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Pastoral Letter for March 26, 2020

Pastoral Letter for a Distributed Church                             March 26, 2020

 Peace by Timothy Botts

Dear friends,

The above watercolor hangs in our church office and it’s a good reminder of the promises of God during our troubled times.  This is the third pastoral letter of the coronavirus pandemic and I hope it finds you both healthy and safe.  Well, we’re all starting to get settled into the new routine, which, for most of us, means spending a lot of time at home.  However, the Session continues to meet, and we’ve made some decisions that you need to know about.

  1. First and foremost, you need to know that we will be updating the budget on a monthly basis. Obviously, this crisis has led us into some previously unplanned areas – for example, we won’t be paying rent while under the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Do Not Gather orders. However, we have incurred other unexpected costs related to meeting online through video conferencing, as well as recording and posting our sermons online.  Andrea will be updating the budget as we go, and we’ll be presenting that to the Session for their approval every month.
  1. While I had hoped to make this announcement when we were all gathered together, we can no longer wait. So, I’m pleased to announce that effective April 1st, the Session has decided to promote Andrea Pogany from Administrative Assistant to Church Administrator. It’s a little more time and money (though still part-time), but it’s more responsibility.  Andrea will be your primary point of contact for all administrative needs, meeting and event logistics, and financial matters.  She has won the respect of everyone at Potomac Hills through her hard work on our behalf over the last five years.  Please congratulate her when you have the opportunity.
  1. Another decision the Session made was to approve having a part-time Pastoral Intern next Fall. In the last ten years, there have been six men from Potomac Hills ordained as Teaching Elders! That’s pretty remarkable for a church our size.  Each of those men had to complete a Presbytery approved internship as part of the ordination process.  We’re glad to continue that good work and will keep you informed as we seek a good candidate to fill this position.
  1. Meanwhile, we’re brainstorming ways for people to be engaged with the church. So, we’re going to try a few things to see how they work. First off, we’re going to try having the Adult Sunday School class on Zoom this week.  We’ll pick up where we left off in Luke.  If it’s successful, we’ll see about expanding to some of the other classes (we’ll post the Zoom invite on Realm and our Facebook group).  Additionally, as another way of staying involved in one another’s lives, we’re asking the Community Groups to meet weekly during this time.  Groups will have their regular meeting (where they discuss that week’s sermon) according to the current schedule, but on the alternate weeks, we’re asking each group to hold a short, online prayer meeting so the group can pray for each other more often.  Each group is responsible for setting up their own online meeting as we have plenty of people who know how to do that.  If you’re having trouble with setting that up, please contact Andrea Pogany or Frank Wang for help.
  1. We have created a Leaders Weekly Care List as a tool to help the Elders and Deacons keep up with everyone while we’re forced to keep our distance from each other. This will help the leaders touch base with folks in the church, especially our seniors and those with underlying health conditions. In the last ten days, we’ve been able to contact and check-in with people in the church some 30 times.  I hope you find that encouraging.  However, we also want to hear from you, so don’t wait for a call if you have a need or a prayer request.  Call, text, or email us … and take advantage of the ability to visit each other online using Facetime, Skype, Google Duo, Hangouts, and Meet, Microsoft Teams, or my new favorite, Zoom.
  1. Our tendency is to hoard in times of crisis and that’s the opposite of what the church should be doing. Our hearts should not be closed out of self-preservation, but instead should be generously open to serve each other out of love. That’s one of the reasons we want to keep you informed as to what’s going on in Potomac Hills, even if it is “only” digital outreach as we reach people in their homes and in conversations online.

The moment is now to reach the hurting people among us, and the last thing we need to do is cut our financial support.  Every time in the past, when this congregation knows their giving is making a difference, you have risen to the occasion to meet the need.  As a church, if we continue to serve and give in this season, we will not only survive, but we will thrive after this pandemic ends.

  1. As I mentioned in the last letter, we will continue to conduct worship online. We’ll be pre-recording the sermons and posting the links on our website and YouTube, along with a detailed bulletin, sermon notes, sermon manuscript, and study guides. Tom Gardner and Eli Rist have done a great job preparing the music (both song sheets and pre-recorded videos).  It will all be packaged together under that Sunday sermon listing (https://www.potomachills.org/sermons).  There’s a lot of behind the scenes work going on to make this happen, so please thank those involved in enabling our worship to continue.  The first sermon had 141 views on YouTube and our second sermon has 109 views so far, so we’re off to a good start.
  2. Any group that would like to keep meeting should be able to do so online. The Church now has a Zoom account (video conferencing software). The Session tested it out this week with our monthly prayer meeting and it worked well.  We will be using this method of meeting for Session, Diaconate, Youth Group, and any other small groups that are able to meet this way.  I’ve posted a Beginners Guide to Zoom on our Facebook group for those who are new to this type of meeting.  It’s an easy to follow tutorial which you may find helpful.
  1. Rev. Nathan Bingham recently wrote in the online edition of Tabletalk Magazine that “The church in the United States and much of the world has never experienced anything like these past few weeks. Yes, the church has faced pandemics throughout the centuries, but it has never done so with the ability to move certain aspects of corporate worship online.  Churches like ours that have never live-streamed a service in their history have opened a YouTube channel. Thankfully, many pastors are able to preach the Word online and, as a result, provide temporary, virtual alternatives for those congregations that cannot live-stream their own services.

For years, I’ve sought—along with many others—to remind the church to be thankful for today’s technology.  It is helping us reach more people, and it is being used by the Lord in ways we’re still only beginning to understand.  Lives are being changed forever as a result of blog posts.  Many sheep are being delivered from the deceitfulness of false teachers through God’s use of quality podcasts.  And millions more are being built up in their faith throughout the week, thanks to so many video resources accessible with a simple click.

The current crisis is highlighting even more clearly to more people in the body of Christ why we can give thanks to God for the technological advances of recent decades.  By God’s grace, the lights haven’t been turned off.  The Light of the World is still shining in the darkness as His gospel is preached and the sermons of faithful pastors are broadcasted on television, computer, and smartphone screens.”

Finally, my prayer for our church continues to look forward to when we can all get back together again.  Although I am grateful to be able to keep preaching God’s Word, and I have enjoyed singing with our friends and fellow church members (albeit dispersed across Northern Virginia), I also have an unsettled feeling.  I know this is not the ideal.  This is not God’s design for His church.  This is a time when we should long for the day when we’re together again.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve been reminded of the Apostle John’s words in 2 John 12, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink [or computer and link].  Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

Dr. David V. Silvernail, Jr., Senior Pastor

Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church