Believing

&Safe Returns

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 

-  2 Timothy 1:7

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The Reopening Plan

UPDATE 07/01

Children's Ministry Reopening

We’re excited to announce that we’re going to begin re-starting our children’s ministry (for ages 2-12) at 10:30am on Sundays.

 

Our first Sunday back will be Sunday, July 5th

 

While we have always put enormous effort into health and safety, we are implementing some new policies in accordance with many of the best practices from the CDC, WHO, and local health authorities.

 

Overview of Health Safety Policies

1) Pre-service screenings. No one with a temperature of 100+ or any cold symptoms can be admitted to church. We will have take-home bags for any kids we need to turn away.

 

2) Smaller classes. Classes limited to ‘pods’ of 10 kids each – each pod will be kept 6+ feet from every other group of kids.

3) Extra sanitization. In addition to our usual cleaning, we will be sanitizing after every class. Kids will be asked to sanitize their hands a few times during service.

 

4) Teacher protection. We are limiting our teachers and helpers to those under the age of 65 and in good health.

 

A note on masks: The current guidance from health authorities is mixed on the use of masks in children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is currently strongly recommending that children physically return to school, but at the time of this writing, the Spokane Health Department is still requiring that masks be worn all the time when you can’t keep a 6-foot social distance. As you know, this is wildly impractical for children: largely because masks that are worn improperly don’t do any good at all. We will, of course, support you if you’d like your child to wear a mask, but we will not be requiring it. The good news is that children appear to be largely safe from the most serious side effects Covid-19 (only 3 deaths under the age of 18 in the USA, and 0 deaths under the age of 50 in Spokane County). Of course, kids can bring any cold or flu home to others that are more vulnerable – so if you’re concerned about this possibility, we encourage you to continue to take advantage of our live-stream for services.

 

We’re excited to start serving kids again - please reach out to ask any questions you have! We’re praying for you and your family! 

UPDATE 6/01

In answer to prayer, Governor Inslee has officially relaxed restrictions on places of worship.

We have updated our plan to bring it in line with the new guidance. We encourage you to read the whole document, but please note these key elements before attending a service at SBC:

 

- Building occupancy limited to 25%

(we are blessed with 3 buildings at SBC, so we can accommodate 150 guests - but please note that this means you may need to sit in a different building than the main sanctuary.) 

 

- We are requiring everyone to wear a cloth face mask 

(until they are seated 6+ feet away from others) 

- Children's Ministry is currently limited to just ages 2-5 and Special Needs

(We will expand this as soon as we are able)

- We are taking everyone's temperature as they enter the building.

No one with a temp of 100+ or any signs of illness can be admitted. 

- We are encouraging anyone medically vulnerable to continue to Livestream until Phase 4 of Washington's reopening. 

Please see our plan for all the other details, and please continue to pray. Thank you!

Pastor Josh’s Letter to the Church

on SBC’s Reopening Plan

5/24/2020

Hello Spokane Baptist Church family,

 

To begin, I would like to express a genuinely humble attitude about the difficult nature of the decisions that we all have to make in these days. I hope that a tone and spirit of humility will be obvious throughout this letter.

 

Over two months ago, we began the unprecedented journey through the COVID-19 crisis. As a church, we have:

  • Prayed for those with the virus and for the medical professionals providing care to the sick.

  • Cooperated at every level with our government and carefully followed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  • Ministered to our community through this crisis.

  • Changed all of our services to a live-stream only model.

 

While we are glad to submit to those in authority over us (as instructed in Romans 13) for a season and for the safety of those in our community and church family, we are also mindful of the importance of gathering as a church body as modeled in the New Testament and instructed in Hebrews 10:25.

 

Elder Don, Pastor Farooq, Pastor Jamie, myself, and the pastors of other churches that I have heard from, have all been grieved that Washington State choose to consider church meetings as “non-essential,” and that our governor has provided no specific timeline for when he would encourage a safe return to worship. This is despite the fact that, in addition to many stores, now even restaurants are being allowed to re-open, and soon even movie theatres will be allowed to re-open – but still not churches.

