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How Long Until We Meet Again?

It’s been four weeks since we last gathered for In-Person services here at Five Forks, and many are wondering how long it will be until we can gather together once again.  Below you will find information that will provide you with some of the background when it comes to the decision-making process of the staff and the Church Board. 
For many years now, our church has been known throughout Waynesboro as “the church that helps people” and “a friend of the community.”  We are glad to have this reputation, it’s become a part of our identity and we don’t take it lightly.  We want to follow the example set by Jesus, and by doing so it is our hope that it is Him and not us that the community will see. 
Several weeks ago as the staff wrestled with what to do regarding In-Person gatherings of the church, we tried to weigh and consider everything.  We know that the importance of meeting together can’t be underestimated, however, we also do not want to underestimate or overlook the recent spike in COVID cases in our local community.     
After much discussion, the deciding factor for our staff – in regard to In-Person services – revolved primarily around the conditions at local hospitals.  We are fortunate that we have people within our congregation who are employed at the Waynesboro and Chambersburg hospitals and are able to provide us with first-hand information regarding current conditions.  They report that this pandemic is to be taken seriously as it is unlike anything they have ever experienced before.  Hospital floors/wings have been or are being converted to house the increasing number of patients.  They have shared about the emotional and physical toll it is taking on doctors, nurses, and health care providers. 
As of this writing, we are aware that there are two open beds at one local hospital, with over ten people waiting to be admitted.  Two are in need of Critical Care beds, with none being available.   A significant number of nurses have tested positive for COVID, putting a significant strain on those who have not.   
Several weeks ago one of our pastors spent a good portion of the day in one of the local hospitals and throughout the day was asked by numerous employees,  “What do you do for a living?”  When he responded that he was a pastor at Five Forks Church, the next question without hesitation was “Are you holding In-Person services?”   When they were told “No, not at this time”, their response was  “Thank you.”    
The staff along with the Church Board are in agreement that as a church, we have the responsibility of doing our part to help limit and contain the spread of this virus.  We do not want to turn a blind eye to what is happening around us.  We believe that holding large gatherings would display a lack of concern for those health care workers on the front lines, and also a lack of concern for friends or family who – in the coming days – may need to receive care or be hospitalized for emergencies or health conditions totally unrelated to COVID.    
As was said above, we desire to be a friend to this community, and we believe that Jesus is calling us to put the interest of others in our community ahead of our own.  Because of this, we believe one of the best ways we can serve our community is to not hold In-Person services until the hospitals and care providers experience relief from current conditions.  We will be monitoring the numbers daily, and as soon as we see that beds are readily available and care providers are not being overly taxed, we will begin meeting In-Person once again. 
Note:  You can access the latest numbers of COVID patients at the Waynesboro and Chambersburg hospitals numbers by going to this link:  https://www.wellspan.org/covid19/covid-19-data-dashboard/ 
One graph that we pay close attention to is the Acute Inpatient Census, which, when you hold your cursor over the graph, will let you know how many COVID patients are in local Wellspan hospitals on any given day (since early May).  For example,  over a six-month period (May-October) the daily number of individuals hospitalized at the Chambersburg Hospital for COVID would range from single digits to as high as 14.  It was in early November that numbers began climbing significantly on a weekly basis: November 3rd (21)…November 10th (38)…November 17th (48)…November 24th (62)…December 1st (72)…December 8th (93)…December 13th (101).  We invite you to monitor these numbers as one way of keeping aware of the current climate. 
In addition, we do not believe that our part should simply consist of holding off on In-Person gatherings for a time.  To be the church that Jesus calls us to be, we must be looking for ways to provide tangible encouragement and support to those in our local community.  Last Tuesday evening after affirming the staff’s rationale for the continuation of virtual services, the Church Board approved a motion to provide every employee of the Waynesboro hospital with a $25 gift card that can be used at a number of restaurants in Waynesboro.  There are 487 employees, and so our church’s contribution to the community will be approximately $12,500. 
We believe this will accomplish two things:  It will allow Five Forks Church to show our appreciation for the work of the hospital employees, while also providing support to some local restaurants which may be struggling at this time.  It may be a small gesture, but we believe it can be meaningful.  In a way, following Jesus calls for small gestures on all of our parts, and when done together, brings about positive results among individuals and communities. 
These are difficult times with difficult decisions needing to be made.  Please know that with each decision, we are seeking the Lord’s guidance, listening for His voice with a commitment to follow through with whatever we believe He is calling us to do.  Please continue to pray that as a staff and as a Board we remain both sensitive and obedient to God’s leading.  
The Lord bless you and keep you. 
Bill, Ray, Shaun, Chris, Brady