Letter from Pastor Jon | December 2020
Dearest Christ Church Family,
A most beloved Christmas hymn, written in 1719, is Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 98 entitled, Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come. The cherished melody was written by George Friedrich Handel in 1742. In this classic hymn we witness the poetic personification of the earth receiving her king and singing for joy. The incarnation and birth of the eternal Son inaugurated the coming Kingdom of God. Future glory bursted into the present. Eternity broke into time. Messiah has come, and his name is Jesus!
The good news of the gospel — especially in 2020 — moves us to sing for joy; for through faith in the virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, and hell-vanquishing resurrection of Christ, sinners receive a glorious salvation. When Christ returns (which is really what this hymn highlights!) he will reverse the curse of sin, sorrow, thorns, and death. No more tears. No more suffering. Our Savior will reverse the curse of the fall everywhere, “far as the curse is found!” Hallelujah! It’s the wonders of Christ’s love in his life, death, resurrection, and parousia that fill us with abundant joy this Christmas.
Dearest member of Christ Church — Nothing compares to knowing and walking with Jesus Christ. Nothing! Don’t let Satan, the world, or your flesh convince you otherwise. Good health, comfort, relationships, freedom, possessions, and safety are all to be valued, but never more than the LORD. May the glory and loveliness of Christ capture our hearts afresh this Christmas.
Christmas Eve Service
Since 2013 Christ Church Presbyterian has enjoyed an annual Christmas Eve service. It’s a meaningful time of worship and reflection on one of the most wonderful nights of the year. We traditionally gather for this service at St. Johannes Lutheran Church, but it’s not available to us this year. However, our good friends at Redeemer PCA have graciously offered to let us hold our service in their beautiful sanctuary at 7:30 p.m. (The church doors will open at 7:00 p.m.) Redeemer is located at 43 Wentworth St. downtown Charleston. For parking, please visit their website: https://redeemer-charleston.or... In addition to what you will find on Redeemer’s website, there is also available and approved church parking at the law firm on the corner of East Bay and Wentworth, across from the Harris Teeter. We really hope that you and your family will join us for this beautiful service. Please keep in mind that nursery will not be available.
New Location | 486 Wando Park Blvd.
Our loving and gracious heavenly Father has blessed us beyond measure with our newly renovated facility. The seven month-long renovation project is almost complete. While we cannot provide a specific date for our first “in person worship” service (yes, I’m learning from my mistakes!), we are hoping for sometime in mid-January. We’re almost there! Marla and I were at the location on Friday and it looks absolutely stunning. The sound technicians were busy finishing up their install and sound checks in the sanctuary, and Jake Earle (the de-facto on-site manager) was getting ready to mount the wooden cross made by Matt Pepin. Cathy Paterson was in the building earlier working on the sconces in the front entryway. Ralph Charles, Kent McAvoy, Jake Biles, Kristin Gee, and Colton Dempsey have also given valuable time to the project. There are others who have served as well, and we are profoundly grateful for the use of their gifts on this substantial project.
Christ Church | Safety Concerns
The pandemic has been the great disruptor of 2020. Many, like my family, have experienced heartbreaking personal loss from the virus. Things have also been extremely challenging for the Christian Church. In general, pastors are burned out, giving is down, and believers are anxious, disconnected, and spiritually despondent. The pandemic has led to the isolation of "at risk" church members who have serious co-morbidities, and generated fear in many who do not. Moreover, it has generated scores of divergent opinions about how best to manage our lives in response to it. The highly polarizing U.S. General Election didn’t help, as both parties weaponized the pandemic for political ends.
Wading through all of the divergent opinions of the “experts” on Covid-19 isn’t easy. There is so little agreement between qualified medical professionals, and so much hypocrisy, indecision, and heavy-handedness among state officials. For these and other reasons, it’s really challenging to lead a school, church, or business at this time. The session of Christ Church has felt this tension. It has been a topic for discussion and prayer in our stated monthly session meetings.
We, the elders, decided back in the summer (after the lockdown) to have an in-person / mask-optional evening worship service. Some may wonder why we’ve left it up to individual conscience to choose whether or not to wear a mask? Because the overall health risks from the virus are very low, but the spiritual and emotional risks from not gathering for weekly Lord’s Day worship are very high. A recent Gallup poll shows that anxiety and depression are at all time record highs. Suicide rates have skyrocketed. People are isolated, fearful, and depressed. When folks do get out, most with whom they interact are wearing masks. Faces are covered. Human expression is veiled. Whatever role masks may or may not play in public health, they certainly have a kind of dehumanizing effect. They place limitations on healthy social interaction. All of this has added to the decline of mental health in America.
It should be no surprise to us, however, that (also according to Gallup) individuals who attend weekly worship services have maintained the best emotional health. After all, there is a mind, body, spirit relationship. Moreover, here we are powerfully reminded that God’s people need the means of grace, and need each other. When we gather for public worship on the Lord’s Day our faith is nourished, our hearts are encouraged, and our minds are illumined by the word of Christ. We need the preaching of the Gospel, the fellowship of the saints, the holy sacraments, and prayer (Acts 2:42). We are the ecclesia, the church [the “called out ones”]. We are called out of this world and called into fellowship with Christ and each other. Livestream worship may be necessary in extreme emergencies where there is immediate physical danger or a shroud of mystery around a particular viral outbreak. But it can never replace the spiritual and emotional dynamic of the gathered church.
