Writing a newsletter article in the midst of a global pandemic is, I admit, not something I ever expected to do. In these strange and unsettling circumstances, there is a great deal of uncertainty about what will happen next, what we should do, and how we should live in the meantime. So much about our daily lives and routines has changed, and we are still figuring out what all of this will mean for the next few weeks and beyond. Many events are being canceled, including in-person worship services (we will still worship; it will just be at home and/or online instead of together in the sanctuary!) We had eagerly anticipated hosting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina’s General Assembly at the end of April, but that event has been canceled as well. With all of these changes and cancellations, our church will need to shift our focus quite a bit.

As many of you know, we recently began an important conversation as a church family, discussing the issue of same-sex orientation and same-sex relationships. This is a difficult topic, and many people in our church have strongly-held opinions and feelings on this issue. These opinions and feelings vary from one another, and it is a challenge to discern how we might be the body of Christ together, even with our differences. Last Wednesday night (March 11) we spent most of our Bible study hour listing and discussing questions and concerns regarding this topic, both in general, and as it affects our church. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and variety of the questions, and I was making plans to address the various topics in the coming weeks. I have also had several individual conversations regarding this topic.

When we met for Bible study last Wednesday, many of us did not yet know that earlier that day, the World Health Organization had declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Two days later, both the US President and the SC Governor declared states of emergency. Churches began announcing plans to adjust their schedules and routines, and some canceled services entirely. Two days after that, all schools in the state were ordered to close until the end of the month. Our deacons, staff, and church council decided to cancel our services and programs at least through March 27th. The situation is changing quickly and drastically.

We had barely begun the important conversation about Christian responses to same-sex orientation and same-sex relationships when global events required us to shift our focus. I want to assure you that we do plan to return to this conversation. It is an important one. It is too important to try to have in the midst of a global crisis, with limited contact, relying on email, phone calls, and videos. Some conversations need face-to-face connection, and this is one of those. So please be assured that we do intend to return to this conversation. The conversation is not canceled, but delayed. Right now, we need to set this important conversation aside, and simply take care of one another in the midst of this crisis.

One of the glimpses of hope in this stressful time has been the many offers of help I have seen — restaurants offering free meals for children who are out of school, people offering to pick up supplies for neighbors and even strangers, neighbors in Italy leaning out of their windows to sing together. Sometimes, the worst of times brings out the best in us. I hope that the church will lead the way in this. I have been in touch with Clemson Community Care, the MAGI program, and United Way to let them know FBC Pendleton is ready to love our neighbors by offering practical help as needed. I know that the school district has several plans in place to help ensure children have access to food and resources while schools are closed. If you know of ways our church can help, or if you or someone you know needs help — groceries or medicine delivered, a listening ear, or something else, please contact me, another staff member, or a deacon.

Even as we are unable to be together, let us continue to pray for one another. For some, these days will be lonely and long. For others, the days will be more chaotic, as children are out of school and schedules are drastically altered. For some, the fear of illness will feel overwhelming. For others, the anxiety and uncertainty will be a constant presence. May we pray for one another, realizing that even as this situation affects us differently, we are one body in Christ, and we are called to love and to encourage one another. Even in these challenging times, may we find joy and peace in Christ.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

Rev. Jennifer M. Rygg

March 17, 2020