November 20, 2020
Dear Members & Friends of St. John's,
This was not the letter Congregational Council President Kim Hendricks and I hoped we would be sending with the start of the new church year this December. We had hoped that all our local efforts within Sacramento County, and more broadly as a State and a nation, would have reduced the gathering risks presented by COVID-19. Unfortunately, as winter nears, we have moved backwards (from red to the most restrictive purple tier) instead of moving forward towards fewer restrictions, so that gathering for in-sanctuary worship is currently, and for the foreseeable future, not allowed. We are so sorry to advise you of this, especially as the new church year prepares in December for the celebration of Christmas.
As we have worked with governmental regulation of in-person gathering, acknowledging the duty and effort of our government to keep us and all residents safe, we have realized that it is best for us to set our own expectations with regards to a return to sanctuary worship, so as not to be waiting week to week to see if we can open. Instead, we have looked at the current restrictions and projections and set our own timeline resuming indoor worship. This allows us to focus on the forms of worship that have to date seen us through this pandemic - our online and outdoor worship offerings which we continue to hone through our prayerful hope of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, and with the assistance of a special taskforce appointed by the Council to address when and how we open our campus back up to indoor worship and other indoor activities, we need to advise you that our sanctuary will not be open for worship through the end of the year, including Christmas. However, please know that St. John's pastors and worship and music staff, as well as our many musicians and instrumentalists and other worship leaders, are working hard to plan meaningful Advent and Christmas worship experiences online and outdoors. These will include online worship experiences that you can use at the center of your family and COVID-pod Christmas gatherings, Zoom watch parties for those who need to gather with others in our community, recorded worship for those requiring flexibility; as well as creative drive-in Christmas Eve worship opportunities that you and your family will remember for the rest of your lives. We also continue to imagine additional opportunities for individuals and families to worship, gather, and experience community in new ways within the bounds of health and safety.
It appears that Advent truly will be a season of waiting this December. All signs are that this prayerful waiting for the COVID-19 virus to get under some semblance of control will continue into the winter of the New Year. And if you look closely, light is beginning to break through - COVID-19 vaccine development suggests that we will return to in-person sanctuary worship in 2021 - that day is coming!! In the meantime, we wait, knowing that the scripture assures us that the light of Christ always breaks through the darkness. Yes, we will miss gathering together in person for worship this Advent and Christmas, but we will gather as we are able, online and outdoors, to celebrate the truth of this season - as the second verse of the great Christmas hymn Good Christian Friends Rejoice ends: "Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!"
Pastor Frank Espegren & Congregational Council President Kim Hendricks