I thought I'd write to provide a bit of a framework for you to process and understand upcoming decisions that our staff and elders will be making as we monitor the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in our city. The health and well-being of our members and larger community is on our hearts, and we understand the varying levels of grief, concern, and uncertainty you may be experiencing; we do not know the impact of the virus in all the neighborhoods of the city, but we are certain that there will be short-term, and possibly lasting, effects.
Jesus calls believers to "love one another (John 13)," and to "love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22)." In 1 John 3, the apostle John calls the church to love with not just words, but with action. For centuries, Christians throughout history have been present in times of crisis: war, famine, and disease. From the times of the plague all the way to the more recent 9/11 tragedy, while many fled the city and were isolating themselves, Christians poured into the city to demonstrate the Gospel in practical ways. They did this because of a Gospel poise that resided in their hearts amidst global panic. They did this because of a Gospel love that transformed their lives.
I believe a time will come when Christ's church will be called upon to embrace the city practically by serving the needs of people who are suffering the effects of this now-referenced pandemic. It is my hope that the church in the city will demonstrate the same faithfulness, gentleness, mercy, and love of Christ through its service, attention, and bold care for the grieving, suffering, and sick as believers had done in the past.
In the meantime, our generation is blessed to be able to take advantage of the technology afforded to us in our day so that in times of crisis and confusion, we can still "gather" as a church, while still being mindful of those whom we care for: our elderly, our children and infants, our mothers, those suffering from some form of illness. As a result, as a way of demonstrating practical love and wisdom for one another as we plead for the mercy and compassion of Christ, the staff and elders have prayerfully decided:
1. To cancel our Community Groups this past week; our Community Groups are warm, intimate gatherings, filled with sharing: hugs, food, drinks, and the intimacy of sharing and praying in the Word of God for one another. Rather than establishing guidelines to mitigate that which is a part of Metro's ethos, we believed it wise and prudent to cancel our gatherings this week.
2. To cancel our worship service in-person at our 4200 Ridge Avenue location. Rather than asking people to make uncomfortable decisions with limited knowledge and uncertainties around their own physical exposure, we believe it wise to use alternate means to gather and worship as a body.
3. To proceed this Sunday (3/15) with (a) an 11:00AM worship service that can be livestreamed (available on our website at metrophilly.org/live) as our usual adult service, and (b) a "virtual" Sunday School lesson for our children to be live-streamed as well.
We will monitor day-to-day and week-to-week, and are committed to communicating with our church through all of our digital and personal channels as we assess how to proceed in terms of our stated and public gatherings. We encourage, to the degree you are comfortable and able, to gather in smaller groups for worship and fellowship (exercising wisdom during this time), to be aware of your neighbors' needs in the church and in your community, and to meet those needs if you are able.
Of course, if you are sick, or have been exposed to those who are, please exercise kindness, thoughtfulness, mercy, and grace for the sake of others by remaining at home and worshipping online with us privately as you recover (and reach out for help or assistance or prayer so that our body can be present to meet you in prayer and support).
It is one thing to have fear; there is no such thing as courage without the presence of fear. Gospel courage emerges when we remember Christ's gentle call for us to "not worry" and "not be afraid" because the Creator of the universe, He who controls even the storm, is wise and faithful and good; He is present among our people, in our city, in our worries and grief, and rules with mercy. And He understands our suffering because He Himself suffered, which makes our God a unique God, and Jesus a Wonderful Counselor and Lord. To trust that enables us to have poise as we look to the cross where Jesus took away the only disease (sin) that can truly ruin us in total.
We will continue to keep you informed, will be thoughtful to assess daily, and will be prayerful for you my friends, for Metro our church community, for what God will do through this unique period in East Falls and Cherry Hill, and for the sake of this wonderful city we embrace. For the glory of God and His Kingdom, and for our good.
With love and much hope,
on behalf of the Staff and Elders at Metro