(Below is a pastoral letter from Rev. Matthew Camlin about NWPC resuming in-person worship Sept. 6 at Westminster College’s Anderson Amphitheater. Online worship will continuing to be available.)
Dear Siblings in Christ,
As the summer months draw to a close and we begin to look toward the autumn, I’m reminded that this has always been my favorite time of the year. Perhaps because I spent so much of my life as a student—or pastoring churches that “slowed down” in the summer only to “rally” in September—the beginning of the school year always hits me with “New Year’s Eve”-type energy.
This year, I think you’ll agree, feels rather different. Our beloved Westminster College student siblings have returned to campus; but, it’s not all business as usual over there, and we have been unable to welcome them in the typical, celebratory ways we’ve done in the past. Sunday school will not be kicking off in the ordinary fashion. Fellowship potlucks are nowhere to be found on the church calendar. All of this is disheartening and wearying. It brings to mind Psalm 13:
“How long will you forget [us], Lord? Forever?
How long will you hide your face from [us]?
How long will [we] be left to [our] own wits,
agony filling [our] heart[s]? Daily?
How long will [COVID-19] keep defeating [us]? (Ps. 13:1-2).
But there is some good news—a near-horizon harbinger of hope! Beginning on Sunday, September 6, Westminster College has invited the New Wilmington Presbyterian Church to resume in-person worship at Anderson Amphitheater. If you are not familiar with this setting, it is the very large, open-air (but roofed) amphitheater adjacent to Lake Brittain on the college’s campus. All necessary arrangements have been made to assure that we will be able to continue our LiveStream service from that location, so if you continue to have reservations about gathering in person, please know that worshiping with us from home will continue to be an option. You will, however, need to download or print a bulletin from our church’s website, because we will probably not be able to provide the liturgy and song lyrics on your screen at home as we have in the past. Bulletins are typically available on our website either Fridays or Saturdays before Sunday morning worship. If you live at Shenango on the Green, we will make every effort to provide bulletins for you by delivering them to the building.
It is very important that everyone who decides to attend worship understand what they can expect. It is Westminster College policy that we must wear masks from the time we set foot on campus until the time we leave. The seating has been arranged for us to ensure social distance between individuals (near the front), for couples (near the middle), and for family groups (near the back). The chairs being provided are the metal folding chairs used for the mission conference. If you would rather bring your own lawn or camp chair in order to be more comfortable, you are welcome to do so. Hand sanitizer will be provided, as will printed bulletins.
As for worship itself, we hope to provide a measure of “familiarity,” despite the unfamiliar space. That said, we will be operating with fewer personnel in the chancel, in order to comply with campus guidelines. Obviously, physical contact (such as during the Passing of the Peace) will not be permitted. We’ll have a small praise team, but no choir. We may have song leaders who will sing the hymns, but we are asking the congregation not to join them in singing. Scientific studies have shown that congregational singing poses the greatest risk for transmitting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. If you feel strongly the need to participate, please be disciplined enough to limit yourself to humming along. Finally, while we will not celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on September 6, we do plan to celebrate it on October 4, which is World Communion Sunday. While worship is one function of a congregation, it is by no means its only function!
Between the pandemic putting a great deal of public life on pause in the spring, and the summer months permitting us to “lie fallow” as usual, we have allowed ourselves to be fairly limited in our activities as a congregation. Although the pandemic continues to pose a threat, our steering committees and boards will be coming out of hibernation in the coming weeks, seeking ways to be the church—seeking discipleship to Christ, reconciliation in Christ, divine encounter through Christ, and generosity with Christ—participating in God’s kingdom-building activity while also protecting our community’s health.
This is a challenging prospect, to be sure. But, there are neighbors to care for, issues to study, relationships to build and maintain and repair. God still calls us to these activities, even if we must rethink or retool our usual methods of faithfulness.
Thanks be to God: regardless of our faithfulness, God remains faithful. That’s why, while the opening verses of Psalm 13 are downcast and lamenting, it ends this way:
But [we] have trusted in your faithful love.
[Our] heart[s] will rejoice in your salvation.
Yes, [we] will sing to the Lord
because he has been good to [us] (Ps. 13:5-6).
I hope that you rejoice with me in the resolve of our Session both to protect the health and safety of our entire community, and to remain faithful to God’s call to action for the sake of the world. As this dark period in the life of our country and the world stretches on, let us bear the light of Christ’s love into our community, for he has been good to us.
Yours in Christ’s Service,
Matthew L. Camlin