for the event that they would not be able to have regular worship services on the 22nd. We were receiving correspondence warning us that the Governor was going to enact restrictions that would limit the size of gatherings allowed across the state. I will share in more detail later how we became involved in this partnership with Calvary Baptist, but they were one who reached out seeking help in live streaming there services on the 22nd in the event their congregation would not be able to attend. As we at CBC prepared for our service on Wednesday the 18th, I really felt that we would be able to have regular services on the 22nd, but that by the 29th, we would likely not be able to meet. Things continued to move rapidly and by Thursday evening, it was becoming very clear that we to would have to suspend our services on the 22nd. I had received word that on Friday, the 20th, the Governor would reduce the numbers of those gathered from 50 to 10. After meeting with and communicating with many of the Deacon body, we came to the decision that it was not in the best interest of our church family to physically meet on Sunday the 22nd. So here we are, a week later, and as before, I personally face more questions than I have answers. I do however feel as though I do have a lot of answers to questions that you might have concerning our church and our plans for the near future. I want to share some of what we are doing and planning to be able to maintain "let love of the brethren continue" (Hebrews 13:1).
1. Maintaining Unity
As I mentioned at Calvary Baptist last Sunday, I do not like the phrase "social distancing," which what is being recommended in order to slow the spread of the virus throughout our communities. I would prefer "physical distancing." The greatest tie that binds us together is the love we have for each other through the Holy Spirit of God who resides in each one of us. While we may not physically be able to be together, do to the blessings of technology, we can spiritually and socially remain connected. There are several areas we have identified that we need to quickly implement in order to maintain the ties that bind us together. Both for the health of our church, and the health of the individuals who make up our church.
A. Deacon Family Ministry.
I am currently working on dividing up the membership of our church so that our Deacon body can work together to connect with each member so that we can be sure that every individual and family is cared for and every need is met. Communication is crucial and while it has taken some time to establish this communication, I am working diligently to put this concept in action.
B. Connecting Through Sunday School
One of the 3 purposes of Sunday School is fellowship, which is the investing in each other. Our Sunday School classes are the perfect level for us to stay connected. I have heard that some classes are meeting online through services such as Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. I am very excited by this. These are the kinds of opportunities that keep us connected and engaged. As this next week goes forward, I will be in contact with all of or Sunday School Teachers to help plan and discover ways that we can maintain our small group connection while we are physically separated. The church has purchased a Zoom subscription that allows up to 100 individuals to connect to a meeting. Please reach out to me if you would like to use this for your Sunday School class or group.
Thanks to Brett Peters, I am excited to say that we now have a website, you can find it here at centerbaptistchurch.net . While it is a work in progress, one of the benefits of our website will be a membership portal where you will be able to find contact information of other members of our church so that you can remain connected during these days, and through the bright future to come. If anyone is willing to volunteer to help enter membership data, please let me know, it is something that can be done from home.
D. Live Streaming Services
As I previously mentioned, I was contacted by Calvary Baptist asking for my help in assembling the equipment and knowledge they would need in order to live steam their services. I loaned them a couple crucial pieces of our own equipment because at the time, I felt that we would still meet in person on the 22nd. As Sunday approached and it became clear that we would to be able to meet, I realized that I had placed us in a position where we ourselves would not be able to live stream our services. This was really not that big of an inconvenience because our existing internet service is far to slow to allow us the ability to live stream. Improvements to our internet access has been in the works for sometime but the project has not been completed. One of the fist tasks I applied myself on Friday, the 20th was to get our antenna tower up as soon as possible. Through great efforts of many volunteers, we were able to pour the base of the tower on Saturday the 21st. I am also excited to share that we finished erecting the tower this week. As it was clear last Saturday that we were not going to be able to meet, and we were not going to be able to live stream effectively, I approached Calvary with the idea of having a joint service and they were more than happy to oblige. My plans were to complete the internet improvements and be able to live stream from our church by tomorrow the 29th. After placing orders, Calvary has found that they will not be able to have the equipment needed to be able to live stream on their own for several weeks. I was also approached with a ministry opportunity, that I will discuss in more detail later, late Monday the 23rd. After considering the fact that Calvary would not be able to live steam on their own and the demand that this ministry opportunity was going to place on my time through the week. I agreed again to partner with Calvary, except for they invited me to preach on the 29th. As with everything, we are looking at each situation one day at a time. I still want to be able to steam from our church, I believe that it would bring comfort to many to be able to see the familiarity of our sanctuary. This will all depend on being able to overcome some of the challenges that remain. We have many options in mind and I am confident that by next Sunday, you will be blessed with seeing the familiar space of Center Baptist Church.
2. Proclaiming the Gospel
One of the opportunities that has abounded from our current situation is a hunger for answers, and answers are found in God’s Word and in the person of Jesus Christ. I told Julie a few weeks ago that if things progressed as predicted, we would become very, very busy people, and that has indeed been true. We along with many others have invested countless hours during the past two weeks serving our community in areas where we never saw the opportunity before. The most demanding has been feeding the students of the Ralls County School District. Late Monday, the 23rd, I was contacted by administrators from the school district to inform me that they were not going to be able to continue providing lunch and breakfast for students of the district. They asked if I thought churches in the district would be willing and able to fill the gap in the absence of the service they were providing. Of course, I had to answer yes. I picked up all of the food the district had on hand and took it to a temporary storage sight until we were able to meet with others in the community and develop a plan as to how we would be able to accomplish such a task. We were able to provide 180 lunches by Wednesday the 25th and make them available to the students of our district. The District had been delivering these meals door to door, but due to the lack of resources, man-power, and time, we simply made the available or pickup in each respective community. What we discovered over the next three days is that at this time, the true need of these resources is not that great, at least at this time. There are families that we have identified that need our assistance, and we will provide for those families. But for now, we will continue to monitor the need and be prepared to respond if it increases over the coming days or weeks.
I was also contacted by the Ralls County Health Department and Emergency Services about providing emergency food supplies to individuals or families who may face unexpected quarantine in their homes due to either contracting the virus, or being in contact with family or coworkers who have tested positive. With the help of Melanie Campbell and others, we have assembled a few boxes that are available if such an emergency arises. The concept for these boxes appears to be the approach that will be taken to meet the needs of district families who are at risk of not having enough food.
I wouldn’t be a good Southern Baptist preacher if I didn’t mention the continued need to give, if you are able. I am very worried about many of our community families, both in and out of our church, who are facing financial hardship due to lost work or the multiplied economic impact on every business and home. We want to continue to be able to have the opportunity to minister to folks who find themselves in need due to these tragic circumstances that are far beyond our control. While the Federal Government is trying to figure out how to solve the problem, I am convicted and convinced that it is destined for failure. It was never God’s design or plan for government to care for the least of these. That responsibility was placed squarely on the shoulders of the church, according to God’s Word. I would simply encourage you to prayerfully seek God’s direction in what He would have you do, especially if you are blessed with the resources to be able to continue doing so, even in these difficult days.
One of the benefits of our new website is the ability to give online. Yes!! Center Baptist Church has finally arrived. When you visit our site at centerbaptistchurch.net , you will find a link (https://cbccentermo.churchcenter.com/giving) where you will be able to tithe (General Fund) and also give an offering above and beyond your tithe to either the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, the Building Fund, or our Compassion Fund, which is used to meet the needs of those in our community who are being adversely affected during this crisis. You can also feel free to mail checks to Center Baptist Church, P.O. Box 113, Center MO, 63436.
If you are still reading this, you have been “sheltered in place” too long. I plan to continue to keep you updated through this and other mediums.
God Bless you and your family!