 

Many are now asking questions about whether or not, as Christians, we ought to be following these directives. Of course, the Bible clearly instructs us as believers to obey the law… unless it conflicts with the commands of Scripture. The Bible is filled with examples of the people of God directly disobeying un-Godly laws. From the Hebrew midwives who broke Egyptian laws to save babies, to the Prophet Daniel who broke Babylonian laws to continue praying in public, and of course to the Apostles themselves – who repeatedly broke Roman laws against preaching and spreading the Gospel.

 

Some have wondered if we as Christians ought to be disobeying these laws that forbid us from gathering together, since the Bible clearly commands us to gather together:

 

Hebrews 10:25 – “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

 

As a matter of fact the word ‘church’ (ekklēsia) literally means the ‘called out ASSEMBLY’ – and so it is impossible to minimize the importance of gathering to the Christian faith.

 

 

Having said all that, I do NOT believe that this is a cut-and-dried choice between obeying God and obeying the law. This is a difficult issue for two primary reasons:

 

Number one: this is hard because we do have some limited means for gathering without being physically together… through our live-stream and Facebook and zoom meetings. However, I must tell you, that the longer this has gone on, the greater the conviction has grown in my heart that God never intended for our gatherings to be simply virtual. I believe that God desires, and even commands, the physical assembly of his people together.

 

1 Corinthians 6:20 – “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.”

 

Being spiritually together is wonderful – but God desires that we honor him with our bodies also. The Christian faith has always valued the physical along with the spiritual. At the heart of our faith is the belief that Jesus Christ became FLESH and dwelt among us. We practice physical immersion in baptism. We take communion together, and we break bread in fellowship together. All of these are central doctrines of the Christian faith.

 

Our purpose of preaching the Bible has continued even without the physical assembly of the church – but much of our core faith and practice has been put on hold. Without gathering, we cannot minister effectively to children (many of whom are caught in the midst of a rising epidemic of domestic abuse – or at the least rising strains and tensions at home), we cannot minister effectively to the lonely – for whom virtual contact is a cold comfort. We cannot minister effectively to those for whom isolation is a trigger for old habits of drug and alcohol abuse. We cannot practice baptism or communion. We cannot break bread together.

 

Simply put, true fellowship (which requires a physical assembly) is a fundamental part of our faith. We may indeed survive without fellowship for a short time (we often do this individually - such as when illness or work schedules prevent assembly) – but I believe it is disloyal to the Scriptures and disloyal to Jesus Christ to indefinitely abandon Christian fellowship and assembly. This is true for an individual or for an entire church family.

 

We began this journey of cancelling the physical assembly for good reasons… but I cannot in good conscience  continue it without an end date. The Scriptures are clear on the importance of gathering together, and above all we must seek to honor Christ and honor the Scriptures. No matter what men may say.

 

Acts 5:29 – “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

 

The second reason this is a complicated issue: is because there is some question about what exactly is ‘the law.’ Orders that are given by the Governor in general, and under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t question as being lawful.  However, we live in a unique period where the Federal Courts and even our Justice Department have said that parts of Governor Inslee’s orders are in-fact unconstitutional… and therefore illegal and not lawful. One of the great privileges of being an American is that the supreme law of our land is the US Constitution… not the orders of any governor or president. When there are questions about what counts as “constitutional” it is generally understood that the final decision is made by our court system and by the Justice Department.

 

Just this month – on April 14th - the US Attorney General and the US Justice Department clearly stated that if businesses are allowed to operate, places of worship must also be allowed to operate under the same guidelines.  The Attorney General said, “government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.  Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.”

 

US Federal Courts are consistently upholding this position, and finding that it is illegal for state governors to treat businesses differently than they treat religious gatherings (Fire Christian Center, Inc. v. Fischer, First Baptist Church v. Kelly, and several other cases from District Courts).

