Maybe you’re different from me, but there comes a point where I really don’t like for my plans to get disrupted. At the beginning of 2019, we had some great plans for becoming a more welcoming church. We had just finished up a sermon series on hospitality that many of you were really putting into practice by reaching out to people you didn’t know in church services, inviting people out to lunch after church, and inviting people into your homes. Rarely have I seen a plan look like it was coming together better than that one! Then March came along. How could we have foreseen that the entire globe would be embroiled in a crisis that would undermine almost every aspect of that plan!
How do you welcome people in church when you can’t meet for several weeks? How can you welcome people into your homes when doing so risks exposing them to a deadly virus? Even our normal means of fellowship, getting together for coffee, small group meetings, Sunday School, each of these and more were not only disrupted but virtually cancelled by the rising of the coronavirus.
As I reflect back on the last year, it strikes me that God worked despite our plans! Just in the last several weeks I’ve heard stories of Gospel hospitality in spite of COVID. Several members at GCF have invited friends and co-workers to church at GCF and they’ve come! I heard of a couple of members of GCF taking a Sunday to go to another church so that they could make a friend feel comfortable for her first time ever in a church service. For months now I’ve heard multiple stories weekly of members calling, dropping by, and checking on one another, being the church instead of expecting the church to provide a service for them.
It would be easy to look at our own plans and use them as a measure for how the year has been, but if we did so, we would miss all the ways that God has worked despite our plans. If you have called someone just to check on them, sent a letter to let an isolated person know they aren’t alone, continued being friends with someone despite disagreeing with them politically, stopped by a house to drop off rolls or cookies, helped an at-risk person with laundry or groceries, thank you! I have been encouraged to see God working in so many of you.
That all being said, we did have some goals at the beginning of the year. These goals were in line with the Vision Frame that we announced at the beginning of 2019. It was disorienting to have to punt on all of our plans, change from in person to online and back to in person with all sorts of inconvenient protocols. However, by God’s grace and through your own presence, we continued to become a more welcoming church.
Much of this progress has centered around the arrival of Angie McLaughlin this last fall. When Angie approached me wanting to serve in the church, I almost couldn’t believe it! Her own musical skills are overshadowed by her team building. Under COVID restrictions, she’s helped a number of people get connected to our music team and brought a level of professionalism that is also heartfelt and authentic. She is not only a world-class musician, but a dedicated servant of Jesus and His people. However, she would not have accomplished a third of what she has without many of you stepping up to the plate, helping spruce up our sanctuary, get Children’s Worship relaunched, or volunteering to welcome on Sunday morning.
One of our goals for hospitality was to “by opening up our church life and events publicly, intentionally, warmly and authentically to welcome others into our lives.” Despite our plans, God has worked tremendously to help us do this. As we brought on Leah Borg from Virtual Ministry Assistants, we not only were able to respond to a real concern that communication to the congregation was lacking, but we were able also to increase our online presence in social media. Many of our volunteers helped with this as well as they labored to get our services online. Not only has this helped the at risk in our community stay connected, but I know of at least one person who was not attending church at all before the pandemic who has made our weekly services online part of his rhythm of life!
You can hardly walk into our sanctuary without noticing the changes! This is directly in line with our goal of becoming a more welcoming church. Lightening up our sanctuary, cleaning it up and removing some of the clutter, and refreshing some of the decor aren’t just to make us look better. It’s for the purpose of being a more welcoming church. In the last several months, we have begun to have a steady stream of visitors coming in person and on line. I believe that this will only increase as restrictions ease and people begin looking for connections after over a year of isolation. I also believe that through all of your work and dedication, we are perfectly poised to be ready to offer that connection they so deeply need!