Update 11 – August 30
Dear Church Family,
I am writing to update you on our church reopening progress. Your staff has been working hard to formulate a plan for this fall that allows us to maintain safety and put our foot back on the gas pedal to move forward in ministry. Please know that I have asked a group of doctors and medical professionals from within the church to serve as a Medical Advisory Panel (MAP) for myself and our staff. As time has progressed, making decisions about Covid-19 has become more complicated and applying sound wisdom has become more challenging. The knowledge of these experts has been invaluable.
These are the principles from which we are operating:
- Err toward caution
- Foot on the gas pedal for ministry
- Maintain unity by honoring a diversity of opinions
- Employ no guilt tactics
- Priority of corporate Lord’s Day worship
- Be the aroma of Christ in the community
- Protect the most vulnerable in our church
Guided by these principles, we have formulated an approach to begin adding ministry and worship opportunities in the coming weeks. Bear in mind that remote options will continue for the foreseeable future for those who are still not comfortable returning to in-person worship and activities.
On Sunday, September 13, we will celebrate what we will call “Family Reunion Sunday.” We will celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper on that day. Many of you will still choose to worship remotely. Please know that we want to encourage each and every member to do what they see as best in regard to returning to in-person worship. We will not judge or mistreat one another over these decisions.
First, we will begin offering First Kids Worship and nursery care during the worship service beginning on September 13. Parents, check the website and communications from our family ministry team to know more about our guidelines and precautions for safely reopening.
Second, we will begin a large group, in-person Sunday school class taught by Woodie Turner beginning on September 13. This class will be held in the chapel and we will maintain the same social distancing and safety guidelines there as we do in the worship service. We know everyone misses their individual Sunday school classes and teachers, but there is no safe way to conduct Sunday school in our normal fashion right now. Prayerfully, we will be able to return to that soon.
Third, we are beginning the process of adding a full choir to our worship services. This is an undertaking, but our MAP has given us helpful guidelines to add singers to our choir safely. The choir is practicing on Wednesday nights in the sanctuary fully socially distanced.
Fourth, for now, all Wednesday night activities except for choir will be remote. We are continuing our Wednesday night Bible study online. Furthermore, we will continue to offer opportunities for drive-thru prayer.
Fifth, we are working hard on safe, wise opportunities for fellowship and connection among the congregation. This is something we all miss and long for. Please be on the lookout for opportunities for fellowship in the coming months. In the meantime, call your friends, folks from your Sunday school class, that family you loved hugging each week, that homebound member, or whoever the Lord puts on your heart! We need each other as much as ever!
Update 10 – July 15th
Dear Church Family,
Update 9 – July 6th
Dear Church Family,
I am as burdened as I have ever been in my life. While God has been so good to our church during this time, nonetheless the grind of the Covid-19 crisis is affecting everyone I know. Add to that the great unrest and vitriolic debates of the day and it is clear to see why my heart is heavy and troubled. I am sure yours is too.
That is not to say, however, that we are without hope. That is never the case for those who trust in Jesus. This world belongs to Him and He is the answer for all the great questions of the day. Many of us will disagree on some of the problems we see in the world, but we are in unity on the fundamentals: every human being is created in God’s image and we are required to love our neighbors as ourselves. We know the Scripture speaks clearly to the fundamental issues we are looking at, and we must continue to hold fast to the Gospel ourselves.
Each year, we take a break from Wednesday night activities in the month of July. This year, from July 8 until August 5, let’s commit together to take an hour each Wednesday night to seek the Lord in Scripture and prayer. Some of you may want to fast as well on Wednesday evenings. We will not be doing any Bible study videos or other formal teaching on Wednesday nights. However, each week we will send out a topic to pray about and some Scripture to guide your prayers. As we move into the fall season, nothing feels sure or settled in terms of what life and ministry might look like. What a time to cling to the Rock of Ages! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
I love you all so much and I long for the fullness of our fellowship to be restored. If you need me, please email or call me. Let’s all seek the Lord together in a special way during this season.
