Dear fellow disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ,
“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
-- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Be Joyful Always.
I must confess there have been days over the last 10 weeks where I have found it hard to be joyful for even a few minutes let alone all the time. I suspect I am not alone in this. The last 2 ½ months have been difficult for all of us, I am sure. For some it has been the enforced isolation, for others the changes to work schedules and routines, for others having to set fear aside and continue working, for still others dealing with people who are ill and struggling with this disease. However, despite all the gloom and doom, there are many reasons to be joyful. I would like to take a few lines to tell you about what brings joy to my heart as your pastor:
The way you have supported our livestreamed Divine Service and Bible Class – When we went live on March 15, we were all nervous about how it would go. A week later when the church was empty and our livestream was our only connection to you, we wondered how many would receive our services in this new format. I am so thankful that you have continued faithful in your worship and for all the comments you share with us. We have rejoiced to see people join us from across Canada and around the world. Most weeks between 800 and 1000 computers view at least part of the service. As this will be our primary way of delivering services for the foreseeable future, please continue your faithful support!
Your care for each other – Since our programs went into recess, we have been making extra effort to call members, especially seniors and others who might not otherwise be able to view our services. In those calls we often hear how members are reaching out to each other. This is so wonderful. Please continue to show this love to each other. You are demonstrating what it means to be the body of Christ, with each part caring for the other parts.
Your continued financial support for the proclamation of the Gospel. While money is not our primary concern, I am deeply thankful for the continued support members are giving for the work we do. To the end of April, we are ahead of our budget projections in terms of income and expense. As of April 30, we have received offering receipts of $255,426 and a government wage subsidy of $3,996. Our expenses were $262,026, leaving a deficit of $2,604. We had been projecting a $6,371 deficit to the end of April. Thanks be to God for your ongoing sacrificial giving.
One of the things I committed to do during this pandemic is to be more focused my own devotional life and time in prayer. This has been a blessing to me amid the worry and unease. I do hope you are taking time regularly to be in the Word and to pray to our God who is always ready to hear what is on our hearts. As we move forward as a congregation, I am asking you to remember some particularly important things in your own prayers, that God might guide us along day by day.
Reopening for Worship Services – Based on what we are seeing in other provinces, churches have been allowed to reopen as part of either stage 3 or stage 4 of government plans. Ontario has not told us much yet about its plan, but the leadership of the congregation is beginning to envision what reopening may look like. Without doubt, it will be different from what we are used to. Numbers will be restricted; congregational singing may not be allowed, and we may be ordered to refrain from using the common cup at communion. In addition, there will be many health and safety protocols we will need to adjust to. Please join the leaders of the congregation in praying about this! Among the possible options are, adding services, to using the gym as well as the sanctuary to seat people, continuing to use the livestream services or some combination of all the above.
Vacation Bible School and Sunday School -- As schools will not reopen until the fall and the government has not yet allowed day-camps during the summer months, there will be no onsite VBS this summer. This is sad news, indeed, as VBS is one of the highlights of the year at Holy Cross. We will be seeking to partner with the Lutheran Church – Canada online VBS project and more details will be announced as we have them. Please pray for that joint outreach effort as well as for those who will be entrusted with guiding Sunday School in the fall. Here again we anticipate things will be quite different than before.
Call Process – Many have been asking when we will begin the process of calling a new Assistant Pastor. Here we again need to spend time in prayer. The formal process begins with a meeting of the Voters’ Assembly designated as a pre-call meeting. In order that all Voters can access the meeting it must be an in-person meeting. In past call situations our Voters’ meetings attract more than 100 people, so it could be a while until we can begin. We do have a Voters’ Assembly scheduled for September 29, but time will tell if we will be able to meet. Another matter for prayer! However, work will begin behind the scenes so that as soon as we can safely meet, we can move forward. Our Elders, together with the Ministry Review Committee, will meet and begin talking about the needs of the congregation at this time and the gifts and skills desired in our next Assistant Pastor.
Interim Arrangements – I am deeply thankful for all the emails I have received from people telling me that I am in their prayers, especially as I begin serving for a time without a fulltime Assistant Pastor. Just so you are aware, I am at the church Mondays and Wednesdays and at other times by appointment. Please do not hesitate to be in touch with me for any spiritual care matter. If I am not in the office when you call, Debbie knows how to find me!! I am deeply thankful Lenora has taken on some new responsibilities and even though we are in the early days of this new arrangement, things seem to be running smoothly.
