Ash Wednesday – Out of Dust

As is obvious by now, we are not having an Ash Wednesday service this year, nor are the Community Lenten Services happening.  The pandemic continues to take its toll.  I know that for many of us, the Ash Wednesday service and the Community Lenten Services play a significant role in helping us mark the season of Lent.  Not having those services makes it hard to feel like it’s really Lent.  It would be like having Advent without Christmas music or decorations.  It’s just not the same.
 
I spent a large chunk of today working on a video about Ash Wednesday, something to tie together the beginning of Lent, the significance of Ash Wednesday, and the struggles we all face dealing with a pandemic that is working through its 11th month.  To be honest, it was a frustrating process that just never quite came together the way I was hoping it would.  So, I took a break and went for a walk.  Sometimes, you just need to clear your head for a bit.
 
While I was walking, one of my favorite songs started playing.  The song is Beautiful Things by Gungor.  As I let the song wash over me, I realized that this song pretty much covers everything I wanted to say, much better than I could have said it.  So, I’m including the video here, for your encouragement, enjoyment and edification.  May it help focus and center you for this season of Lent.
 


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August 2020 Pastor’s Corner – Essential?

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14–17)
 

Essential?

As state and local governments imposed increasingly strict rules regarding public gatherings in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic this past spring, churches found themselves facing a difficult position. “Essential” businesses were somewhat exempt from the closures, but most states did not classify churches as “essential.” While most churches and pastors submitted to the guidance (and thanks to the blessings of modern technology were able to continue worshipping online or in outdoor settings), the restrictions chafed, particularly the determination that churches were not “essential.” To be honest, for many of us pastors, it chafed because the government was saying out loud what most of us have been feeling for a long time. It’s one thing to feel like you don’t matter… it’s entirely different when someone else says it.
 
As Virginia and many other states have begun reopening and churches, including ours, have resumed in-person worship, this question briefly moved to the background. But as the COVID-19 numbers continue to increase rapidly, many people think it’s just a matter of time before public gatherings are again restricted. Additionally, the Supreme Court recently ruled on a case in Nevada that imposed tighter regulations on churches than on casinos. In his minority dissent, Justice Gorsuch wrote, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion.” This has returned the question of whether churches are essential or not to the foreground.
 

The Essential Church?

What is it that makes a church “essential”? Frankly, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter what any government says. The Church is not subject to the government, but to Christ. The First Amendment doesn’t give the Church its authority or make it essential, it merely affirms and protects the authority given through Christ to the Church. As Edmund Clowney writes, “The great mark of the church is in the message it proclaims: the gospel of salvation from sin and eternal death through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (The Church, pg 103). The proclamation of this message comes through what we say and what we do. We proclaim the Gospel through our words by preaching and sharing our testimony and lives with others. We proclaim the Gospel through our actions by the administration of the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and acts of service and ministry in which we love our neighbors as ourselves and care for “the orphans and widows” (James 1:27). It is my belief that we, the church in general, have become “non-essential” because we have failed to love and serve our communities well in Jesus’ name. A question I often ask myself and the Session is this: “If Northminster (both the building and the congregation) were to disappear from the corner of Clearview Road and Route 29, would anyone notice?” If the answer to that question is “no” then we have made ourselves non-essential.
 
But there is another reason the Church is essential, one that likely won’t be discussed in many of these conversations. One of the roles of the church is to intercede on behalf of the world. In addition to the call to pray for governing authorities (1 Timothy 2:2), there’s the example of Abraham’s intercession for Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33). We are here to seek God’s healing and blessing for Caesar, our communities and the world. The opportunity we have through our corporate prayer on behalf of the communities and world around us is an enormous privilege and opportunity.
 
As we continue through this pandemic, may the question of whether Northminster is essential or not be answered, not by a government edict, but by the ongoing faithful proclamation of the Word through our words and even more through our acts of love and service to our community.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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What to Expect When Northminster Reopens

This coming Sunday, June 28, we are resuming in-person worship at Northminster. We’ve missed seeing you each and every Sunday and look forward to having you with us. As with most other places, things won’t entirely be normal, so here’s what you can expect when you join us this Sunday:
 

Social Distancing

  • Plan to practice appropriate social distancing. Try to limit hand shaking and hugs.
  • Every other pew will be closed to help facilitate social distancing.
  • Bulletins will be placed on the table outside the sanctuary. Please pick one up on your way in as we will not be handing them out.
  • Offering plates will be on a table just inside the sanctuary doors. Please place your offering in the plate on your way in or out of the sanctuary. We will not be passing them during the service.
 