Update 8 – May 26
Dear Church Family,
This Sunday will be our first “hybrid service.” Many of you will return to the church building for worship while many of you will continue to worship at home. “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Please use caution and wisdom as you make this decision. For many, if not most of us, continuing to worship remotely will be the wisest choice. In particular, I want to strongly encourage our most at-risk folks to continue to worship remotely. We will not judge one another in these decisions. There are so many competing goods at play that we must recognize that there is a liberty of conscience for each believer. We must be charitable in how we assess each other’s decisions. This is basic faithfulness for the Lord’s church and the world could use a good dose of charity and love right now as well!
I implore you: if you are not feeling well, have been exposed to Covid-19, or have any related symptoms whatsoever please choose to continue to worship remotely. The reality is that our ability to regather is dependent on your wisdom. More than once, I have read or heard of churches and ministries being derailed by someone making a decision against their better judgement. I wholeheartedly trust that you will all be careful and wise in your decision making!
When you do come to church, please follow the guidelines we are setting forth. “I have freedom!,” you might say. Indeed, you do. But isn’t it good that church is not the place where we display our individual freedoms, but instead “count others as better” than ourselves? Put on the attitude of Christ! You’ll be amazed how much your worship experience will be transformed when your heart and mind are focused on loving God and loving others.
Here are guidelines and precautions, as well as general information, for the hybrid service:
- The doors to the church will be opened at 10.
- Only the Guest Entrance/Elevator Door and the main Sanctuary Doors will be open and available. If you are able, use the main Sanctuary Doors and save the Guest Entrance for those who are less able to navigate the front steps. Save the best parking spaces for those that will need them as well.
- Maintain 6 feet of distance from others as you enter, navigate, and exit the facility.
- There will be no nursery, childcare, Kids Worship, or Sunday school.
- Frequently wash and sanitize your hands. We are providing sanitization stations near available entrances
- Greet one another without a handshake or hug. This is hard, but it’s imperative that we abide by this!
- If you feel the urge to sneeze or cough, make sure you do so into your elbow.
- Wear a face mask. If you do not have one, we will provide you with one at the door. Children over 2 should also wear a face mask.
- Only sit in designated pews. They will be clearly marked.
- Sit 6 feet apart. However, families should sit together. Each section of our pews is around 6 feet in length so that will make it easy for you to make a wise choice in where you sit.
- Refrain from mingling. As tempting as it will be to “work the room,” it is important that you enter quickly, take your seat, and leave only when you are dismissed.
- We will be doing a staggered dismissal by section. Please do not get up and leave immediately after the service is over.
- Try to avoid using the restroom at the church if possible.
- There will be offering plates available for you to drop off your offering at the exits. You can continue to give online and by mail as well.
- We have implemented an intensified cleaning and disinfecting process for our facilities.
- We will not be handing out bulletins. Further, all materials, including hymnals, have been removed from the designated pews.
This is not the full return to church we have hoped and prayed for, but it’s still a wonderful step forward. Let’s continue to love and serve the Lord, one another, and our community! Trust God and love your neighbor as yourself. I love you and look forward to seeing some of you this Lord’s Day!
Update 7 – May 13
Dear First Baptist Family,
I am still clinging to this truth: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! We have been looking to and praying through what “re-entry” to on-campus gathering might look like for a while now. You can imagine the challenge as we are all wading through conflicting news, reports, data, government policy, and more. Then, at the end of last week, Gov. Ivey announced that churches could reopen far sooner than any of us expected. I am writing to you to communicate our priorities as we evaluate and formulate a plan moving forward.
Here are our top priorities:
First, our primary calling as a church is the same no matter what. We are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Gadsden and beyond. This has not stopped and will not stop by God’s grace.
Second, we are prioritizing Lord’s Day worship. Our full faculties and resources will first be devoted to restoring our Lord’s Day worship gatherings. Sunday morning is the epicenter of our life as a church, and we are all longing to gather together again.
Third, your safety and the safety and health of our community is a top priority. We plan to be prudent and careful as we seek to be pro-life in every sphere of our church.
Fourth, the guidance and wisdom of leaders, experts, and the government is a priority for us. We plan to set a good example in faith and good works as we respect the recommendations of those whom God has called to lead and serve our country during this time.
