MOST RECENT UPDATE:
Dear First Pres Family Member,
It is an understatement to say that we are living in unusual times. Yesterday the mayor gave a shelter in place order for Amarillo. Our Business Administrator and Properties Director have been in contact with the city to clarify what this means for our church specifically. We learned that we will still be able to hold services online with no more than 10 people in our building maintaining social distancing of six feet at all times. We also learned that as a church that provides social services and does graveside services we can maintain our office hours as long as we have no more than 10 people in our building at one time.
To adhere to this 10 person limit during the week, most of our program staff will be working from home only coming in as needed. We will continue to reach out to our church members offering online discipleship experiences and devotionals that you can find here on our webpage at http://firstpres.com/first-pres-live. If you haven’t had a chance to see these wonderful online offerings please check them out.
Our Business Office and a few other key staff will be in the building to help with mailings, accounting, payroll and other key functions of our church. Our Operations Manager and his custodial staff will remain in the building as well so they can continue with a deep cleaning and sanitizing of our entire campus. During this time that the building is mostly empty they will also fix, paint, and update areas of our old building that have had deferred maintenance for some time. To ensure that we have no more than 10 people in our building, our campus will be closed to outsiders during this shelter in place period. We have gift bags for homeless who come by, but no one will be allowed into the building.
Our session met last night to identify ways that we can cut expenses as a church in the coming months and to talk about what our plans are for Holy Week in light of the mayor’s orders to shelter in place. This Sunday is Palm Sunday. You may have noticed that our online services have been rotating worship styles. As a church we are blessed to have the musicians to be able to offer three dynamic styles of worship: traditional, gospel, and contemporary praise. This week our 1105 Contemporary Praise Band will lead us musically during our livestream at 8:30. Then on Easter Sunday we plan to offer at least two worship styles each week. This will be done by recording a contemporary service in the Fellowship Center on Saturday afternoon, and then providing a live stream of our traditional service at 8:30 in our sanctuary on Sunday morning so that our members can choose which style of music they want to worship to when they go to our webpage on Sunday morning. The sermon will be the same at both services as we point everyone to the eternal truth of God’s word.
Our previously scheduled combined Maundy Thursday Service with Polk Street United Methodist and Central Church of Christ has been cancelled, but we still plan to provide a brief online meditation on the Lord’s Supper where you can join us in having communion at home. So, you may want to pick up some bread and grape juice the next time you are in the store. On Good Friday we are making plans to have a brief online service in our sanctuary with a dramatic presentation as we remember Christ’s sacrifice for us all. All of these services will be found on our First Pres Live web page http://firstpres.com/first-pres-live .
In these ever-changing times it helps to remember that our God is still in control. Our God is still with us. Our Lord never abdicates control of His creation, rather he moves in and through His people to point to His love and His glory. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Yesterday both our program staff and Session shared the many things that we are grateful for in the midst of this season of social distancing. We shared how God has blessed our time with family as we are forced to slow down and stay at home together. We discussed this time of social distancing has provide times of solitude that allow us to spend more time alone with God in His word. We also shared that the government’s orders to avoid groups no larger than 10 have forced churches all over the country to provide online worship. We have seen how God has used this dramatic change to help spread his word. For instance, we normally have around 420 people on our campus for Sunday morning worship, but we noticed that with our first online service we had over 800 downloads, praise the Lord.
As Presbyterians we know that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Our prayer is that as we provide more online opportunities God will be glorified and people will be drawn to the Lord we love. So please continue to share our online offerings with your family and friends through e-mail, Facebook, or other forms of social media. May God continue to comfort and strengthen us all in the midst of these changing times so that He might receive all the glory, God bless.
First Pres Family Member,
Last night our Session met to pray, to discuss, and to discern together what God is calling us to do in response to the Coronavirus. Throughout this process we have always turned to Scripture to lead us on how we should respond. Last night was no different. In 2 Timothy 1:7 the Apostle Paul reminds us that, “7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” As Christians we should never live in fear. We know our Lord and savior Jesus Christ has already conquered the grave for us. The same Holy Spirit who empowered the first disciples to preach and proclaim the good news of Jesus amidst certain persecution resides in us today, and He will empower us as we seek to live by His word that He inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We also know from Hebrews 10:24-25 that it is good for us to meet together.“24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Last night our Session discussed this verse and why it is important that we meet together. We all agreed that as the body of Christ we need each other. We need the encouragement and accountability that comes by being together. We looked at Matthew 18:20 where Jesus says, “20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” There is a special sense of Christ’s presence when the body of Christ comes together to worship Him.
