Northminster’s Plans for ‘Phase 1’

Good afternoon, Folks,

On Tuesday, the Session met to discuss our plans for Phase 1 of Virginia’s ‘Forward Virginia’ reopening plans.  Up to this point, we have been limited to no more than 10 people at any gathering and, out of an abundance of caution and a desire to follow the guidance from the VDH and CDC, we have postponed all ministries.  Since we have 8-9 people leading worship each Sunday, we’ve asked that no one else attend.

As of today, the 10 person limit has been lifted and so, if you greatly desire to do so and believe it is safe for you, the sanctuary is open for folks to join us on Sunday mornings.  However, we believe it best to err on the side of caution at this time and are encouraging folks to join us on Facebook Live for worship, especially if you are in an at-risk category or are experiencing cold symptoms.  Sunday school, women’s circles, children’s and youth ministries continue to be suspended at this time.

To summarize:

  • The sanctuary is open for worship, but we still encourage you to stay home and worship with us online.
  • All other ministries and programs will remain suspended for the duration of Phase 1.
  • If you have any symptoms or are at-risk, please remain home.

The Session will continue to monitor the situation and will make plans as we learn more about Phases 2 & 3.  As always, we welcome your feedback and invite you to email me or the elders.  Particularly if you have need, please let us know how we can be of help and pray for you during this ongoing season.

We miss seeing you very much, but want to be prudent and wise in how we move forward.

Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison, and the Session of NEPC


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May 2020 Pastor’s Corner – What to do about Communion?

We are about to begin our second full month under quarantine, and under normal circumstances we would be celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  As we all know, however, these are not normal circumstances.  How do we celebrate the sacrament in these times?  Should we celebrate the sacrament during these times? Is it possible to celebrate the sacrament “virtually”? These are questions pastors and elders have been wrestling with over the past month.

As the kids say these days, the “TL;DR” (too long; don’t read) answer that your Session has come to, is that for right now we, once again, will not be celebrating the Sacrament  this month.

Now for the (slightly) longer version.

As said, these are unusual times.  Someone commented to me the other day how much they appreciated the online worship service, as it provided a sense of ‘normal’ in very abnormal times.  That’s one of the key reasons why we are doing our best to keep the order of service as much as normal as possible.  But, these are nevertheless unusual times, and there are some things we might normally do that we hold off on until we get back to normal, and the Lord’s Supper is one of those things.  Our “virtual worship” is a blessing, but it is not a replacement for the real thing.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is inherently communal and physical.  As a visceral, physical experience it is one of the most tactile moments in our worship service.  It involves all of our senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound.  It is also communal; it is an act of the community.  While we are symbolically together through Facebook Live, yet we are not physically together.  It’s like when traveling for work.  I can still FaceTime my wife and kids, which is better than a phone call, but it’s not the same as being physically present with them.

Much like the spiritual discipline of fasting is meant to remind us of our deeper longing and need for God, it is our hope that as we “fast” from communion, it would remind us of how the sacrament serves as a ‘sign and seal’ of our salvation.  As one theologian said regarding this absence, “the practice of the sacrament is an aid to our faith, it’s absence is not a detriment.”  It is our hope and prayer that the absence of the sacrament will foster in each of us a longing for that wondrous day when we, once again, gather together as a congregation to worship our Savior and celebrate this sacrament once again.

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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A Call to Prayer and Fasting – Good Friday, April 10, 2020

This Friday we invite and encourage the members of Northminster Evangelical Presbyterian Church to join our brothers and sisters in the EPC, PCA, ECO, ACNA and many other denominations and churches in a day of prayer and fasting to cry out for God’s help in addition to a day of worship.  As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the globe and our nation, this is an opportunity for us to set ourselves before the Lord and plead with him to intercede on behalf of His creation.
 
If you’ve been joining us on B90, you’ve seen how, time and again, when the people of God were convicted of their sin and sought His intervention, they began with a period of fasting and then prayer.  While you might consider fasting from technology or something like that, there is something particular about going without food for a short period of time.  The pang and tug of physical hunger reminds us of our deeper, spiritual hunger for God and his action in our lives and our world.  As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14)
 
Setting aside a day of prayer and fasting isn’t something to be entered into lightly.  To help us prepare for this Friday, the EPC has provided several resources which you can find on their Good Friday Call to Prayer and Fasting Resources page.  There is a very helpful Guide to Prayer and Fasting, a suggested prayer list, and a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that addresses the needs of suffering people in troubled times.
 
Our Day of Prayer and Fasting will conclude with the Good Friday service, streamed live on our Facebook page which you can find at www.facebook.com/npcmh (you do not need a Facebook account to access the livestream).  The service will begin at 7:30pm and is a simple service of scripture, song, candlelight and prayerful reflection.
 