We are planning to begin a hybrid worship service on Sunday, May 31st. That means that we are encouraging many of you to continue to worship remotely even though the church will be open. In particular, we encourage our most at-risk people to continue to worship remotely. Furthermore, if you still do not feel comfortable in a public gathering, we would encourage you to continue to worship remotely. Social distancing guidelines will mean that we cannot provide nursery, childcare, or children’s classes of any sort on Sunday mornings. Children are, of course, welcomed into the worship service during this time. The sanctuary will be set up to encourage social distancing. We have ample space to ensure that everyone separates. If you choose to attend worship in person, we ask that you please wear a face mask. If you do not have one, we will provide one for you at the door. We had talked about doing “Easter at Last” at this point, but a celebratory gathering like that is not feasible until we move out of this “hybrid” phase. Furthermore, there will still be no Wednesday night activities, Sunday school, or other on-campus activities during this time.
Also, as we draw nearer to May 31, we will provide more information on the measures we are taking and encouraging to ensure your safety as we begin gathering again.
Despite the easing of restrictions, there are nonetheless some major ministry opportunities that we are being forced to cancel. Unfortunately, it has become necessary that VBS and McSpadden cannot happen this summer. This is particularly heartbreaking for all of us as these are two of the most ministry-laden and joyful weeks of our year. It would be impossible to maintain the social distancing guidelines that will certainly still be in place in June. We look forward to having a great McSpadden Music Camp in 2021! Also, our children’s team is working on a way to be creative with VBS teaching later in the year. Be on the lookout for news there!
Finally, I want to commend the FBC family on their great faithfulness during this time. I have been brought to tears with stories of love and kindness among our congregation. We have been able to love Gadsden tremendously during this time through feeding those who are needy and through blessing front line workers. Furthermore, your financial generosity has been overwhelming. Our giving is ahead of 2019 giving this year! I am stunned by the grace of God that has been displayed through your faithful giving.
Hang in there, folks. God is good and He is good to His children. I miss you and love you and trust that we will all be together unhindered soon. Until then, let’s continue to worship, spread the Gospel, and love well. Continue to be diligent for your own health and for the sake of others. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Update 6 – March 30
Dear First Baptist Family,
What a good time to remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! If your family is anything like ours, then the new has worn off this quarantine by now. However, we must continue to be diligent for the sake of our neighbors and for our own health. I love you all and miss you more than I can explain. However, God has been so kind to me through all of you during this time. Your love, support, encouragement, and prayers have been so meaningful to me.
By now it is apparent to most of us that it will be a while before we are able to gather again for church. The latest news from Governor Ivey asks that the current social distancing measures extend through the end of April. We will continue to follow those guidelines, which means the church facilities will continue to be closed to meetings, public gatherings, services, and normal work through April. While this is difficult to swallow, it is particularly difficult because it means we will not be able to gather together on Easter Sunday. You will notice that many churches will be creative and come up with unique ways to celebrate Easter as a church on that day. I love seeing all the creative ways that churches are getting the Word out during this time! However, I want to tell you what our plans are at First Baptist Church. First, our commitment remains to provide live worship broadcasts each Sunday during this time. I feel a profound sense of conviction that we continue to put all that we can into our live broadcasts. Something like a “drive-in” church or other creative service would eliminate our ability to provide an excellent live broadcast during this time. As much as I would love to do something where we could achieve some semblance of a “gathering,” we simply cannot do it at the expense of our live broadcast. Continue to use this time to remember how important gathering is, and let your longing for gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s Day increase during this season. On Easter Sunday, we will provide a live worship broadcast with a message on the resurrection and beautiful music.
However, as of right now, our plan is to celebrate Easter properly on the first Sunday we are allowed to gather again. As you know we usually advertise “Easter at First” during this time. On that Sunday, we will celebrate “Easter at Last!” I hope this gives us all something to look forward to when we finally emerge from our homes to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the faithfulness of God during a tough season.
Your staff continues to work hard to love and serve our congregation and our community during this time. You should be very proud of all of them. I want to give you some updates on where we are in the 5 categories we are focusing on during this season.
