My Dear Paradise Family…
I love the church. I’ve devoted most of my adult life to serving God through the church. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m relentless about faithfully gathering every weekend to worship, grow, at the intersection of Faith and Real Life. Even when we have two feet of snow…, I want to keep our doors open. In my time here, we have only cancelled services on one Sunday that I can remember. I believe in our mission. I believe that there is nothing more important than helping people discover and develop their relationship with Jesus. Nothing.
The only time I relent on this is when I genuinely believe that it’s required to protect our people. After all, a significant part of God’s calling on my life, as a pastor, is to be a shepherd. One of the vital responsibilities of a shepherd is to protect the sheep at all costs. To fail in this, I firmly believe, is to fail in fulfilling God’s calling on my life.
It’s in this spirit, as a shepherd, that I’m writing this email. After pursuing God’s wisdom, investing in understanding the issues presently facing us with the COVID-19 pandemic, counseling with our team leaders, listening to the advice of the best health experts and our State and National leaders’ recommendations for mitigating the impact of this very new virus, we have been led to make one of the hardest decisions of my ministry. We are suspending all services and events at Paradise for the time being. I care too deeply about each and every one of you to jeopardize you in any way. As well, the Great Commandment tells us to Love God and love our neighbors. So, I believe, to fulfill this command in this circumstance, we have to love our neighbors enough to do everything in our power to diminish the spread of this virus and protect them.
I know that some of you will applaud this decision while others of you will disagree with it. After all, there’s so much we don’t know yet. It’s possible it may not turn out to be all that devastating. (I’m praying for this outcome.) However, as the shepherd of the Paradise Church family, I am called to protect the sheep. And, right now, the best advice from those who are far more knowledgeable about medical science than I am, is that public gatherings of people are potentially dangerous and could increase the spread and devastation of this pandemic. This is especially true at Paradise because of the demographic of our church population. We have a high-risk group. While we’re grateful for this, it also creates a more significant potential of including those who unknowingly carry the virus.
It’s true that some people are being driven by unhealthy fear…. this is not the case for us. We wholeheartedly embrace the truth of 2 Timothy 1:7 “7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control..” However, we also wholeheartedly embrace God’s command for us to be shepherds of His people…to love and protect them.
So…let me share what this does and doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean less ministry. As a team, we are going to be working very hard to seek to increase our spiritual investment in you. While we won’t be gathering together in the same space, we are going to work hard at creating a great gathering together online. Beginning this Sunday we will be livestreaming our 10:00 Sanctuary Service and our 11:15 AM Table Contemporary Service. We are attempting to develop online services that are creative, unique, relevant, helpful, spiritually uplifting, and God-honoring for you. We want to encourage you to join us yourself… and with your families. You can find these on two platforms. One is our website, https://www.paradisechurch.org/ the other is our Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/ParadiseUcc/ For parents, we are also seeking to create ways to engage your kids too. We’re praying that God uses these online services and devotionals to impact you and that you’ll share them with others who also need the Hope of Jesus in this time of uncertainty. Pray for us.
It doesn’t mean forever. The key driver of this decision is all the uncertainties and unknowns at this present time. As we learn more, then we will be able to make more informed decisions. In fact, our prayer is that by not gathering now, it will help us to mitigate the impact of this virus and allow us to begin gathering together again even sooner.
However, it does mean that we will NOT be gathering together at the building on Sunday or during the week for any groups. These kinds of gatherings only help to increase the risk of spreading this virus. The experts have established varying recommendations of group size… from 100 to 50 to 10. But, again… this uncertainty leads us to err on the side of caution… at least until we know more. Just know… we’ll be working hard to create ways to continue investing in you spiritually during this time. As we seek to protect your physical health, we are even more passionately committed to protecting your spiritual health. In fact, this could be an amazing time of growth in our lives and church family… if we choose to trust God and remain committed. So, let’s do it together!
When the situation changes, we will resume services at the building. My hope is April, My great hope is Easter. The reality might be later.
Expecting God’s best,
Rev. Dr. David M. Anderson, Jr.