Paul Martin pastors Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. We wanted to share with you the letter he wrote to his congregation on behalf of his church’s elders. In it, he explains why the elders of his church have decided not to meet this Sunday. — WG
Your elders have spent a lot of time this week reading, praying and discussing whether or not we ought to continue our Sunday meetings. Here is a summary of our thinking.
1. We believe we ought to do all we can do to meet together.
Hebrews 10:24–25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
That said, a temporary suspension of services is not new to those of us who live in Canada. We have cancelled services many times over the years for things like inclement weather.
2. We also believe in prudence.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.
So, we want to listen carefully to medical experts, specialists and other church leaders. We are not experts in the spread of a virus, but we have sought to read and listen to all the reliable sources available to us.
A couple of points about COVID-19 seem to us to be important considerations.
- A person can carry the virus and be actively spreading it through droplets (sneezes, coughs, unwashed hands, etc) even when they show no symptoms of being sick.
- Studies of the Chinese incident rate have shown that on some days when hundreds of cases were being reported, there were actually thousands of people infected. The approach of the authorities to limit almost all contact is likely the key factor in what has led to a containment.
- The Government of Canada has not forbidden gatherings, but strongly warns against any gathering of 250 or more persons. We currently exceed that number on a Sunday morning.
Finally, we are trying to be very mindful of the command to love our neighbour. For example, a religious sect in South Korea ignored government recommendations against meeting and became one of the worst sources of the spread of the COVID-19 in that country. We do not believe they were acting in love.
No Services at TCS on Sunday, March 15
For all of these reasons and more, we have decided to treat this coming Sunday, March 15, like a “snow day.” Services are cancelled. The building will not be opened. Please stay home.
We will monitor the situation carefully over the weekend and adjust as necessary in the coming week(s).
We also plan to abide by the recommendations of Heath Canada officials. In large measure, that will direct our future response.
As Pastor Francis Grimke said after the Spanish Flu epidemic in Washington D.C. in 1918,
“There has been considerable grumbling, I know, on the part of some, particularly in regard to the closing of the churches. It seems to me, however, in a matter like this it is always wise to submit to such restrictions for the time being. If, as a matter of fact, it was dangerous to meet in theatres and in the schools, it certainly was no less dangerous to meet in churches. The fact that the churches were places of religious gathering, and the others not, would not affect in the least the health question involved. If avoiding crowds lessens the danger of being infected, it was wise to take the precaution and not needlessly run in danger, and expect God to protect us.”
Video Service Available on Sunday, March 15
Thankfully, we have an advantage over those saints who lived through the Spanish Flu. The internet! So, we are working to provide a video of a corporate worship service that will be released on Sunday morning around 10AM. This will include a sermon from Job on comfort. How timely! Our hope is that you will gather with your family and worship God with us at that time. You will be able to find that video here, God willing.
Your elders will meet again on Tuesday and have an update for you some time that day as far as where we go from here.
Prayer and Care
Israel knew many times of suffering as a nation. Although God deals differently with Canada than he dealt with His covenant people, we can learn from their experiences. Let’s use the void left by cancelled sporting events, worship services, and even work as a time to seek the face of God. Pray for your country. Pray for all the healthcare workers (many in our own church) that will likely be exposed to the virus and stand in higher risk. Pray for God to show us mercy and to spare lives. Pray for one another.
If you become ill, or suffer income loss, or experience other needs during this time, please let us know. The elders and deacons want to be sure you are properly cared for and we are eager to help.
Thankfully, we have nothing to fear. In our family devotions this morning we read Revelation 14. We were both warned and comforted. Warned that there is a fierce judgment ahead for all who do not fear God and give Him glory. But comforted that even those who are killed for their faith in Jesus will stand before the Lord singing a new song, forever blessed. No wonder then, that John writes,
Revelation 14:12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Let’s live through these uncertain days both wisely and winsomely. Using caution, but being bold for Jesus, as those who know for certain that they are immortal until the day God calls them home.
With much love for you all,
(on behalf of the elders)
TGCC made minor modifications, but the letter remains essentially the same.