We hope you’ll join us in this day of prayer and fasting, asking God to  intervene in the face of this ongoing pandemic.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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April 2020 Pastor’s Corner – The Conundrum of the Cluster

The Conundrum of the Cluster

We are creatures of habit, it’s a part of human nature. Part of that habit is grouping together with like-minded individuals, collections of people with shared beliefs, routines, customs, vision, etc. This is very normal and natural, it’s how communities form — including church communities — and it’s encouraged. We need the mutual support, accountability and encouragement that comes from the Body of Christ. In fact, in adolescent development theory, the “cluster” is an important and necessary part of the social development of the teenager. Where “cliques” are unhealthy and exclusive, “clusters” are not only inclusive and healthy, they are necessary for proper and appropriate development.
 
But this “clustering” also presents a problem, a problem we’ve been talking about in the church for several decades now. We aren’t called to be the church “gathered in” or “clustered together” but rather the church “sent out” (we’ve called this being a “missional” church) But the “sending out” part is hard — well, it’s very easy to talk about theoretically, but gets harder when we actually go to put it into practice. Why is it hard? Because it means leaving our comfort zone, our “cluster,” and going “out there,” wherever that may be. Our natural inertia is toward the cluster, not away from it. Throughout history, it has taken an outside force acting on the cluster that forces it to disperse and be sent out.
 

The Church Scattered

There is an interesting word used several times in the book of Acts, diaspeiro. It appears in Acts 8:1, 4, and 11:19 and it means “to scatter abroad.” After Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, there was “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem” (8:1) that caused the Christians to be “scattered” (diaspeiro). And what happened? “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4) From the very beginning, Christians preferred to cluster together (see Acts 2:42). It took a persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem to send them out to Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch and further. It was the persecution of Christians by Nero in AD 64 that sent them out to “the ends of the earth,” spreading the Gospel far and wide. But God doesn’t always use persecution to scatter the church.
 

The Church Closed. Or is it?

We are, in many respects, in an unprecedented time. It certainly isn’t the first time humanity faced a pandemic like this, but it is for most of us it’s the first in our lifetime. It’s forcing us to rethink much of how we understand being “church.” How do we “do church” if we can’t meet for worship on Sunday mornings? But the church never was a building or a time. For the sake of the health of each other and our community, we can not gather in groups of 10 or more until this pandemic passes. But that doesn’t mean the church is closed. A colleague of mine posted this on her Facebook wall the other day,
A couple of years ago, God gave my associate pastor a vision of our church having transparent walls. For two years, we have been wondering how on earth God was going to turn stone and stained glass into transparent walls. We got the interpretation today. He’s making them transparent by locking our doors. Suddenly people will be able to see in from the outside! May God make transparent all the walls of our churches, that the world may know the Good News of Jesus Christ… He has been preparing us for this since November. We just didn’t understand what he was saying until now. Our church is being called to love and serve one another. We are the church sent out, not the church closed!
 
Through the wonder of modern technology, we will still “gather together” for worship, but in our own homes. Each Sunday morning, we will still worship in our sanctuary, and you can join us for the worship service at www.facebook.com/npcmh (no, you don’t need a Facebook account to get to it, just a phone or web browser).  The service will be adapted to focus on and facilitate at-home worship as families and individuals.
 

The Church Sent Out

We are still Northminster Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but we are not closed. We are the church dispersed, scattered, sent out, like dandelion seeds. Even in the midst of the social distancing of this pandemic, we have an opportunity to love our neighbor in ways we’ve forgotten or lost. If your neighbors are elderly or in the higher-risk categories for the coronavirus, offer to go to the store for them and leave the groceries on their porch. If your neighbors have kids and jobs that don’t allow them to work from home, offer to watch the kids during the day. There are many other ways to serve our neighbors, and we’ll help you explore some of those in the weeks to come. This is going to be a difficult season, let there be no doubt. But the church has faced pandemics and difficult seasons before, and every time the light of the love of Jesus Christ has shined brightly in the darkness. Hold fast to your hope, stand firm on the foundation of Jesus Christ and don’t be afraid.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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NEPC’s Response to COVID-19

March 18, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are in unprecedented times, being forced into new patterns of being that feel unnatural and strange, but are ever so necessary in order to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of this pandemic.  The rhythm and flow of our “normal” lives has been completely disrupted, and we’re just beginning to experience what this is going to be like.  It’s hard, it’s scary, and it’s frightening. What are we to do? Well, there are a few answers to that, which I’d like to share with you today.

What am I to do?

Be wise and prudent, but not fearful.  We can take the novel coronavirus seriously and apply appropriate social distancing and good hygiene without falling into fear.  I encourage you to follow the guidelines issued by the CDC and the federal and state governments.  Wash your hands often, don’t touch your face, stay 6’ away from others, and avoid large group gatherings.  But even with those efforts you might contract the virus.  Whether you do or not, you are always in Jesus’ hands.  He is present with us in our isolation, our quarantines and even more in our illnesses.  He is already and will continue to watch over each one of us.  We need not fear for our present or future, because Jesus is already there.