Give Thanks in All Circumstances.
I am certain that when all is said and done, the events of the past couple months will make for some interesting memories. It has been a challenging time for us all. But God has been good and even though there are many things I wish were different I am deeply thankful for some tremendous blessings. These include:
Our tech crews who make sure we can livestream Bible Class and Service each Sunday morning. Without their dedicated work it would have been much more challenging to keep any sense of normal in our congregation. They have done wonderful work and the livestream is a blessing to many in the congregation and from various other places including Jamaica, Ukraine, San Diego, and Palestine.
Our congregational leaders – For the first 8 weeks of the crisis your congregational leaders have met weekly to discuss our situation and make decisions to guide our congregation as we adjust to the new reality. This group now meets every other week and I am deeply thankful for their counsel and wisdom. Please join me in thanking God for each of them!
Musicians – Our first online services were bare-bones, but now we have preludes, postludes, and anthems from folks willing to share their gifts and make time to record things in advance. It is not easy to sing or play for a camera as it records your every mistake. But folks have set that aside and it has added to our services in a wonderful way. Thanks, so very much! Also, several of the pastors who are members of the congregation have let me know they are able to assist as necessary and you will be seeing them leading liturgy and preaching from time to time.
Team Ministry – It was hard to have Pastor Syens’ pastoral ministry end in a time where we could not even shake his hand or properly thank both him and Anita for their service to Holy Cross. However, people found ways to say thanks. Just a few days ago I received the following words from Pastor Syens and Anita:
“Our trip across Canada was wonderful as there were very few cars on the roads. We stayed two nights in hotels (which are open) and two nights in our LCC Churches. One night in Thunder Bay as the Pastor and his family carried their guest room bed over to the church and made a special Sunday school classroom our guest room so we could socially distance and all be safe. The second church was in Canmore, Alberta where they already have a special guest suite in their small church. The Pastor let us know how to access the key and we were able to use the guest room without the need for anyone to be there. God provides in wonderful ways. Anita had prepared food for the trip in advance, so we did not need to stop anywhere for food. Washrooms were available at gas stations where we filled up. We had all sorts of weather on our trip starting with a foot of snow on our car and the roads when we woke up on Friday morning in Sudbury. Then it was clear sailing with some rain and then some fog in Canmore as we went to bed. In the morning, the weather was fantastic, and we decided to take the drive from Banff to Jasper and then from Jasper down to Vancouver.
Along the way we saw moose, deer, bear, fox, coyote, and the majestic Rocky Mountains in wonderful sunshine with a few clouds to add ambience. After 4 1/2 days of driving and some 4, 700 km we arrived to Anita's parents in South Surrey where we will be making our home for the next few months.
Our parents were very glad to see us but somewhat disappointed that we insisted on distancing and taking all the precautions needed to keep them safe. We are learning to live in this new normal. Anita has been busy painting rooms at her parent’s place, where we will be staying, as we await our household items to arrive this coming Thursday, May 21. We have been given some rooms to make our own as we will be staying with her parents for a while. We are safe and making all the changes in address and insurance and other administrative changes in the meantime.
We were so amazed and grateful for your care and concern and ongoing prayers and especially for the drive by on May 3. We guesstimate about 125 cars and probably over 300 people passed by our house as it took over 35 minutes to say goodbye. Our neighbours were impressed and what a witness of love they saw. My one neighbour across the street has been watching our services and on the Monday after the service went over to the other neighbours and had them sign a card with the words "Till we meet again" and told me that after listening to the sermon on May 3 on "Grace Gifts" that this was a way that he could say good bye..
Again, thank you all for your words of kindness, love and support and also for your concerns over our travels and for all your prayers. Till we meet again... with love, laughter, thanksgiving and joy from Jesus and me… Anita and me… pastor roland
So dear friends, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These are trying times, but also times of blessing. We are in the time of Pentecost, the season where we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the building of the church. The Spirit who came upon the Twelve still comes upon you and me today. As He guided the early church through its infancy and protected believers, so also He will guide and protect us. Just a couple verses after St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all things, he closes the letter with this benediction:
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
In Christ our Lord,
Pastor Nolan Astley