Masks

  • Masks are encouraged, but not required.
  • Whether you wear a mask or not, we will not judge or criticize your decision.
 

Communion

  • Instead of passing the elements out, each person will come forward to pick up the elements.
  • An elder will dismiss each row at the appropriate time.
  • Please come down the center aisle, and return to your seat by way of the outside aisles, maintaining appropriate social distancing with the person(s) in front of you.
  • The bread and juice will be served in individual, disposable cups. Please pick up both elements and take them back to your seat. We will partake of them together as is our custom.
 

Sanitation

  • The church will be thoroughly cleaned before and after the service.
  • Most doors will be propped open to minimize contact with surfaces.
 
If you have symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, we encourage you to err on the side of caution and stay home. If you are anxious about returning to public spaces, please feel free to stay home. We will continue to broadcast the livestream on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/npcmh) for those who are not able to join us in person.
 
At this time, all other programs and ministries are still postponed. The Session will continue to monitor how things are going and make further decisions at their meeting in July. We appreciate your prayers and support for one another during these highly unusual times, and look forward to seeing you this Sunday, June 28!
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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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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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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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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Pastor’s Corner – December 2019

“Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!” — Psalm 90:13

The Christian calendar begins, not with January 1st, but instead with the first Sunday in Advent.  It’s an interesting decision that the early church fathers made in doing this.  Interesting  because the Christian year begins not with resolutions and activity, but with waiting.  Advent is an intentional season of preparation and pause, a time to reflect and prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Lord’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.  There is great wisdom in this decision, particularly for our current times.  We live in a culture of hurry and rush and activity, the last thing we want or like to do is wait for anything.

By starting the year with a season of waiting, we are invited to settle into a different rhythm of life and living, a rhythm that is ultimately about trust.  Trusting in the God who created Time, trusting in the One who has set His plans in motion and will see them through, trusting that there is One who knows and understands more than we do, trusting that He is good and that He is love.

So the Christian calendar begins with a reminder that there is a holiness and a righteousness in waiting.  But there is a hard-ness and challenge in waiting as well.  The Psalmists cry out, with great regularity, “How long, O Lord?”  Even as they wait on the Lord, they express their frustration, their discontent.  And in that we are shown that there is such a thing as a holy discontent.

But as much as we are waiting to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the season of Advent points to an even more significant event, an event most of us usually forget is yet to and actually is going to happen.  The Hebrews waited over 500 years for the Messiah to come the first time.  We’ve been waiting nearly 2,000 years for him to return.  May our lives be lived with the faith that comes from knowing our Savior’s return is imminent, with the hope that comes from knowing that what is broken will soon be made right, and with the love for those who don’t yet know that their Messiah has already come once and will come again.

“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” — Revelation 22:20

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Parenting in the Pew – A New Sunday school class beginning 10/6

One of the questions we’re asked on a regular basis is, “How do I teach my children how to worship?  How do we help them understand what the different parts of the worship service mean and why they matter?”  These are great questions, so we’re offering this new Sunday School class to help find some answers together.  
 
Karey Garrison will be leading a study of the book, Parenting in the Pew, by Robbie Castleman.  From the back cover:

“Daddy, I’d like you to meet my children.” That’s Robbie Castleman’s attitude about taking her children to church. She believes that Sunday morning isn’t a success if she has only managed to keep the kids quiet. And she knows there’s more to church for kids than trying out their new coloring books. Children are at church for the same reason as their parents: for the privilege of worshiping God. Worship, Castleman writes, is “the most important thing you can ever train your child to do.” So with infectious passion, nitty-gritty advice and a touch of humor, she shows you how to help your children (from toddlers to teenagers) enter into worship. In this significantly revised and updated edition Castleman includes a new preface and two new appendices that provide new perspectives on children’s sermons and intergenerational community. She also provides a study guide for personal reflection or group discussion. More than ever, Parenting in the Pew is essential reading for parents and worship leaders who want to help children make joyful noises unto the Lord.

 
This class is open to all parents, grandparents and great-grandparents – anyone who would like to help their children, grandchildren or even nieces and nephews learn how to love and worship God will all of their heart, mind, soul and strength.
 
Books cost $10 each.  Please click here to RSVP if you plan to attend or would like a book so we order the proper amount.
 

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