1. Communication – Our communication strategy seems to be working well so far. We are regularly reevaluating what we are doing, but we are communicating well internally as a staff, internally to the congregation, and externally to the community. Our deacons and Sunday school teachers are especially doing a great job of keeping us aware of pastoral care issues as they arise. Bear in mind that you cannot go wrong with emailing us if there’s something you think we ought to know, even if it’s likely that we already do. We would rather get too many emails than none at all when there is a need.
2. Teaching and Discipleship – We are trying to be sure that we are replicating the teaching and discipleship opportunities that we normally provide in the course of a week. We have dedicated a page on our website to helping communicate these opportunities. Simply go to fbcgadsden.org/athome to find different teaching and discipleship opportunities.
3. Community and Loneliness – This is the area that burdens my heart the most. Our staff, deacons, and Sunday school teachers are reaching out to folks as much as possible, but it is hard to make up for all that we are missing in terms of community and relationships during this quarantine. If someone is on your heart, call them. If you lead a group of some sort and would like to set up a conference call or video meeting, let us know, and we will help you with that. Continue to call, write, and pray for those who may be struggling more acutely with loneliness during this time.
4. Pastoral Care and Mercy Ministry – We are working hard to keep in touch with those who have new or ongoing medical needs during this time. We have been praying for and “visiting” with them over the phone. We are also making a difference in terms of mercy ministry to the community. On Wednesdays during this time, First Baptist is partnering with businesses and others to provide food for hungry children in the community. Last Wednesday, we gave out enough food for about 2000 meals for hungry kids in the community. What an amazing ministry that was provided in part by your generosity through our auction earlier this year. We are also working right now on ministry opportunities for healthcare workers at both of our hospitals. Be in prayer that the Lord would provide and give us Gospel opportunities in that area.
5. Weekly Worship Service – We had a technical glitch on 3/29 that made the service unavailable on television. I was very frustrated by this, but God is sovereign. Some things cannot be helped. Our faithful TV crew was not to blame whatsoever for the glitch. We are working hard this week to get that fixed. Nonetheless, we continue to get great feedback from inside and outside FBC on our weekly worship services. Continue to pray each week as we get the praises to God and the Word of God to people in Etowah County and beyond.
During financially uncertain times, it may be difficult to give to the Lord. However, I do want to encourage you to continue to give faithfully to the Lord during this season. The ministry of First Baptist is dependent on your generous giving. Online giving is available at fbcgadsden.org/giving you can always give by mail as well (PO Box 456, Gadsden, AL, 35902). If you need help with online giving, call or email Becki and she can help you.
Hang in there, folks. Your pastor loves you. However, Jesus Christ loves you more. His Word and His Spirit keep us and compel us during these strange times. Cling to Christ and cling to His Gospel! Pray hard! Keep us posted on what needs or concerns you have. Most of all, love well and love big during this time.
In Christ, Bro. Mat
Update 5 – March 17
Church Office Closure and Communication Plan
Dear Church Family,
As of Wednesday, March 18th our church staff will be moving to total remote work for the foreseeable future. We plan to maintain our normal office hours of 8-4 from Monday through Friday.
Furthermore, the facilities at First Baptist Church are closed to groups of any size at least through April 1. We have a plan in place to provide maintenance checks at the church during this season.
We also have a communications plan in place as we work remotely. If at all possible, try to primarily use email to contact us. This will be the quickest, easiest way to reach us with non-urgent issues.
The church phone line will funnel into two voicemail inboxes that we will be checking regularly. One will be for messages that need an answer by the end of the day. The other will be for emergencies that need immediate attention.
In the case of an emergency, however, go ahead and call one of our staff members on their cell phone. If you do not have one of our cell phone numbers, reply to this email and we will provide them for you.
We are going to email the Chimes during this season as opposed to a mass mailout. Gina is working to make sure that those who we believe do not have email access receive a printed copy via mail. Bear in mind that the Chimes is also available on the church website. The prayer list will be exclusively digital.
Giving options will continue to be available during this time. You can give online at https://portal.icheckgateway.com/firstbaptistgadsden/ or by mailing a check to PO Box 456, Gadsden, AL, 35902.
We will continue to broadcast a live worship service on Sundays at 10:30. Watch on Comcast channel 5, Facebook live, or the church website.
