My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Bishop Sloan has issued a directive that all congregations in the Diocese of Alabama cease public gatherings March 15 through March 29. As such, we will not be gathering at the Advent for corporate worship, Sunday School, Lenten Preaching, Lenten Lunches, or other meetings that might take place during the week. (This pertains only to those things on our campus.)
To be clear, this means that we will not be holding public services on March 15, 22, or 29. Our Lenten preaching and lunches will resume, God-willing on Monday, March 30.
This comes as a great disappointment as gathering together is essential to the nature of God’s church. I would commend Bishop Sloan’s letter to you to help better understand why he is making this decision. I anticipated this decision and, in some way, glad that he was the one to pull the trigger.
Though we will see change, ministry has not ended. I would encourage small groups and Bible studies to continue to meet. It is vital that we continue to meet together around God’s word, albeit in smaller groups. If, however, you are ill or are caring for someone who is ill, you should not join in these activities. I would encourage these folks to join in via Skype or by speaker phone rather than just drop out altogether. So please do continue to encourage one another on in the ministry of God’s word.
Along those lines, Elizabeth Wilson and Cameron Cole put together a resource for families to continue speaking the gospel to one another while we cannot gather downtown. Click here for the March 15 lesson and read Cameron’s thoughts on how to talk with children about coronavirus.
On Sunday mornings, we will be livestreaming a service of Morning Prayer with a sermon at 9:00 a.m. followed by the Dean’s Class. You can access this at AdventBirmingham.org/Live and find a worship bulletin by clicking here.
We still hope to continue our Lenten preaching, even without a congregation. We will do this by streaming our 12:05 p.m. service on our website.
More than anything, now is a time to turn to the Lord in prayer. I hope you will join me in setting an alarm on your phone for 12:00 p.m. each day. When it goes off, stop and pray. Click here for a downloadable prayer resource we can all use during this season.
Finally, this is not the first time the church has found itself in this kind of situation. I have spent the past several days reading about how John Calvin and Theodore de Bèze ministered to their flock in Geneva during the plague of the 16thCentury.
If someone was sick in Geneva, bedridden for three days, they were to call for their pastor to visit them. And during that visit, Calvin exhorted the pastors to remind those under their care of three things:
One, death does not have power over the Christian. Death is not the final word for those who trust in Christ and therefore should not be feared. Even at the grave our song is Alleluia.
Two, remember the gospel. When you’re ill and contemplating your own mortality, repent and flee to Jesus. He is merciful and stands ready to receive you.
Three, God loves, cares, and protects his people. He leaves the 99 for you, he knows the number of hairs on your head, and even as you suffer, God is there.
At the outbreak of the plague, a pastor was designated to minister solely to those who had contracted this awful disease. While Pierre Blanchet ministered faithfully to those who suffered under the plague, he too contracted it and died.
Understandably, a replacement was not forthcoming, so they decided to casts lots. But just before, a young pastor name Matthieu Genneston stepped forward and took up where Blanchet left off. Genneston too would die of the plague.
Eventually, a rotation system was developed and the ministry continued until, in God’s mercy, the people of Geneva were spared this awful pestilence.
Like Calvin and de Bèze so long ago, our charge is the same. Ministry at the Advent and to the Advent will not stop, but it will look different over the next few weeks. And, if need be, (speaking only for myself), suffer the consequences of seeing the gospel ministered. Now is not the time to close it all down, now is the time to preach the message of hope in Jesus Christ in a world that find itself mired in anxiety and confusion.
And now, may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.