We also discussed Paul’s exhortation to the church in Rome that as Christians we need to submit to the authority of the civil authorities that have been put in place over us. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-5)
Now admittedly there are examples from Scripture where Civil Disobedience is required. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected in Daniel 3 because to worship an idol would break one of the Ten Commandments.
So far, we have tried to submit to the civil authorities when possible. This is consistent with what we have seen many churches in our denomination do. For instance, last week the mayor of Midland called the senior pastor of FPC Midland and asked that they not to meet for physical worship because of concerns over the CORONAVIRUS. The Senior Pastor of FPC Midland and their Session agreed to submit to this request. To date the mayor of Amarillo has not called me and fortunately, to date there are NO KNOWN CASES OF THE CORONAVIRUS IN AMARILLO. That is why we held worship last Sunday although in a very sanitized form trying to promote social distancing as much as possible according to CDC requirements.
However, yesterday our President made the request that people not gather in groups larger than 10 throughout our country for the next 15 days The CDC had previously set the number to 50, but now recommends that we cancel gatherings of more than 10 people for organizations that serve higher risk populations. Anyone over 60 is considered to be at a higher risk, and many of our church members are over the age of 60. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/mass-gatherings-ready-for-covid-19.html.
In light of the President’s request, the advice from doctors of our church, and the CDC’s recommendations, the Session voted unanimously TO CANCEL ALL MEETINGS AT OUR PHYSICAL CAMPUS FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS AND PROVIDE AN ONLINE LIVESTREAM WORSHIP EXPERIENCE AT 8:30 A.M. ON SUNDAY MORNINGS ON OUR CHURCH’S WEBPAGEWWW.FIRSTPRES.COM SO THAT MEMBERS CAN GO TO OUR CHURCH’S WEB PAGE OR OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL TO WORSHIP WITH US VIA THE INTERNET. If someone does not want to wake up at 8:30 on Sunday mornings then they can watch a recording of the service any time after 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and have worship in their homes or apartments.
As we look at the Church in Acts 2 we can see that they met in homes for worship as well, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. As we enhance our online worship experience this is an opportunity for us to share our great worship experience at First Pres with our friends through Social Media like Facebook or e-mail. We will rotate worship styles for the NEXT TWO Sundays. This Sunday we will have Gospel Music. Next Sunday we will have Traditional Music. The Session will meet on Monday March 30th to reassess our next steps in preparation for Holy Week.
This decision is not out of fear, but out of great love for our older members. We do not want to put them in a harmful situation. In fact, we are committed to helping all of our members in this difficult time. Our elders, deacons, or pastors will contact you soon by phone or e-mail in the coming days to see how you are doing. We will take any prayer requests you may have and a list of any immediate needs you might have. For instance, Doyle just ordered extra toilet paper and tissue boxes from our church’s supplier recognizing that currently many people are having a hard time getting these items in a store. If you are unable to get out and get these items we will have someone deliver those items to your home in this crazy time. As best we can we will try to assess the needs of our members and do what we can to help meet those needs recognizing that many of our older members should not leave their homes at this time. If you have a specific need that you want to share right now please e-mail Murray Gossett at email@example.com or you can call his office number (806)350-5203 and he will work with his staff and Deacons to help meet these needs.
Our church offices will be open during their regular hours Monday – Thursday. However, we will close our offices by noon Friday so that Doyle’s custodial team will have extra time to clean and sanitize our campus. If you are able to travel and you need to come to the office we will be here, but ALL MEETINGS, BIBLE STUDIES, AND GATHERINGS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED ON OUR CAMPUS FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS INCLUDING SUNDAY SCHOOL AND WEDNESDAY NIGHT PROGRAMMING. Please take this time to meditate on God’s word in your home. Our pastors plan to send a daily devotional from the gospel of John each day to encourage us in this uncertain time. Please keep an eye out for that devotional.
