Re-Gathering Epicentre

Dear Epicentre Family,

Our hearts are heavy as we write this email. Over 100,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in our nation. The death of George Floyd, continuing a pattern of racial hatred that deepens the pain in the African American community, and led to the riots across our country. Trouble brewing again in Hong Kong, which intensifies the tension between the US and China. Our world is so broken. We encourage you to practice the rhythms of Lament-Trust-Praise with our Selah service recording as many times as you need to in this season.

Never in our lifetimes has God’s healing and reconciliation been more needed, and never has our purpose, as the Bride of Christ, been more clear. God’s plan has always been to love the world into wholeness through His Church, but the brokenness of the world can have a way of making our love grow cold. We sense God’s fresh call to rekindle our love for Him and for one another. As an apostolic and prophetic people, let us rise up in the opposite spirit to choose into the fullness -- and messiness -- of love again.

“Re-opening” - that word is put in quotes because Epicentre Church has never been closed. We’ve always said the church is not a building but the people of God, and this season has shown us that this really is true! Though our physical meeting place has been closed, we have continued to be the Church from our homes with each other, so we have always been open! In fact, we might also say that without a building and with many earthly supports being stripped away, we have become truer to our design. We are a people who still encounter God, still make disciples and still change the world. So, instead of talking about “re-opening,” we want to use the word “re-gathering” instead.  

Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) is still working out the logistics of allowing churches to meet in their schools, so we do not have a greenlight yet to use Marshall. However, we believe that the practical matter of whether we have a venue to meet in shouldn’t be the primary guidance to our decision making. We want to make ourselves available to God to instruct us on His values for our decisions. So we want to take this moment to share the biblical and Kingdom foundations that guide our steps, not only about re-gathering, but what “being church” means. While this might feel like a long explanation, we have been given a “reset” by the Lord and feel that this is our opportunity to re-up on our vision and values.

Philippians 2:1-7a has been a guiding passage for us as we prayed and discerned about re-gathering. Let’s hear these words from Paul again, written when he was in prison, to the Church of Philippi, whom he dearly loved:

“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges.” Philippians 2:1-7a NLT

LOVE is who we are meant to be and what we are meant to release to the earth.  We want to love like Jesus did: self-sacrificing, humble, preferring and honoring others, giving up privileges for the sake of others. Thomas Aquinas, an important theologian from the 1200s, said it another way: “To love is to will the good of the other.” It means that we make an intentional choice to think about what is good for another person, and then act on it. As Pastor Cam said in last Sunday’s message, God so loved the world that He was willing to restrain who He is as God in order to be on our level and enter into relationships with us. That is the attitude of love that undergirds and guides our decision on re-gathering.

When our state announced it’s allowing places of worship to re-gather under certain guidelines, our leadership team found ourselves asking questions like these: What would communicate love to those in our community who are vulnerable to the virus?  What does “take an interest in others” mean when we think about the vulnerable people that perhaps we don’t even know who live in Pasadena and the different cities our people live in? Though we desire to gather and worship again, is God asking us to “restrain” ourselves, our desire and need to gather, out of love for our cities?  At the end, we felt the exhortation from Paul’s words to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had and to give up our privilege to gather in order to show love, compassion and solidarity with our neighbors.  This was not a simple decision as we miss everyone and miss corporate worship in the presence of God together, but it is what we felt the Spirit leading us to do.

As an outworking of applying these biblical values of love, when we met with PUSD Superintendent McDonald this week, we expressed to him that we are willing to delay our return to give priority to PUSD students who might need the school more than us, And we told him that we're committed to partnering with them to improve the situation of their students.

Some of you may ask, “How long will you wait? When do you think we will be able to re-gather?” We don’t know the timeline but we are putting a task force together now to help us prepare for when we will gather again. This task force includes our senior leadership, our operations team staff and also a medical personnel.  Together, we will discern and think through when it will be ok for us to begin gathering, to what extent or in what context, as well as what safety precautions need to be in place for it to happen, while remaining true to the value of love and compassion.

Be The Church to Each Other
Our decision above is out of our love and consideration of those who are physically vulnerable to the virus, but we also want to remember and acknowledge those of you in our community who may have other needs. In looking at the results we got from our reopening survey a couple of weeks ago and also in talking with some of you, we know there are many of you who are really missing the in-person interaction and gathering at this time, as well as those who have found navigating zoom and online platforms etc. challenging, which has really limited your ability to connect with others in community. To you, we want to say you are important to our community and your needs are totally valid, just like the others. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us through email or phone (626-585-1595) if you have needs.

Epicentre brothers and sisters, let’s be the Church, not just to the outside world, but to each other in our community as well. If you know someone who lives alone, who has lost someone in recent months or is a caregiver for a family member, who you know is juggling work and other responsibilities, or you just simply have not seen or talked to them for a while, please take time this week to reach out to them. Let’s be the voice of Jesus to show them they are known, seen, and loved.  

As we said at the beginning, the world needs us, the Church, to rise up and love the world into wholeness. Let’s spur each other on to seek deeper friendship with Jesus, look out for one another in our own community, and to make choices that are loving and good for those around us in our neighborhoods.

Thankful to be the Church with you all!
Pastors Janet & Fiona
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