Dear Church,

As I shared recently, in the two ‘half-time team talks’ that I gave on Sunday 21st and 28th June, we’ve been through a difficult season as a church family over the last four months. By God’s grace, he has enabled us to pull together through online opportunities and enabled us to play the ‘first half’ well. However, our inability to gather physically as a community in either the small or large settings has inevitably been greatly missed by us all.

As lockdown measures begin to ease, the inevitable question being asked by many of you is: when will we be able to gather as a church again? What size gatherings and in what context? And what form will those gatherings take? What will be allowed and what will not?

So I thought it would be helpful to let you know some of the guiding principles and practices that will shape how we move forward.

The first thing to underline is that, while we may be through the worst of the pandemic, we are certainly not completely through it. The virus is still within our communities and therefore continues to warrant ongoing care and caution when it comes to public gatherings of any size. God has also made it clear to us prophetically that we are in the eye of a hurricane, and that there may still be some ‘bumpiness’ to come before we are completely through it.

The decisions the government are making regarding what is and isn’t allowed are inevitably being driven by political and economic pressures, as well as the desire to protect people’s health and lives. That is not a criticism; it’s simply the reality of what they are having to juggle at this time. Lynda and I pray regularly for them to have God’s wisdom, and I trust that you’re joining with us in that prayer.

When it comes to decisions that we will make for our church family, these do not need to be shaped by economic or political pressures. We will make them on the basis of love, care, protection, and ensuring the well-being of both yourself and your families. The physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of you all is our uttermost concern at this time.

To that end we (the elders and directors of TVCC) will keep ourselves informed regarding current government policy and advice. We will take into consideration not only the national infection rates, but also the local picture. We will seek additional expert advice where needed and will ensure adequate and robust risk assessments are always made. Most importantly, we will do it all in an attitude of faith, trust in God, and prayerfulness, seeking the wisdom of God for every step we take.

Please understand that this may, at times, mean that we exercise more caution, move at a slower pace, and are more safety-conscious and restrictive than current government rules ‘allow’. What is ‘allowable’ is not always consistent with best and safest practice. We have a diverse church family, with many people that fall into the ‘at risk’ category. We also have a large congregation which meets in an auditorium with a low ceiling (relative to many other traditional churches) and little natural ventilation; so it will inevitably be some time before we can all meet back ‘normally’ on Sunday mornings – though smaller gatherings which ensure adequate social distancing and robust safety measures may be possible at some later date.

We are opening up the building in July for use by Three13 (previously known as Academy 3:13). They need to return to the building in order to fulfil their current contracts with Local Authorities and businesses. Their return to the workplace is occurring in the context of a rigorous risk-assessment having been done and the appropriate safety procedures being put in place.

We are not opening up the building for anyone else in July. However, we will be exploring creative and safe ways of gathering together in smaller contexts (that comply with government guidelines) as we move forward in the months that follow. We will likely prioritise those who have been most impacted adversely from the lockdown. We will actively review the situation month by month and will communicate with you accordingly about how we are moving forward.

God spoke to us recently in the ‘half-time team talk’ to ensure that we keep up our team play and maintain our team shape and discipline. In the light of that, can we encourage you to keep connecting with the online expressions of our corporate church life together which will be continuing for the foreseeable future. Connect in with our online Sunday Services and with the church social on Zoom afterwards. Keep connected with your community group. And don’t forget communion, Dig Down Deep, children’s work, family worship, Alpha, Belong, our Connect services, our Wednesday prayer meetings etc.

And as lockdown is eased, take the opportunity to visit each other in your gardens, or in your homes from 4th July, providing you comply with government guidelines which allow for only one household to meet with another. Please do not be irresponsible by ignoring or being careless with these government directives. Good practice saves lives. Keep your hands washed, surfaces clean, and stay as socially distant as possible from others at all times. By doing these things, we honour and respect what the government is asking of us and protect not only ourselves but our families and the wider community – all things that God would want us to do (see Romans 13:1-6)

While we may be through the ‘first half’ of this challenging season, we still need to play a ‘second half’. God has been with us to date and he will be with us as we move forward. He has a game plan – a glorious purpose that he is working in the midst of it all. We’ve seen some amazing doors of opportunity open for the gospel – prodigals have returned to God, and many unsaved people have had seeds of the Kingdom sown into their hearts. Whatever the ‘second half’ brings, God has promised us that we will come out stronger and that the kingdom will be extended. “Double depth and double breadth” still remains top of God’s agenda for us. So let’s continue to trust the God of Ephesians 3:20 the one who is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” And let’s carry into the second half the verse God gave us in his half-time team talk – 2 Corinthians 1:20 which encourages us to remember that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

With love and affection in Christ

Martin Dunkley (on behalf of the Elders and Directors of TVC Church)

Copyright © Tees Valley Community Church.
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