Dear Members and Friends of First Church,

Decision-making is hard. The less we know and the higher the stakes, the more difficult and stressful the decision becomes.

Governments, organizations, churches, and nearly every individual and family across America, even the world, have been confronted in the past six months with difficult decisions. We don’t have all the information we would like, we can’t foresee the future, and we receive conflicting advice. It is hard to make the right decisions. In hindsight we will be able to see what choices were wise, which were foolish, and which were unnecessary. But that doesn’t help us in the present.

Many of you and your families are making difficult decisions about work, schooling for children, and finances. Some of you are currently wrestling with the decision about when (or even whether) to return to Southwest Florida from a summertime spent elsewhere. Some of you are trying to make important decisions about your living arrangements.

First Church has had to make many important decisions since the lock-down began in March. Our first decisions had to do with augmenting our online communications with our congregation. We began immediately to record and broadcast weekly worship services involving the entire pastoral staff. We published pastoral devotionals and recorded “Pastor’s Chats” to keep everyone informed and connected. We began to develop our Life Academy courses.

The most critical decision we faced was when to resume in-person worship services. We prayerfully made the choice to restart May 3—the earliest possible date after the Florida governor lifted his Safer-At-Home Order. As one of the first churches in Florida to do this, our decision was motivated by a concern both for the physical health and safety of our congregation and for your spiritual health. We determined that we could safely provide live church experiences (alongside the livestream worship) for two reasons: (1) our large sanctuary has a seating capacity of 1,300, so social distancing for several hundred worshipers was not a problem; and (2) the majority of our congregation was not in Florida at the time. So even if our weekly attendance equaled that of 2019, we could still distance safely.

Many other churches in our area have struggled with the decision to resume live worship. And some have still not felt comfortable doing so. And in many areas of the country severe government restrictions are still in place, limiting congregations from gathering in person or requiring worship to be held outdoors (with all the uncertainties of weather). I am personally grateful that we have been able to resume worship, even though a small fraction (averaging 200-300) attends. It is wonderful to see how many are watching and worshiping with us online (averaging over 1,000 per week). We are so grateful that, as far as we know, no one has gotten sick from attending worship at First Church. The virus numbers have dropped dramatically in Florida since July.

I wish to thank the Session for their foresight in granting the pastoral staff the authority to make the hard but necessary decisions that have faced us this year in a timely and confident manner. There are still important decisions ahead of us. Church leaders are now busy preparing for our winter season not knowing exactly what it will look like. Will medical treatments and vaccines allow us to effectively put the virus epidemic behind us, or will 2021 be as impacted as 2020 has been? Only God knows. But we are doing our best to seek His wisdom every day and to make the best decisions for you and others in our congregation.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Doug Pratt