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  • Brett Imamura

Why We're Cancelling Services



Last week the decision was made to cancel Sunday worship services, Sunday School classes, and all official CGF public gatherings until further notice. This decision was made in response to federal, state, and local governments declaring states of emergency in order to combat and curtail the rapid spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).


You may be wondering why we came to that decision.


From your perspective, perhaps you acknowledge the fact that COVID-19 is, indeed, a serious situation, a situation that has caused not only the cancellation of public church gatherings, but also the shutdown of schools, workplaces, and even the suspension of some of our beloved pastimes.


You also acknowledge that this is an unprecedented situation, both in terms of COVID-19's impact on a global scale and the extent to which government has reacted in order to slow its spread.


You acknowledge these things... yet, it still doesn't sit right with you that we, as a church, would cancel everything much like what the rest of the world is doing. After all, you reason to yourself, we are a people who love and serve the God of the universe, and so what do we have to fear? In addition, we are a people who are promised that this God will carry us through our trials and that he will never leave nor forsake us. Therefore, our decision to cancel services and all fellowships strikes you as strange, if not somewhat faithless. Maybe you know of other churches that still physically meet at their normal worship spaces, at their normal times, and so you don't understand why we do not.


First of all, I get it your concerns. I really do. As someone whose job and ministry it is to teach people the Bible and who looks forward to every Sunday, these last few days have felt really odd, especially this most recent Sunday morning. To deliver a sermon via livestream was already a new experience. However, more than delivering a sermon on YouTube, what really made the experience personally jarring was knowing that our church was scattered across New York and New Jersey for the first Sunday in a long time. Things simply didn't feel the same; it felt weird. I don't think I'm the only one that felt that way. Second, to the belief that our God is a big God who is sovereign over all things~ including viruses~ I give a hearty amen to that. There is nothing to which God is powerless in comparison, and nothing that God is unable to bring about for the glory of his name and good of his people.


Yet, I do not believe that cancelling our gatherings equates to a lack of belief in the sovereignty and power of God. Though we are a people marked by supernatural faith in a supernatural God, God also calls us to walk in wisdom (Proverbs 19:3), as well as in submission to our earthly authorities (Romans 13:1). Therefore, it is by faith in God that we carry ourselves wisely and peaceably as citizens of heaven.


To Love Our God and Our Neighbor


As this COVID-19 crisis has escalated in alarming fashion, the decision to cancel our gatherings boiled down to one thing: a love for neighbor. In Matthew 22, a scribe asks Jesus what he believes to be the most important commandment in the Law, and Jesus' answer informs our reasoning behind these cancellations:


“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)


The two greatest commandments directed toward God's people pertain to the love of God and the love of neighbor. When it comes to the love of God in reference to our gatherings, I am of the mind that nothing can replace the actual physical gathering of the church, every week. For God to call his scattered people together for the purpose of corporately worshiping him in song, prayer, the reading of Scripture, the proclamation of Scripture, the giving of offerings, and the sending of people back into the world to carry out the work of ministry, is a privilege and joy for which there's simply no substitute. Our first priority is unto God and corporate worship every Sunday demonstrates our commitment to that priority.


Though we are currently unable to physically meet as in the past, due to the gift of technology we are still able to "meet" for worship in what will hopefully be a very temporary measure. Therefore, for the love of our God, I want to invite you to join our livestream every Sunday morning where we will worship God together, albeit in a less than ideal setting.


As to why we resorted to a less than ideal setting, we as leaders believed we were best loving our neighbors in cancelling official CGF public gatherings. How so?


Many of our congregants (CGF Manhattan) are above the age of 65 and/or live with or are in close contact with people over 65. Because COVID-19 is especially dangerous to those who are older, we believed meeting would put them at risk for contracting the virus. For many of us in the English Congregation, we are younger than 65, and so on the off chance any of us may contract the disease, chances are we will pull through. However, the chances are much lower for our older loved ones. Loving our neighbor means thinking of their health and well-being before our own.


So this is why we are cancelling our public gatherings. We are not doing so out of fear or a lack of faith in God's ability to carry us through and even stop this pandemic. We are cancelling out of a love for neighbor, and while this is not an ideal situation~ a pandemic never is~ we are cancelling with a clean conscience, while hopeful that we will resume physically gathering sooner than later.


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