March 1, 2021
I am the light of the world. John 8:12
Never in a million years would we have thought that this COVID-19 pandemic would have lasted a year! It has truly been one of the most challenging years of my life as a pastor. With so much information online, so many opinions from healthcare doctors, and the multitude of personal opinions of what we need to be doing, one can see why it is so hard for your pastors to make the difficult decisions we do for our people and church. I promise I pray and seek the face of the Lord in every church decision I make. For now, we must stay on task, keep wearing masks, keep social distancing, and encourage everyone to get their COVID vaccinations in order to get back to our normal church schedule in the coming months. Nobody wants to see this happen more than your church staff, but we will not jeopardize the safety or lives of anyone who attends our worship services no matter what. I do believe we are starting to see light in these dark times, especially seeing the COVID cases starting to decline. We are starting to see some members who have had both COVID doses return to in-house worship. This means that more people will be coming back to church in the near future. We also had three families visiting with us last Sunday. Praise the Lord! In order to seat everyone with proper six-foot distancing we really need your help. As your pastor, I’m asking all of our early arrivers to sit in the middle chairs of each row. People, especially visitors, are uncomfortable with having to step over others to get to an inside seat. This will help tremendously with anyone arriving late and particularly with our guests who are not familiar with our sanctuary. We want our guests to feel welcomed and comfortable while worshipping with us. If you are at the end of a pew after the service begins, please slide to the middle so when late arrivers come they can sit down quickly and comfortably.
We will be looking to begin Sunday School again in the middle of April if the COVID-19 numbers continue to decline and our governor’s restrictions go to Phase 3.
In order to do this there must be a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to adapt from our normal procedures. To begin, we will be asking all of our Sunday School classes to allow us to take down the tables in every classroom so we can continue to honor social distancing. Each teacher can then arrange the chairs (we will help) to the specific needs of the class. Everyone in the Worship Service sits with Bible in hand, so this isn’t anything new or unusual. This will not be a permanent situation. Hopefully, by summer we can put the tables back in place. Not all of our Sunday School teachers are comfortable with small group time in the smaller classrooms. We will respect their choice at this time and be understanding. We are suggesting that if your class is not meeting and you wish to attend Sunday School feel free to visit another class during this time. Again, this is not a permanent situation. When your teacher and/or class is comfortable with meeting again you can go back to your regular class. We want to make this transition as smooth as possible. If you have any questions just ask Bro. Steve or me. We appreciate your prayerful support and cooperation. We will give you a two-week notice as soon as we set a specific target date. Other teaching and activities will be added as we feel comfortable with the reaction to Sunday School, and as community COVID numbers continue to decline.
Let me tell you how excited we are about the hard work we see from our Long Range Planning Committee. We have met five times and have really laid the groundwork on which our church can continue to grow. Our Mission Statement is Glorifying God by loving Him, loving people, sharing Jesus, and making disciples. Our Vision Statement is God calling us to be a lighthouse for spiritual awakening in Fort Smith and beyond. We currently are working on a five-year plan in which we have been evaluating the strengths and weaknesses at Rye Hill Baptist Church. We have set up five subcommittees to address our immediate and future needs. These committees are: 1) Building and Grounds 2) Church Member Assimilation [which is concerned with getting our members more connected and into some place of service] 3) Education 4) Marketing Strategies and 5) Community Involvement. One of our primary targets is the young adult group ages 18-40. Since they “live” on their phones and computers, we are looking for strategies and means to attract, invite, and connect them with our church. It has been amazing to watch this Long Range Planning Committee work together as a cohesive group of gifted individuals that greatly care about growth in our church, more community involvement, and reaching out to the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of this is done for God’s glory and His kingdom’s work.
We have voted to hire Clay McGill, the architect for our sanctuary, to help us with a ten-year masterplan specifically targeting buildings and grounds. We have all agreed that an educational building will probably be the next need for our church. After much prayer and discussion the committee does not feel that the land south of us is what we need to purchase at this time. It is over-priced and it would take thousands of dollars in dirt fill to level it with our property. It does not mean that down-the-road we can’t reconsider it, but the committee feels that paying off our current loan and developing more parking for our immediate future is our short-term priority. We still have the possibility of land north of us and we have approached the two businesses behind our property. While our attendance is about half of pre-COVID numbers, we want to be prudent about how fast we move forward. We believe and know God can do anything, but specifically how long it will take is unknown. Let us pray that these COVID variances will not form or spread, so we can get back to our normal worship and activities schedule.
We want to thank everyone who has so faithfully given tithes and offerings during the past 12 months. We exceeded our budget in 2020 which is outstanding considering we have been in a pandemic! From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for giving from your heart to support the ministries of our church.
I know these last twelve months have been a big challenge to all of us. Do not give up hope! Do not let life get you down! God is still on the throne and in control. As the hymn goes, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one!” We have so much to be thankful for. If we can help you in any way, please feel free to call us. We love everyone of you and pray nothing but the best for you and your family. Thank you very much for your love and strong support for our staff, and our church!