Please know that we are aware that some of our members do not have access to the internet, so we will mail this e-mail to them, and I will mail the manuscript of Sunday’s sermon to those who do not have access to the internet like we do with the E-Chimes each month. In this time of physical isolation we need to remind ourselves that we are never alone “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Our church leadership will do everything we can to reach out to you, to pray with you, to help you know that you are not alone and we are here to help. We love you, and our God is Sovereign. Our God will see us through this current pandemic. God saw our world through the Spanish Flu of 1918. God saw our world through the more recent Swine Flu and Ebola Virus. Please join me in praying that God will guide our Nation’s leaders, our state and local officials, our health care workers, and all of us as we seek to respond to this current pandemic. God bless and may the Lord guide us all as we seek to follow Him and love others as He first loved us.
P.S. With the concerns over international travel our Session also voted to cancel our two international mission trips that were planned for this summer. By cancelling early we are able to avoid losing any deposits that have been paid. We also voted to cancel the All Church Retreat since Glorieta is closing its campus for the next eight weeks. We will get the $13,800 deposit back from them. We always want to be a good stewards of the church’s resources and cancelling early helps us avoid the loss of deposits. We are aware that by not meeting for the next two Sundays it will be impossible to collect a physical offering on Sunday mornings, so if you are able to give please do so through our church’s web page for the next few weekshttp://firstpres.com/giving Of course you can always mail a check to our business office at 1100 South Harrison, Amarillo Texas 79101. Thank you for your faithful support of the ministries of First Pres in these uncertain times.
First Pres Family Member,
Wow, a lot has happened since Monday. As a lifelong basketball fan I never thought I would see the day when the NCAA cancels March Madness and the NBA (National Basketball Association) suspends its season because of a virus. Yesterday I spent several hours watching different news channels trying to get my head around all that is happening. It is hard not to become anxious listening to the news these days.
In the midst of anxious times I like to turn to Scripture like Isaiah 41:10 where God tells us, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV). It is good to be reminded that our God is with us. In fact, the final words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew are, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus isn’t just with us today, but to the end of the age. As the Apostle Paul reminds us “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). That is great news, AMEN!
So as Christians we do not need to live in fear, because we know our God through Jesus Christ is always with us, for He is Immanuel. In fact, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). As I shared on Monday, “for God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7). When we feel ourselves becoming fearful, prayer is our best response. As the Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians from a prison cell, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
We need to thank God for his sovereign power. We need to thank God for His constant presence. We need to thank God that Jesus has conquered the grave on our behalf, that death does not have the final say for those who call upon the Lord. We also need to pray that God would eradicate the Coronavirus. We need to pray for those who have lost loved ones through this disease (at the writing of this e-mail 41 Americans have died of the Coronavirus 4,992 worldwide). We need to pray that God would bring healing to all those who are infected. We need to pray for the medical community as they continue to care for the sick. We need to pray for our national, state, and civic leaders that God would give them the wisdom of Solomon to know what to do as they lead in this anxious time. We need to pray that God would mobilize His Church to be the CHURCH in the midst of these anxious times.
Wednesday night several of us began a study of John Ortberg’s book Who Is This Man? In his book Orberg points out that, “During the reign of Marcus Aurelius around 165 A.D. an epidemic of what may have been smallpox killed somewhere between a third and fourth of the population, including Marcus Aurelius himself….For the most part, people responded in panic.” (p. 38) However, the CHURCH had a different response as reported by Dionysius, a third century bishop of Alexandria, who wrote that, “Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ.” (p. 39). Sadly many Christians died caring for the sick, but their compassion towards the ill impressed the pagans of their time and many came to faith in Jesus. God has given us an opportunity to be a faithful witness by being a non-anxious presence amidst anxious times, by being people of prayer who look to God for guidance in the midst of uncertainty.
As I think about what God would have us do THIS SUNDAY, I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24). As I quote this Scripture, I am aware that several churches in the country, and even in our state, are not meeting this Sunday physically. They are Live Streaming their services on the internet so that people can worship in their homes though the internet. Praise God for that technology that allows Christian families to meet in homes in cities where the CORONAVIRUS is actively spreading. At THIS TIME according to Channel 10 News there are NO KNOWN CASES OF THE CORONAVIRUS IN AMARILLO. As I watched Channel 10 News last night I was so impressed with the plans and preparations that our local medical community is making if and when the Coronavirus comes to Amarillo. We are so blessed to live in Amarillo and have such wise and well prepared doctors.