Bear in mind that we are continuing to work and think through these categories as we move to remote work:
- Teaching and Discipleship
- Pastoral Care and Mercy Ministry
- Weekly Worship Service
Expect updates and opportunities in these categories as time goes on.
Remember, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! Keep trusting and keep praying! I love you and am grateful for you.
Update 4 – March 16
Update 3 – March 14
Dear First Baptist Church Family,
I have prayed, sought counsel, and agonized over whether or not to gather this Lord’s Day for worship. However, it has become clear that wisdom requires us to suspend our public gatherings for the foreseeable future. That means there will be no worship gatherings or on-campus activities beginning on Sunday, March 15.
You know my heart and you know how difficult this decision has been. However, as Christians, we must not simply focus on what we have to do. Instead, we must focus on what we ought to do to serve our community well, love our neighbor, and be an excellent example in trying times. In particular, it is unconscionable to me to put our senior saints at risk.
There is good news, however. We will continue to broadcast a worship service at 10:30 AM on Sunday mornings. We will plan to continue our Comcast channel 5 local broadcast during this time. In addition to this, we will have a service broadcast live on facebook.com/firstbaptistgadsden and live.fbcgadsden.org. Furthermore, you can continue to give online and via mail during this time.
Our staff will be available to love and serve you during this time. Jesus Christ is alive and sovereign and the Gospel will continue to go forth. We are not operating out of panic and fear, but out of a heart of love for Christ and our fellow man. Let’s gear up to love and serve our community during such difficult times. This is why the Lord’s church is in the world!
Update 2 – March 13
Dear First Baptist Family,
What strange times! and yet, what an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in difficult days! As the threat of the Covid-19 virus global pandemic escalates, we continue to keep a close watch on the developments around the state and country. I want to briefly give you two updates.
1. We have decided to cancel our Spring Revival that was set to begin on Monday. It was a difficult decision, but after much thought and prayer, it became clear that it was the right decision.
2. As of right now, we plan to gather for worship this Sunday, March 15. If anything changes, we will get the word out immediately. We must be very diligent, however, that as we worship we take all of the practical concerns of social distance and personal hygiene seriously. Furthermore, if you are worried about becoming sick, if you are feeling sick yourself, if you believe there is a chance that you might expose others to illness, or if you are particularly at risk to be harmed seriously by Covid-19, please stay home and take advantage of our television and online broadcasts.
If there comes a time when it is no longer wise or possible for us to gather for worship for a season, we will make sure that God’s Word continues to go forth through our media ministry. Furthermore, we can all be comforted in knowing that even when we are weak, God is strong and at work. Remember during these days what an opportunity we have to love our community and to demonstrate how Christians behave in the midst of trials and uncertainty.
Update 1 – March 11
Dear First Baptist Family,
There is a lot of fear and even panic surrounding the Covid-19 virus, or “Coronavirus,” global pandemic. Many of us will disagree on the severity of the situation and the obligation each of us has to make inconvenient changes in light of the spreading disease. However, what we all must agree on is that our Lord has told us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
For that reason, I want to ask you to consider how we might best love our elderly and immunocompromised neighbors during this season. Wouldn’t we rather take wise, common sense precautions out of love and look back and see it as silly than to ignore this altogether and see people we love and care about harmed? I certainly believe so. We will be providing extra hand sanitizing stations, diligently cleaning, and taking up the offering at the door instead of passing the plates during this time. Also, here are a few things we can all do to be cautious during this time:
– Be extra diligent in washing and sanitizing your hands.
-Choose an alternate form of greeting besides hugs and handshakes. This is hard to do at church, but let’s all hold each other accountable through elbow and fist bumps.
-Make sure you sneeze/cough into the crook of your arm or a tissue that you can quickly dispose of.
-Try to avoid touching your face, mouth, nose, and eyes.
-Stay home when you or your children are sick. Take advantage of our great media ministry that broadcasts the service on television and online.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but we are called to be wise and to love others well. I believe these things are basic, simple precautions that will help us honor Christ and love our neighbors during a difficult season. Join me in prayer that this disease will abate and that there will be waning impact in the days to come.