In this fallen world, it has never been perfectly safe to gather for worship, though in our present context it is close to it. Unlike our brothers and sisters in China and North Africa who literally risk their lives every time they secretly gather for worship, in America we can worship publicly without risk of incarceration or death. But what about the pandemic? Shouldn’t Christians stay home from church until the Covid-19 virus is gone? Or in the event of attending worship, shouldn’t compulsory mask-wearing, strict social distancing, and limited fellowship be normalized until the virus is no longer a threat? Perhaps this should become the new standard since the virus is unlikely to ever go away? Isn’t it too dangerous for Christians to gather for worship like the church has done for 2000 years? The answer is no.
Statistics from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) reveal that 99.95% of individuals between the ages 50-69 who contract the virus will survive. The percentage is even higher for those who are younger than 50. For 0-19 year olds the survival rate is almost perfect — 99.997%. Seniors over 70 who get infected have a high survival rate of 94.6%. Nevertheless, they are in a more "at risk" category, and certainly need to take more precautions. Indeed, I want to make clear that for those "at risk" (of any age) or for those in occupations that necessitate more safeguards we encourage every precaution, including masks, when attending church functions. The elders have tried to consider all of these points when making decisions for the church, and we are grateful to report that since we commenced our in-person worship in June not one person in our flock has contracted Covid from our “in-person” services.
In a recent Ref21 article by Rev. Adam Parker (PCA Minister from Oregon), he helpfully explains:
“It can and should be argued that doing reckless, unreasonable, or unnecessary things which carry high risk for others can be considered immoral, but it also has to be acknowledged that the terms ‘reckless,’ ‘unreasonable,’ ‘high risk’ and the like are by their nature subject to interpretation and context. Asking someone to do something that carries with it a 50/50 chance of dying simply so that one can be amused for an hour seems to qualify as unreasonable. Asking members of society to risk a 0.3% chance of dying so that one can do necessary activities is not prima facie unreasonable. The mere existence of risk (even to others) is not enough to make attending church something that one is morally obligated to forego. How that judgment works out will vary from person to person and by situation.”
Thankfully, our dear church family will soon move into our newly renovated 8,000 sq. ft. facility at 486 Wando Park Blvd — a marvelous and undeserved gift from God! At our new location we will have a much larger meeting space for worship. Special requests can be made for socially- distanced seating, with priority given to those who are “high risk.” We sincerely hope to see our church family together again in our new building, though we fully understand that some of you who are in the “high risk” category will choose to wait a little longer. We love and miss you.
Please keep in mind that if you or a member of your household are showing signs of Covid 19 — fever, extreme sluggishness, loss of taste or smell, etc. — then you should stay home from worship services and take advantage of the livestream. Also, please keep in mind that diet, hydration, sleep, exercise, fresh air, and sunshine are all key to good physical and mental health.
Saying Goodbye to Keith and Kelly Hester
Charleston is full of transition. This means that we regularly see beloved members of Christ Church move away. Sadly, Keith and Kelly Hester, faithful and devoted members of Christ Church since its founding in 2013, are moving to Franklin, North Carolina next month. As a founding elder, Keith has served our congregation with distinction. He has been as steady and faithful as they come. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside Keith as an overseer of Christ’s flock. We will miss both Keith and Kelly’s kindness and good humor. The Hesters will likely join a PCA church pastored by Tim McQuitty (Eric McQuitty’s father). We will miss them greatly.
End of the Year Giving
“I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” — Martin Luther
As I mentioned above, this has been a tough year on the operating budget of Christ Church Presbyterian. We are over $200k short of meeting our annual budget. Unless we make up the shortfall by year end, this will cut significantly into our reserves. In 2019 several dear families in our church moved away due to job transfers, graduations, etc. Due to the pandemic and lockdowns in 2020 many lost jobs and income, and visitors to Christ Church have been fewer than usual (though we are exceedingly grateful for the handful of new families that have shown an interest in joining our flock). It’s been a hard year for many churches.
Therefore, beloved, please evaluate your 2020 giving statement and consider giving before year end. It would be a wonderful blessing to move into the new year without major deficits. To be sure your contributions are included in 2020, please bring them to the final worship service this Lord’s Day or have them postmarked by the USPS and mail to Christ Church, PO Box 2246, Mount Pleasant, SC 29465 by 12/31/2020, or donate online by 11:59 pm on 12/31/2020. Thank you.
Seek Things Above
In his epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul exhorted those who “have been raised with Christ” (i.e. true believers) to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” He continues, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1–4). Here we learn that the Christian life is meant to be a heavenly-minded one, a life dominated by a Christ-centered, eternal perspective. The “things that are on the earth” are important, but not ultimate.
Therefore, my dear church family, may our hearts be focused upon the Lord and His sacred Word this Christmas. And may the coming year be one of Christ-centered hope, spiritual growth, hopeful expectation, and unyielding devotion to the making of mature disciples.
Your Pastor, Servant, and Friend,