Dear Members and Friends of First Church,
Greetings to you from Bonita Springs—where we, like you, are dealing with what is probably the most unusual summer of our lives. In our area the seasonal rains have come on schedule, the days are warm, and the roads are much less crowded than during winter. Yet things don’t feel normal in any respect. Most people wear face masks in stores, our restaurants are limited in dining space, many businesses have closed, and visiting people in hospitals is still very restricted. Those of our church and community who are living in retirement facilities are continuing to deal with an unprecedented lockdown. The defeat of coronavirus and the full return of our economy seem to be taking far longer than our best scenarios. Unlike other flu viruses, the new coronavirus has not been eliminated by the coming of summer.
God’s call to His people is to persevere, carry on, and trust Him in every situation. And His Spirit also helps us to adapt to our changing circumstances. Since the third week in March, the pastors and staff of First Church have been consumed with the process of adapting. Our Communications staff has developed proficiency with frequent email contacts, and we have increased our social media presence and activity. Pastors, parish nurses, deacons, and elders have regularly made phone contact with our members, both local and scattered around the country. We have been able to successfully livestream our worship services each Sunday since we re-opened live worship in early May. I hope that you have been able to connect with us and participate in our worship on a weekly basis.
Because each crisis brings opportunity, your pastors are also seizing this moment to develop more teaching and spiritual development content to share with you electronically over the months to come. Since we are not able to have as many live events, we are transitioning much of our teaching so it can be accessed and shared online. For the past four months we have been blessed to stay in communication with members and friends through The Shepherd’s Voice devotionals written by your pastors, the bi-weekly Pastor’s Chat videos, and the weekly First News emails with updates on the news of the church.
The generous giving of the congregation has meant so much to us in this time of uncertainty. In early April the Session made the decision that we would rigorously cut back on non-essential spending and tighten our financial belt, but they prioritized three things: (1) maintaining compensation for all our church staff, (2) fulfilling our full promise to financially support each of our missionaries, and (3) sustaining and preserving our church facilities. Then the elders began to pray hard, and you have answered their prayers by your continuing support.
In May, I put out the call to form the Save Our Home Fund. Its purpose is to provide grants (up to $1,000) to our local workforce in Southwest Florida who have lost their jobs recently and need assistance in paying their mortgage, rent, or utilities. Each case is carefully and professionally vetted by our local church coalition, Love INC. All checks are made out to landlords, mortgage servicers, or utility companies, and hand-delivered to recipients by one of our pastors. We have seen some wonderful opportunities to minister to people at their point of need. To date, our congregation has contributed over $170,000 to the fund.
Wherever you are spending your summer of the strange year 2020, my prayers for safety, health, and spiritual blessings go out to you. I would look forward to hearing from any of you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in Christ’s Service,
Pastor Doug Pratt