You need to know that I reached out to the other 4 Amarillo pastors, and WE ALL PLAN TO HAVE WORSHIP SERVICES THIS SUNDAY. However, following the best practices of some other churches, worship is going to look a little different at First Pres for the next few months. Viruses of all kinds tend to travel from our hands to our face, so we are encouraging a NO HANDSHAKE, NO HUG ZONE on our church campus. We can easily greet one another with a warm smile, words of encouragement, and a wave. As adults we don’t have to touch each other to greet one another and let each other know that we are glad to see them. Words of affirmation can communicate love as well as a hug or a handshake.
This Sunday and for the foreseeable future we will have EXTRA HAND SANITIZER DISPENSERS around our campus. We encourage everyone to CLEAN THEIR HANDS BEFORE AND AFTER SERVICES. Here is where the hand sanitizers will be located on our campus.
Great Hall by the Welcome Center
Office Hallway outside Murray’s office
2nd floor adult Sunday School wing—north side
2nd floor CE building—East side
Fellowship Center—entrance doors and by the water cooler
More HAND SANITIZER DISPENSERS have been ordered and will be placed around our campus as they arrive.
Doctors tell us that the Coronavirus can stay active on a surface for a few days, so WE WON’T PASS THE OFFERING PLATE. We will have an OFFERING BOX IN THE NARTHEX AND BACK OF THE FELLOWSHIP CENTER WHERE OFFERINGS CAN BE MADE BEFORE OR AFTER THE SERVICE. Of course you can always give on line http://firstpres.com/giving
We will NOT PASS THE FRIENDSHIP PAD at any of our services. Instead we will invite guests and visitors to come to our Welcome Desk in the Great Hall where they can fill out a guest card and we can give them one of our gift bags.
We will NOT SHAKE HANDS DURING THE PASSING OF THE PEACE. We will provide a verbal passing of the peace where the host pastor says “THE PEACE OF CHRIST BE WITH YOU” and we all respond verbally “AND ALSO WITH YOU.” Anglicans have been doing this for years.
The preacher will NOT SHAKE HANDS DOWN THE CENTER AISLE AFTER THE WORSHIP SERVICES IN THE SANCTUARY, but the preacher will be in the Great Hall for any follow up conversations as we fellowship together.
PLEASE SPREAD OUT IN THE SANCTUARY AND FELLOWSHIP CENTER WHEN YOU SIT DOWN (Social Distancing is a key to help stop the spread of a virus). It is my observation that there is always plenty of room near the front of the Sanctuary or Fellowship Center. We should try to avoid sitting in one cluster in the back where we sing and breathe on each other. Because we have three services every Sunday we have the blessing of space at all of our worship venues. Our sanctuary holds 500 people, and our Fellowship Center can hold over 250. Fortunately, with three different worship services none of our worship venues are full except on Easter and Christmas Eve, so please spread out as much as you can.
WE WILL STILL SERVE COMMUNION, BUT NOW THE ELDERS AND DEACONS SERVING WILL WEAR SANITATION GLOVES LIKE MOST FOOD SERVERS DO AND DROP THE WAFER IN OUR CUPPED HANDS AND HAND US INDIVIDUAL CUPS OF GRAPE JUICE.
We will TRY TO KEEP MOST OF THE DOORS ON OUR CAMPUS OPEN so that people do not have to touch the door knobs or door handles. If you touch a door knob please try to wash your hands as soon as possible, and our custodial staff will work to clean all door knobs knowing that the Coronavirus will stay active on a metal door knob for hours if not days. The same is true of handrails. Our Greeters will try to open the doors for people as they walk into our building, but please wash your hands if you have to touch a door knob or handrail.
Finally, if you are sick please stay home from worship on Sunday. None of us would want to infect our fellow church members. If you have a previous health condition that would make you more susceptible to becoming very sick with the Coronavirus please stay home. Statistically speaking it seems that the elderly and those with previous health conditions are more likely to die from the Coronavirus. While we will miss you in worship, you can see any of our recent sermons on our church’s web page http://firstpres.com/who-is-this-man .
At this time we plan to maintain our current worship schedule because we believe God wants us to gather together to worship Him when we can on Sundays. I know that in anxious times I need the comforting presence of the body of Christ knowing that when two or more are gathered together in Christ’s name He is there (Matthew 18:20). I believe we can assemble together for worship and lower the risk of passing any viruses if we are diligent in trying to minimize our physical contact with each other. We don’t have to touch each other to be blessed by one another’s presence. I hope to see you Sunday as we gather together as one body in Christ’s name seeking his presence and peace as we give all glory and honor to Him in worship. God bless.