A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: A RESPONSE TO UNPRECEDENTED TIMES
It has become a cliché to talk about how we are living through “unprecedented” times in 2020, but it is a cliché for the simple reason that it is true. There are partial precedents, of course, most notably the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic, the efforts to contain it, and some controversies over those efforts.
And yet while that pandemic took place in the context of the final stages of a truly unprecedented World War, ours is unprecedented in that it is taking place in the context of deep divisions, tensions and conflicts within our country at the same time that a presidential election is taking place.
Given all that, the first week of November is likely to be a particularly challenging time in the life of our country and community, and therefore in our congregation as well. So while we are still two weeks away, I want to talk briefly about some preparations the Session has made to help us navigate this time together in a way that not only provides support to our members but witnesses to the love, mercy, justice, reconciliation, and peace that are the hallmarks of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To begin with, I want to remind you that Sunday, November 1 is “All Saints’ Day” on the Christian calendar, the annual memorial service for those who have died in the faith, particularly over the previous year. Providentially, it falls directly on a Sunday this year, and we will be memorializing not only those who have died who are members of First Pres or are loved ones of our members, but also the more than 225,000 who will have died from COVID-19 at that point in the United States, and the more than one million who have died worldwide.
The Tuesday after All Saints’ Day, of course, is Election Day, and many analysts are saying there is a good possibility that we will not have definitive results that night or potentially for several days, as the pandemic has led so many people to vote by absentee/mail-in ballot and many states allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted that are received for multiple days afterwards. Many reputable and nonpartisan analysts are also warning about the possibility of some degree of political and civil unrest during that interim period as well as when the results are finally determined.
Accordingly, the Session has called a Special Prayer Service for National Healing the day after Election Day: Wednesday, November 4 at 6 p.m. I hope it goes without saying that this will be a nonpartisan worship service; our unity as a congregation of Christ’s disciples is not in the unity of our political affiliations but in our unity in Jesus Christ through our faith and baptisms.
But regardless of the election results, the deep partisan divisions and political and social concerns in our nation will not disappear, so whether we have definitive election results or not, there will be a need to pray for healing in our nation.
This service will be a “hybrid” service, meaning that you can participate either by coming in-person to the service taking place outdoors with the same protocols we have used for our outdoor Sunday services (including this Sunday, October 25 at 11 a.m.), or by joining the livestream on Facebook Live from the church Facebook page or using the link on the church website. If weather does not permit an in-person gathering that day, we will shift to a “digital-only” format and proceed accordingly.
Finally, the Worship Committee has proposed a weekly in-person worship experiment in the month of November, as well. These “Weekly Evening Prayer Services” will be on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. for four weeks, starting on November 10. The services will consist of Scripture, prayer, and music (pre-recorded) in both traditional and contemporary styles, in a contemplative atmosphere of worship. They will each last approximately 30 minutes.
These Tuesday evening services will be held outdoors in front of the church building; there will be no livestream component as they are designed specifically to provide an opportunity for more regular in-person worship for those who are particularly hungry for that. These services are not intended to address our national divisions the way the one on November 4 is, but as a prayer service that will provide an opportunity to bring our concerns to God regarding whatever is going on in our lives as individuals and as a congregation, the Lehigh Valley community, the nation, and the world. If there is sufficient interest after the four weeks, the Session will consider continuing them.
So, I hope that you will be able to participate in these various opportunities for worship and prayer in the upcoming weeks. In any case, though, I invite you to continue holding our congregation, our community, and our nation in your individual prayers to God.
Grace and peace,
Sunday’s service will be an 11 a.m. Combined Worship Service, offered outside in front of the church building, and via Facebook Live (on our Facebook page and on our website). Please let us know if you plan to attend the outdoor service by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a message at 610-867-5865. Thank you for responding so we can make appropriate plans!