An article from Pastor Paul
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us.’” (1Samuel 7:12)
When God delivered the people of Israel from their enemies the Philistines, the Prophet Samuel set up a “Stone of Remembrance” as a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness. He called the stone “Ebenezer, saying ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.” This stone was to serve as a perpetual reminder of all that God did in their lives, and that He did not bring them this far only to leave them. With that in mind my hope in writing this article is that it would serve as a “Stone of Remembrance,” a reminder of how faithful God has been to our church this past year during the pandemic.
What a difference a year makes. You may remember that a year ago at this time after 3 months of being locked down we were able to re-open our doors for in-person worship services. But it was a “New Normal.” Gone were the days of full capacity, sitting anywhere you would like, and sticking around to fellowship. Our “New Normal” now included reserving your seat ahead of time online, reduced capacity by 50%, social distancing and wearing those dreadful masks while attempting to sing praises.
Twelve months later, I am happy to announce that “Normal” is back! We have now reached the stage where masks are optional, and social distancing is now a distant memory. Starting on Sunday May 30, 2021, we will return to our full capacity two service format we enjoyed before the pandemic. Our NEW again service times will be 8:30am and 10:30am. We plan on re-launching our FULL children’s ministry during second service starting on August 1 (this gives us time to recruit and train new teachers). Rest assured, although we are returning to “normal,” that doesn’t mean we’re throwing caution to the wind. We will continue to clean and disinfect before and after all of our services. Likewise, for your safety we have a state-of-the-art air purification system in place that kills bacteria, mold and virus’ including the Coronavirus. So, if you choose to worship without your mask, you can breathe easy knowing that your safety is our highest priority. This has been a very trying year and a half for all us, but God has been faithful.
As far as our church is concerned God’s faithfulness was being demonstrated to us even before the pandemic. By God’s grace we began 2020 by completely paying our building off and being debt free! Little did we know, the bottom was about to drop. Suddenly, in February we were starting to hear reports of a virus entering the United States from China called the Coronavirus. Before we knew it, we were in the midst of a world-wide health pandemic. The combination of “Shelter-In-Place” orders and public gatherings being limited to 10 people or less, put an enormous stress on the church nation-wide. To quote the Washington Post, “The COVID-19 pandemic… hit the church like a ‘wrecking ball.’”
Yet at a time when many churches were closing their doors permanently, a time when giving to churches was drastically down, God proved Himself faithful. Through 2020 our tithing remained virtually the same as the year before. We continued our missions’ outreaches to Hope Central Watts in Los Angeles and Save The Aids Generation in Uganda Africa. Likewise, we were able to increase our church staff. A couple of years ago a Nation-wide survey was conducted regarding hardship and trials. 87% of the people surveyed said that a painful event or a time of crisis actually made them stronger in the end. I think the same can be said of our church. This difficult year with all its challenges has made our church healthier, if not stronger. The pandemic that forced churches to go online, forced us to step up our game and improve our online experience. We addressed internet streaming issues. Likewise, the pandemic forced us to get better at communicating with you. In addition to communicating through social media platforms we started using FlockNote to stay connected and send out a weekly E-Bulletin. We also introduced sermon based home Bible study groups.
Just as the people of Israel in Samuel’s day were able to look at that Ebenezer stone and remember how the Lord helped them. I believe we will be able to look back at 2020 and 2021 as a “Stone of Remembrance” perpetually reminding us how far God has brought us.