What is our church to do?

Both Scripture (Romans 13:1) and our confession (Westminster 23.4) command us to submit to civil authorities, and while (at the time of the writing of this letter) no law has been issued barring us from gathering for worship, we do believe that it is our civic responsibility to comply, as best as possible, with their recommendations to slow the spread of this virus.  To that end, we have cancelled all ministries and missions outside of worship.  This includes Sunday school, Bible studies, women’s circles, and youth group.  We are also moving the focus of our worship service to online streaming.  As long as you have an internet-connected device (cell phone, TV, computer, iPad, etc), you can join us for worship.  Simply go to www.facebook.com/npcmh at 11am on Sunday morning, and you’ll see the livestream there (you do not need a Facebook account to see the service).  We will publish the bulletin online so you can follow along.  We’ll send more information about how this works on different devices in a few days.  In addition, the Sanctuary will still be open if you would like to be present with us, but we encourage folks to sit 6’ apart.  But let me re-emphasize: If you are in the higher-risk categories for COVID-19, please do not put yourself at risk by going out.  Also, if you have been reading for B90, by all means keep it up!  While our discussion groups won’t be meeting, we’ll email you online videos and tools.

The Work of the Church goes on

In the midst of this, we are still hard at work serving you and our community. Our programs might be temporarily cancelled, but the work of the church is more than a program or ministry.  Please continue giving.  Our community needs the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ now more than ever.  Send your tithes and offerings in weekly.  If you find yourself quarantined and unable to go to the store or need help, please let us know.  Look for ways to to love your neighbor, old or young.  Invite a neighbor to join your family for worship in your living room (but practice appropriate social distancing).  Call one another and check in to see how folks are doing.  And when you hear of a need or concern, please let us know.  In the midst of this terrible situation, we have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus for each other and our neighbors in ways we’d never dreamed.

The Church has faced pandemics like this time and again throughout history.  While we don’t know how long this will last, we know that it too shall pass and look forward to the time when we can worship and be together in person.  Until then, be wise and prudent.  Practice good hygiene, appropriate social distancing, and the guidance of our governing authorities.  Help where you are able.  And above and beyond all else, pray.  For we are all in God’s hands, and we should earnestly pray for his mercy to bring an end to this pestilence both here and abroad.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. David Garrison


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Dander, Discipline, and Decisions

Paul faced many of the same challenges we face today and he reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 “We are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil spirits…” In the First Battle of Manassas some of Thomas Jackson’s troops broke ranks and charged. At first they made some gains against the enemy but soon where overtaken and overcome. When asked about it later Jackson’s reply was “It’s good to have your dander up, but it is discipline that wins the day.” The words dander and discipline are very effective in our spiritual warfare against the Devil.

Taking the Bait

Social media is rife with bait. The Devil dangles it and we bite down…hard. As  Christians, we are called to evaluate what we post  and how we respond to the comments of others. Several questions will help us do this?  Do these remarks glorify God? Does this unite of divide? Are we exercising the right of free speech to voice an opinion, win an argument, impress others with clever banter or are we trying to advance the kingdom of God? Proverbs 4:22 tells us that God’s words to us bring life and healing.

Jesus never used the tactics of embarrassment, guilt or shame. To the tax collector, Matthew, Jesus extended the hand of fellowship, dinning with Matthew and his friends. (Matt 9:9-13) To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus extended mercy. “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11) To the woman at the well, Jesus offered refreshment – “I will give you living water.”(John 4:7-28)

How Many Times?

How many times will we take the bait? How many times will we allow ourselves to be offended or to offend before we realize that once again we have allowed the Devil to influence our thought and emotions? How many times will we travel down the path of destroyed relationships before wising up to the Devil’s tactics? Thomas Jackson’s advice serves well here. It is good to get your dander up, to become feisty, have little spunk when determining in our hearts that we will no longer be pawns in the Devil’s game of divide and conquer.

Choose Your Hard

Sometimes life gives us choices. It is not easy to exercise. Neither is it easy managing health issues that might have been avoided or delayed by exercising. Choose your hard. It’s not easy implementing a regular time for Bible Study and prayer into our daily routines, but neither is it easy living with anxiety, disappointment, and uncertainty. Choose your hard. Thomas Jackson was right – discipline wins the day. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “If your right hand causes you to offend, cut it off.” Should he be living today, he might have said, “If social media causes you to offend or be offended, cut if off.” It is hard to refrain from social media. It is hard to repair relationships damaged via social media or live with feelings hurt by comments made on-line. Choose your hard.

