Hello Village Family!
Throughout the past eight months, we’ve worked hard to have open communication with you about our gathering plans and how we’re continuing to move forward in our unchanging mission during this crazy time we find ourselves in.
I want to update you on our progress, on how we’re responding to the current situation, and about our preliminary plans to add an in-person worship option to our online worship and Village Gatherings for Christmas Eve and in the new year.
Our leadership teams and staff have been carefully watching how this pandemic is progressing, not only in our world and country, but in our backyards.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: this is a really divided time. Somehow, COVID has become a really divisive issue. How schools respond is divisive. What families choose to do or not do is divisive. And I’m learning more and more that what our church does or doesn’t do is divisive.
I also know that many of us are drained. We’re tired. We’re disheartened. We’re discouraged. And it’s impacting how we feel, how we think, how we speak, how we relate to one another.
I want you to know that we are with you in the struggle. I know not everybody knows this, so I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m a real person too, our team is made up of real people, and we are with you in the struggle.
We’re doing everything we can to look at the data, to listen to our team of healthcare professionals who’ve objectively guided us in this, to listen to government officials at all levels, and to operate within the limitations that we have as a church that doesn’t have a building.
I’m not going to lie to you, in the midst of the divisiveness, it’s hard to not be discouraged right now. I want you to know that I’m praying for all of you who are leaders and frontline workers who are making decisions right now and who find yourselves in the midst of difficulty and controversy and criticism.
I want you to know that nobody wants us to meet in person more than me. Our team wants us to meet in person and to be back in person. We want things to be back to normal.
Under ordinary circumstances, the average person in our church attends in person worship on a Sunday morning about 1.6 times per month. What I hope comes out of this time is that none of us ever take for granted again the chance we have to gather each week to connect to God and to connect to each other.
Since March, our team has been working harder than ever to try to figure out how to be a church that can’t do church the way we’ve always done church. We’ve talked openly about the fact that we’re lucky to still have jobs, and I want you to know that we haven’t taken that fact for granted.
As an aside, I want to make sure you see what I see in our staff: our staff team is a dedicated, hard-working group of people who love Jesus and who want to help people of all ages and stages of life connect to him. They’ve adapted and adapted again and adapted when the adaptations needed adaptations, they’ve learned new skills, they’ve planned and pivoted and persevered to do everything they can to try to help you and your family continue to grow in faith and serve God and our community.
I owe them a debt of gratitude for the ways they continue to forge ahead.
WHY AREN’T WE MEETING IN PERSON YET?
Some of you have noted your frustration that we’re the only church in the Nolensville area that’s not meeting for in-person worship. I understand that frustration, I am frustrated too. To my knowledge, we’re also the only church in the Nolensville area who’s currently meeting at a school and is therefore at the discretion of the school system as to whether or not we’re even allowed to meet.
As a reminder of the events of the past several months, our lease at the middle school was suspended at the beginning of March. We’ve exhausted a variety of other options in the area and have continually been told “no” when we’ve inquired about additional meeting possibilities.
Just in the past couple weeks, Sunset Middle School informed us that they would allow us to begin meeting again inside the building. This permission comes with a long list of restrictions and requirements for health screenings and cleaning.
This permission also comes with the caveat that we could be there as long as they are not in quarantine as a school and as long as the district is still in session. As it turns out, Sunset is currently meeting remotely due to COVID cases, as well as half of all high schools and middle schools in Williamson County, including Nolensville High School and Mill Creek Middle School, and all Davidson County middle schools and high schools are still meeting online only.
I say all of that to say that even if we had attempted to return to the school last week, we already would have been at least temporarily suspended from meeting again.
An additional factor is that right now, metrics in Davidson, Williamson, and Rutherford counties are very quickly moving in a direction that tells us this is a long way from over with active case numbers reaching new highs each week. Earlier this week, Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced that as of this coming Monday, in response to rapidly increasing numbers in Nashville and hospitals that are reaching capacity, public and private gatherings in Nashville are restricted to no more than 8 people for the next two weeks.
Like I said, nobody wants these circumstances to change more than me. Nobody wants our church to be back together again on Sunday mornings at Sunset Middle School more than our team.
I set up a camera late every Thursday night in my living room because it’s the only time that there’s quiet in my house, and I preach to the back wall and wonder if anyone cares, if any of it matters, if anyone is listening. Trust me, when I said yes to be a pastor and to help start a new church, this is not exactly what I had in mind.
Yet here we are. This is the reality that we’re facing right now.
My greatest desire in life is to meet people where they are and to help lead them to a growing relationship with Jesus. To go to people who feel far from God or disconnected from the church, no matter where they are, and to help them connect to Jesus and to a community of Jesus followers.
That’s what I want for you. That’s what I want for your kids.
FEEDBACK ON WHAT’S WORKING AND WHAT’S NOT WORKING
But I’ll just be honest with you and tell you that because of the division and the divisiveness from top to bottom in our country, we find ourselves in what feels like an impossible situation when it comes to doing that right now in a way that meets everyone’s needs.
I know that there’s not uniformity of thought around what we should be doing right now. I hear from equal parts of you on this.
