June 4, 2020
After 12 weeks of services via webcast, approximately 30 of our congregations met in person this past Sabbath, May 30, for the first time since March 7. So far, all the reports have been very positive.
Here is a note from Jon Pinelli, our pastor in the Northwest (Eugene and Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington):
“I just wanted to give you a brief update from the Pacific Northwest. We reopened Sabbath services yesterday in both Eugene and Portland. Everyone but one person attended services yesterday morning in Eugene, which was very encouraging. As a pastor, it was encouraging and exciting to give a sermon and actually hear people laugh at your jokes as you speak! The members, to a person, were deeply excited to be back in person for services.
After 12 weeks, we concluded our office webcasts on Pentecost with an estimated 10,000 viewers. Many have written expressing appreciation for the office webcasts and how they connected the Church around the world. Here is one message from a member in Mexico:
“The webcast from the headquarters provided a strong feeling of being a part of a worldwide work and belong[ing] to a unique spiritual family, which is tied by the Holy Spirit and has the same goal: the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Again, I thank you for your contributions, time and efforts through serving the Church of God. I will miss listening to you along with the rest of the leaders of the Church, but I remain confident that I will [be] listening to you again (either in English or Spanish).
Beginning with the Sabbath of June 6, all U.S. congregations will be either meeting in person or continuing with local webcasts for a few more weeks. Our goal is that, over the course of the summer, all our congregations will begin meeting in person. The congregation here in Dallas will not be able to meet until June 20. For the next two Sabbaths, the local pastor, Andy Burnett, will be webcasting from the office. So, in reality, there will be a webcast from the office, but it will involve the local pastor and local members instead of the office staff.
I have asked myself several times during this trial, “What have I learned?” As you know, even though we are returning to services, the threat of COVID-19 is not over, and there are still many restrictions in place. The Dallas area has been hit especially hard. As a body of people, we must continue to do our best to be safe, while still asking the question, “What have I learned?”
As I mentioned in my sermon on the holy day, one great lesson for me is that of priorities. What are my priorities, and how do those priorities square with the Bible? And what about the Church? I was taken by surprise back in March when we were forced to cancel services. Then, for that to continue for three months was a real shock! I realized early on how much I missed the fellowship and interaction with brethren. I had taken these opportunities for granted, never dreaming they could be taken away—and so quickly! After almost 60 years of attending Sabbath services every week, for 12 consecutive weeks I had that opportunity denied.
How important is it for us to be together? If we define the Church based on a sermon or biblical message, we must acknowledge that these can be provided without our being together in person. If the purpose of the Church is simply to provide us with a spiritual message, we have proven that can be accomplished over the Internet with one webcast or a series of local webcasts.
If we look at the history of the Church over the past 1,989 years, from its beginning in A.D. 31, we find a sobering record of what people have endured just to be together. Thousands were martyred during the first century, and hundreds of thousands have been martyred in the years since then. When the Church was founded on the Day of Pentecost, it became clear what Christ meant in Matthew 16:18, when He said, “I will build My church.” Paul identifies Christ as the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23). John tells us that our fellowship is with the Father, the Son and each other (1 John 1:3). We are also told that through the Holy Spirit, we are one body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
These scriptures and many more emphasize our need to interact with each other on the Sabbath and holy days. One of Satan’s greatest tools is division, which can be fed through separation. It doesn’t have to, but it can. With God’s blessings, I believe, in many ways, that the Church is now more united and stronger than ever. Maybe that is because we had to be. We had no choice but to cancel services on March 14. It is encouraging to me how many rose to the occasion when a challenge was put before us. I believe all of you have done that—you have risen to the occasion by supporting your pastor, each other and the Church around the world as we made the best of a very difficult trial.
But now what? We must all analyze our own selves and check our priorities to make sure we are still deeply committed to accomplishing the mission set before us (Matthew 6:33). Rising to the occasion and performing well when we are challenged is one thing, but how will we react as things get back to normal?
As we go through what will be a challenging summer, it is ever more important that we ask these questions. Just this past week we witnessed rioting and demonstrations in most major U.S. cities—unrest that began over the killing of an unarmed black man by a police officer. To have city blocks burned and businesses vandalized, coming on the heels of a pandemic, is shocking to witness. The United States, along with much of the world, is in deep trouble, with division and hatred raging everywhere.
What will happen over the next few weeks? No one really knows, but there is an intense level of animosity and hatred in this country that I haven’t seen in many years. Where will it lead? Violence has a tendency to lead to more violence. Hatred will create more hatred, and division will cause more division. Our responsibility as Christians is to pray for those affected—for the family of the victim, George Floyd, and for the innocents being harmed and vandalized. But more than anything, we must be praying for the return of Jesus Christ for true justice and rectification of wrong!
To be a member of the Church of God during this time will be a challenge for all of us. As we put one trial behind us, we must use the lessons learned in order to better prepare for the ones to come. Over the past 12 weeks, we have seen the fulfillment of Christ’s promise in Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus Christ is still the head of the Church, and He is still building that Church. Let’s assist Him by personally building on the true foundation with right priorities during the months and years ahead. Even as things are still not quite back to normal from the pandemic, we must prepare ourselves for new challenges, which are always just ahead of us!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,