Discipline requires action. Ephesians 4:31-32 say-, ”Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:12-15 has a similar message. ”Since God chose you to be holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.” Proverbs 4:23-27 says, “Guard your hearts above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. Look straight ahead and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” Keep, guard, avoid, look, clothe, fix- action verbs galore. Discipline requires action.

Stay full

A basic principle that applies to many areas of life is simple-to avoid bad things, stay full of good things. Paul put it differently in Philippians 4:8,”Fix ( there’s that action word again) your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely ,and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Does reading social media leave you feeling full of good thoughts? Does it nourish your soul or create anger and anxiety? We have choices to make. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. Will we choose what is sometimes hard to gain what is ultimately for our good and his glory?
 
Author: Elder Maggie Brockman

 


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A Wonderful Valentine’s Dinner – 2/15/2020

On Saturday, February 15, the Fellowship Committee hosted a wonderful Valentine’s dinner for the congregation.  Complete with lasagna, spaghetti casseroles, Olive Garden salad and a strolling violinist, it was a wonderful evening for couples and families.  Thanks to all who helped pull it together!
 

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Gleaning for the World Service Project – 2/13/2020

On February 13th a crew of seven went to Gleaning for the World. Personal hygiene products were sorted and boxed. Fabric was cut and packaged for delivery to cottage industries in developing countries.A good time was had by all.
 

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Pastor’s Corner – February 2020

Almost every Christian would say that they believe in the Bible, but according to a recent Lifeway Research survey, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. I hear from many folks who have tried to read through the Bible, usually in a year, but haven’t been able to finish. To be honest, it can be a daunting task.
 
One of the other challenges with reading the entire Bible is that many of us only read the Bible in small snippets, a few verses here or there, usually in a Sunday school class or a sermon on Sunday morning. Don’t misunderstand me here, those are important and necessary ways to understand what the Bible is teaching and how to apply it to our lives. But the risk we run is not seeing how each of these isolated passages relate to the grand arc of redemptive history.
 

Binge Reading…

One of my favorite TV shows was LOST. The hardest part of the show, though, was keep track of all of the different threads and plots from week to week. A couple of years ago, my son and I sat down and binged the entire series in a few days. Doing so enabled us to keep track of the various threads much more easily. Sometimes we need to experience the big picture so we can appreciate the details even more. That’s what we’re going to do with the Bible – we’re going to “binge read” it.
 

…The Bible in 90 Days

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, the Session and I invite you to make a commitment to reading through the entire Bible in 90 days. By the time Pentecost rolls around, we’ll have read the whole Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. That might sound daunting, but it actually works out to just 12 pages a day. And, you won’t be going through this alone — this is a church-wide endeavor, and we’ll be making several tools available to help you succeed.
 

What Bible Should You Read?

You can read any Bible you like (even an app that reads the Bible to you!) — we’ll provide a reading schedule for those who would like it. However, we recommend purchasing the Bible in 90 Days Bible and participant’s guide (we’ll have these available for $20). You can also find them for your favorite e-reader (Kindle, iBooks, etc). The B90 Bible has a couple of advantages: first, it has the daily readings already broken down in the text, which makes it easier to follow along; second, it has minimal notes and whatnot, which can be very distracting when you’re trying to read on a schedule.
 

Sharing the Journey Together

In addition to the Bible, we’ll be asking everyone to sign up for a discussion group. We’ll have two times during the week — Sunday mornings during the Sunday school hour at 9:45am and Wednesday evening at 5:45pm. This is an essential part of successfully reading through the Bible in 90 days, as it provides accountability and an opportunity to learn and discuss what we’ve just read the previous week. In addition, each Sunday’s sermon throughout the 90 days will follow along with our reading. To help us focus on our readings, we will only be offering the one class during the Sunday school hour for youth and adults.
 

Who Can Participate?

Anyone who can read, frankly! Aside from that, we’re encouraging our late-elementary kids, youth and all adults to participate. Please feel free to invite folks from the community to join us on the journey as well, especially folks you know who might be interested in learning more about what the Bible says – this can be a fantastic evangelism tool.
 

Find Out More on Sunday, February 23

Come to Sunday school on February 23 at 9:45 where we’ll be providing more information about why we believe this is important for our church and how this will work. It’s going to be an exciting journey for all of us, and we look forward to traveling together on The Path of the Phoenix.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Reading the Bible as a Single Book – A February 2020 Table Talk Series

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with how long and diverse the Bible is? Do you struggle with seeing it as “one book” with a single message? Join us at Table Talk as we explore the unity of the Bible. We’ll be meeting at 5:45 p.m. on February 5, 12, and 19. This is a practical, hands-on series that will equip you to read through the Bible with greater understanding. You can expect to gain useful tools and resources that will make reading the Bible from cover to cover a more meaningful experience.
 
Join us Wednesdays, 5:45-6:45, beginning February 5.

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