Dear members and friends of Ballantyne Presbyterian Church,
This is an update on our plans and what to expect when we resume meeting in-person for Sunday morning worship on May 31st, Lord willing. I apologize in advance for the length, but ask you to take the time to read it carefully.
If you recall, on May 11th we announced our intent to resume morning services only based on the expectation that Governor Cooper would amend his executive orders to allow us to meet and comply with the civil law. In answer to fervent prayer from many believers, that did happen. On May 20th, Gov. Cooper signed Executive Order 141, which states: “Worship, religious, and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt from all the requirements of this Executive Order and Executive Order Nos. 121 and 138, notwithstanding any other provision of this Executive Order or of Executive Order Nos. 121 and 138.”
That effectively means that it falls to the wisdom of the officers of BPC to determine how to balance two priorities: “to guard and promote the spiritual welfare of the congregation” (ARP FOG 6.4), which include the “imperative” (ARP DPW I.3) to gather for worship, and to “shepherd the members … especially the sick; praying with them; comforting the sorrowing, encouraging the weak, guiding the wayward and the careless, and, in general, discharging all other duties in Christian love.” (ARP FOG 6.8.1). This is a daunting task in regular times, but in these, we covet your prayers, patience, and grace. We will almost certainly have gaps in our plan and need to course correct. The plan below represents our best effort to balance these two priorities based on our limited knowledge of the virus. We lay these plans at God’s feet and ask that He work through our failings as he so often does.
First, we acknowledge that some in our family should not return to worship in person next Sunday and perhaps for many weeks or months. If you are sick, have been exposed to someone who is sick in the past two weeks, are especially vulnerable should you become sick, or are simply uncomfortable returning to worship in-person, please stay home with absolutely no feeling of guilt or shame. Citing Romans 14:4 and James 4:12, the Westminster Confession helpfully reminds us that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.”
Our diaconate is working hard to improve our live streaming capabilities. The Internet speed at the church has been upgraded and we have consulted with a video specialist from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Christ Covenant Church. New equipment will be setup this week and several of us will be trained on how to use it. Our plan is to offer the entire service live on a platform which (hopefully) has the best performance and is easy for as many of you to access as possible. The service will also be available immediately after worship concludes should you have any technical difficulty. If you don’t plan to attend but need any assistance accessing our online service from your home, please contact me at 704-604-0331. Many in our family with technical gifts would be glad to help.
Additionally, we hope to resume celebrating the Lord’s supper on the first Sunday of the month starting June 7th. However, both the Westminster Confession and our standards allow us to bring the sacrament to “those who are physically unable to attend public worship” (ARP DPW 8.c.9). If you expect to be away from in-person services for an extended time, we encourage you to reach out to us to arrange this.
For those who are able to join us in person, there will be many changes to the non-essential parts of our service while striving to be faithful to God’s commands on how He should be worshipped. Here’s some of what you can expect:
Cleaning – the entire church will be deep cleaned this week and cleaned during the week between each service. The best information we have says that the virus doesn’t live on surfaces for more than 72 hours, which is one of the reasons we are not resuming evening nor mid-week activities at this time.
Changes to physical space – many chairs will be removed so that the rows are at least six feet apart and families can take their seats while keeping some distance from other families. We plan to accommodate all who want to attend. If you haven’t responded to the survey which Christie sent last week, please do so now: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/V3WS5NM. That will help us plan accordingly.
Seating – the deacons are working out the details, but it is very likely that your family will be ushered to your seats. This may mean that you don’t get to sit in your customary spot. We may fill the church from front to back or back to front.
Please arrive early, but be prepared to wait patiently in line with your family. We may also use the other entrances to the building to get everyone in and out as quickly as possible. Again, we ask for your patience and grace as we figure the best approach out.
Masks – we will not require face coverings. This was a tough decision after a significant amount of discussion. Dr. Nance does not plan to wear a mask while he is preaching. You will see some of your brothers and sisters in Christ with and without masks. As a reminder, the civil authority “encourages” the wearing of face coverings “to protect other people more than the wearer.” (NC EO141 1.4) Again, we remind you of the vow we all took as members of our church “to seek the peace, purity, and prosperity of this congregation” and pray that Satan would not use this issue or any other to drive a wedge between us.
Offering – at this time, we do not plan to collect the offering by passing the plate. These will be available in the back of the sanctuary. Online or mail-in giving are still encouraged, but you can drop a check in the plate on Sunday morning if that is more convenient.
Communion – we are still working out the details, but when we celebrate communion on June 7th (Deo volente), it will look different. We will not use a common loaf and will not pass the plates. We may use some form of pre-packaged elements. Whatever we do, it will undoubtedly not be the preference of some. The Confession helpfully reminds us that “they still remain truly, and only, bread and wine” — no matter how they are packaged – “for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death ….” (WCF XXIX.1 & 5)
Singing – we do plan to sing hymns as a congregation as a part of our corporate worship. The words and music will be printed in the bulletin so we will not need to use the hymnals. The choir is not planning to sing until September, but small vocal and instrumental ensembles will assist us in worship from time to time. We have read a few stories of virus outbreaks which could have been the result of choir rehearsals, but at this time, we do not have any specific guidance from medical nor civil authorities that singing requires precautions over and above those for other social interactions.
Children – we are blessed with many children at BPC. Their sweet fellowship as they laugh in the halls and run around on the lawn is one of the things I miss most. We realize this will be a challenge (please pray for parents of small children), but please be prepared to keep your kids with you while you are at the church. Football on the lawn and climbing the trees will have to wait. We will not offer a nursery for now, but we will make the four rooms in the back available for parents who feel the need to remove a child from the service. We will have the audio available via the speakers in the ceiling.
As stated above, we are working through all of these details and many more, so we dearly covet your prayers for wisdom, your patience with fallible men, and the grace you have always shown us. If you have any questions, please ask your shepherding elder or any officer of the church. I look forward to seeing many of you on the 31st and long for the day when we can all be together in person. As Dr. Nance often reminds us, we should claim David’s promise from Psalm 27:13: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”
Kenneth Jackson (on behalf of the officers of BPC)