Some of you have let me know that you’re so thankful for what we’re doing online, and that because of health issues that you or your kids have or risk categories that you’re in, you’ve made a decision for your family that you can’t gather with other people. For you, our online worship option is what you need to stay connected right now.
Some of you have been able to find a connection at one of our Village Gatherings either in person or online. We’ve launched almost 30 of those in backyards and driveways and garages and neighborhood common areas. I want to say a huge thank you to the people who’ve stepped up to host and lead those.
Some of you have let me know that you’re zoomed out and you’re just not able to engage with another 45 minutes of screen time in the week and that the online option just isn’t working for you.
Some of you have let me know that a Village Gathering isn’t a good fit for you or your family for one reason or another.
I have even heard from some people that you’re zoomed out and don’t have it in you to engage in our online worship, a Village Gathering won’t work for you and your family, AND if we were meeting back in person you also wouldn’t be likely to attend.
I want you to know that no matter where you are in that, I understand, and we’re doing our best to try to give you resources to help you connect and grow in Christ and serve your neighbors with his love.
OUR NEXT STEPS AND COMMITMENTS
I continue to believe in the importance of regular connection to other followers of Jesus. I believe that we need that now more than ever. However, I also recognize that there’s a legitimate need for that to take various forms right now. With all of that in mind, here’s what we’re continuing to offer:
We are committed to continue providing an online worship experience for the foreseeable future for those of us who are connecting each week in that way as well as an online Village Kids opportunity and online Village Youth and Small Groups.
We are committed to continue with Village Gatherings, but we also want to be sure to remain mindful of the recommendations in the light of the changing numbers and requirements from local community leaders. I realize that we’re a church that sits at the intersection of three different counties with three different sets of regulations for gatherings, so we’re encouraging you to follow local guidelines. We want to make sure we’re responsible and respectful of our community leaders and we want to make sure we’re respectful of each other in the process.
For some of you, you might wish to move your Village Gathering to an online format in response to changing COVID numbers in the community. To be clear, this is the option that our COVID Advisory Team, made up of physicians and healthcare professionals in our church, is recommending for all groups and gatherings.
For some of you, you might wish to continue your in-person gathering outdoors following the new “rule of 8” that goes into effect in Nashville next week. We’re recommending that any in-person Village gathering meet outdoors, stay socially distant and that people continue to wear masks in following with local guidelines.
We have many resources for those who would prefer to find connection via online Village Gatherings, Groups, etc. If you or anyone in your group or gathering are having difficulty finding community in those aspects, please reach out to us – we would love to make sure that you find a place to connect.
CHRISTMAS EVE AND IN-PERSON WORSHIP TIMELINE
In addition, I want to let you know about two other things.
There are two more “frequently asked questions” that I’ve received that I want to address:
What are we doing for Christmas?
Do we have any plans to begin meeting again in person on Sundays?
We are planning two simultaneous things for Christmas. First, we’re working on a drive-in “Christmas Eve service like no other” in the parking lot at Sunset Middle School. Details are still being finalized, but we can’t wait to share the story of Jesus and in true Village form to hold up some glow sticks and sing “Silent Night” together. (Apparently, everybody blowing their germs around to extinguish a candle is a bad idea right now!)
We are also going to provide an online Christmas Eve at Home service knowing that not everybody will be able to join us in the parking lot, but this will give you a chance to gather with your family no matter where you are and be part of our Christmas Eve service together.
As for worship on Sundays, we are making plans now to begin offering an in-person option at the beginning of the new year, with the caveat that this is all dependent on infection rates and what the school system will allow us to do. There continue to be factors outside of our control with this, but our aim is to offer an in-person option as a third option for gathering, alongside our online worship and Village Gatherings, near the beginning of the new year.
I’m thankful that a year from now, we will have our own facility and we will be able to have more control over all of the variables!
HOW WE OPERATE MATTERS
Finally, I want to say this. Maybe this goes without saying, but I want to say it anyway. No matter what you do or what you prefer in this time or how you feel about what’s happening or not happening, I’m simply urging all of us to operate in a spirit of grace and love for each other. I find myself so disheartened and so weary of the behavior that’s being modeled for us in so many different levels of government and culture right now, and I simply believe that as the body of Christ, we’re called to operate in a better way than that in how we treat each other and how we talk to each other.
Paul says this in Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
I simply believe that we can model a different way with one another. Remember that everyone is doing their very best in incredibly trying circumstances, and even if and when we don’t agree with their conclusions, they deserve our grace and our kindness.
Next Sunday, we begin a season in the church called “Advent,” the season that leads up to Christmas. Advent literally means “arrival.” It’s all about preparing ourselves for the arrival of Jesus.
If you’re tired, if you’re weary, if you’re worn out, if you’re discouraged, Jesus is arriving and Jesus is the source of all you need. He’s the source of hope. He’s the source of courage. He’s the source of strength. He’s the source of peace and joy and love. No matter what you do in this season, seek Jesus. I want to encourage you as strongly as I can to prioritize that connection.
He’s available to you wherever you are, however you seek him, there are no COVID restrictions on his love and grace.
If you need anything at all or have any questions or any ways we can be praying for you, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
I love you all and I am praying for you and for our church.
Following Jesus Together,