Start the year centered on Christ! Come to Highrock Cambridge to pray for God to move in the Boston area, for our churches, and for personal joys and concerns.
I realize that this is a longer letter, but I would encourage you to read to the end. If you can’t, or have to read it in snippets -- be advised that after much prayer and discussion with all the Highrock churches and after meeting as an Overseer team last night, along with the Highrock Network of Churches, we have decided to suspend in-person Sunday services and all gatherings of 25+ people at least until March 25th, at which time we will re-evaluate the situation and make plans accordingly. In the interim, we will be exploring ways to ensure we remain connected to each other, including but not limited to having virtual services and creating a phone-tree connection plan for prayer, check-ins, and spiritual care.
The primary job of the Church has historically been two-fold: witness to the resurrection of Christ as hope in the face of darkness and death, and to be the spiritual body of Christ — be a spiritual community — at work for the Gospel in each other’s lives and in the world.
Grounded in this mission, the Church has a long history of running into cities at times of pandemic while other officials have fled. During the pandemics that swept the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, while civic leaders and even medical professionals fled for the countryside to protect themselves, Christians remained in the cities to care for the sick and dying. The resurrection of Jesus made these Christians unafraid to die, which freed them to love their neighbors sacrificially.
And because Christians were not afraid of dying, they were able to love in exceptional ways, leading to an explosive growth of the Gospel. This is a powerful testimony of the love of Jesus on full display, and I want us to live in this power today.
So I want us to be faithful and unafraid like we see in the witness of the early Church, but our day and age requires some different measures to truly be a witness to the world.
It’s also important to note that the early Church didn’t really look like the Church today. Their gatherings were held as smaller clusters of individuals meeting in homes dispersed across wide geographic areas, which meant that transmission of disease among Christians would have also been slower. If the church gathered in large masses of people like we do today, it’s entirely possible that the transmission of disease would have sped and multiplied, rather than be contained and healed.
And unfortunately, Native American history right here in Massachusetts has shown us just what this looks like. Entire nations were decimated all because European settlers unwittingly (and tragically, sometimes even purposefully) spread disease among the vulnerable people they interacted with. Some estimate that as much as 90% of the people native to this land died in the pandemics brought on by new European colonists.
So in this light, I also appreciate that gathering together might very well actually do more harm than good since our gatherings might work to advance the progress of the disease, rather than alleviate suffering. And so getting together for together's sake, might actually work contrary to the love and care of Christ we all know.
This is particularly important in our context at Highrock North Shore. Going into last week, we already had a number of attendees who are immunocompromised at varying degrees. Similarly, we have a significant number of people who are in the most at-risk demographic. Other Highrock churches are in similar positions.
Given this reality, the pastors from all ten Highrock Churches spent nearly two hours in deliberation hoping to discern the most faithful course of action. We are fortunate to have in our network many area experts, including the leader of the medical team advising the governor, a team leader of the MIT/Harvard COVID research team, the team leader advising the local area hospitals, as well as many doctors, nurses, and staff on the front lines of health care.
They have all been sharing their latest information with us and the majority consensus (not unanimous, but majority) is that the best way to serve our neighbors is to help slow the spread of this virus so that medical facilities and professionals are not overwhelmed by more patients than they can care for.
We can do this by avoiding gatherings of more than 25 people, and even in smaller gatherings practicing “micro social distancing”, which includes remaining at least 3 feet apart and frequent hand washing.
Given all this information, and after meeting as an Overseer team last night, after much prayer and discussion Highrock has decided to suspend in-person Sunday services and all gatherings of 25+ people at least until March 25th, at which time we will re-evaluate the situation and make plans accordingly. In the interim, we will be exploring ways to have a virtual service. This means that smaller things (the partnership class, youth group, moving out of FBC this Sunday) are all still ON, but larger things (Sunday services, Shabbat dinners, etc.) will be on hiatus.
While I am saddened by the prospect of sacrificing many of our beloved and meaningful regular gatherings, I wonder what new invitations God may be giving you personally and us collectively in this season.
Consider the church in Japan. Many Churches have been forced into virtual gatherings during their quarantine, but some have found that this allowed many of their neighbors to join them who might have been reluctant to show up at a service in person. Many new people are finding Jesus this way. Imagine if God opened new doors for the Gospel even if we are all stuck behind closed doors!
Similarly, along with pastors and staff from the other Highrocks, we are exploring new ways to connect virtually, including possibly having all the Highrocks join for a Sunday service (or multiple), and potentially offer other opportunities of connection and prayer throughout the week.
Additionally, at Highrock North Shore we are in the process of creating a “connection tree” so that each Highrock household has someone who is connecting with them to make sure everyone who calls Highrock home has someone praying for and connecting with them. We want to make sure everyone has a place to share practical needs that are arising out of this, so we, as a church might consider ways we can support one another tangibly.
We will send out more information about all of this in the days ahead.
Lastly, I’d like to offer some suggestions as you consider how to tend to your spirit as you Connect with God, God’s People, and God’s Purposes during these unusual days.
Finally, I want to say THANK YOU to the many medical professionals, researchers, and community leaders at Highrock who are laboring for the Lord and are on the front lines against this pandemic. If some of the rest of us have extra time at home over the next few weeks, let’s use some of it to pray for those who are working even harder to protect everyone else, and in many cases, facing much greater risks.
But above all, remember that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and a sound mind, for the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead lives in you!
With all Christ’s affection,