 

It appears that the law of our land (as defined by the Constitution, the Courts, and the Justice Department) agree that rules cannot be stricter for churches than they are for other businesses like restaurants. The Christian Law Association, and the Liberty Counsel all strongly agree with this stance.

 

Again – let me say that this is a difficult and complicated issue, and Christians who love Jesus, love their Bibles, and love their church families may come to different conclusions about what counts as ‘the law’ for the purpose of obeying our Biblical commands to follow the law.

 

And so, with these realities in mind, the pastors and I have been meeting and praying fervently to ask God for wisdom on what to do. I know many of you have joined us in this prayerful effort for wisdom, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

It is the prayerful and unanimous conclusion of all your pastors that the original cancelling of our physical gatherings was the correct choice, but that now we must bring that chapter to a close. We believe we ARE in-fact obeying the law as commanded in the Scriptures by following all the guidelines our state has given to restaurants, bars, and many other businesses – but that we have no legal or moral or Scriptural obligation to follow rules that single out churches for ‘special burdens.’ 

 

We desire safety as instructed by government leaders (Romans 13) and we desire to obey the command of Scripture to assemble and worship (Hebrews 10:25).

 

Therefore, at Spokane Baptist Church, we intend to follow Washington State’s “Safe Start Washington” reopening plan in accordance with the law that we cannot be treated differently from any secular business. We will be following state guidelines for Restaurants/Casinos/Movie Theatres/etc.

 

We have developed a plan, specific to our church, to follow the law for each stage of the 4 Phases of the “Safe Start Washington” plan. It is critical that Spokane Baptist return with proper patience, understanding, and Biblical conviction.

 

Our plan has been submitted to our County Commissioners and to our Sheriff’s office and to local law enforcement for their review and comment.

 

At this time, I’d like to summarize all of this by asking and answering four questions: Why, How, Who, and When:

 

1. Why?

Some will say we are returning too soon, while others will say we have waited too long. So why are we returning now? We have weighed out Romans 13 and Acts 5:29, and we believe that the time has come that returning indicates a priority on obedience to God.

There may not be a vaccination for quite some time, and even when it is developed, it may not be as effective as some hope. Thus, we cannot continue to wait indefinitely to obey the clear command of Scripture.

 

2. How?

We have produced a phased plan of return that allows us to follow the recommendations of the ‘Safe Start Washington’ plan, as well as recommendations from the CDC and the Justice Department. (You can read the plan on our website; I encourage all Spokane Baptist Church members to read the entire document.)

 

We are currently just entering Phase 2 of Safe Start Washington here in Spokane County -  This means that as restaurants and many other businesses will be opening at 50% capacity with social distancing policies, so will we. We will be following, and where possible exceeding, the guidelines from the CDC and from the state.

 

3. Who?

So how does this impact the various members and age groups in our church family?

As we resume gathering in Phase 2, families will be encouraged to sit together in the service. Anyone not in the same household will be asked to sit at least six feet apart from one another.

 

Childcare will be provided in accordance with CDC recommendations for childcare and daycare centers – this includes limiting helpers to those under the age of 65 and in good health – as well as limiting class sizes and undertaking enhanced cleaning strategies.

 

Those who are over sixty-five or have underlying health conditions are encouraged to stay home and continue watching services through live stream until Phase 4 of our return. Of course, I know that some of our older folks will desire to come before then – and we’ll do everything we can to make them as safe and comfortable as possible.

 

Like everything in our plan, this physical assembly is 100% voluntary. If you are medically at-risk, or just in any way concerned about meeting – you have your pastor’s and your church’s full support in continuing to quarantine and self-isolate.

 

4. When?

Our first service where in-person attendance will be allowed will be held Sunday May 31st at 9:15 and 10:30am.  We will begin meeting at 50% capacity, with social distancing, and extreme cleaning and sanitation safeguards… as outlined in the Safe Start plan and in our specific plan.  We will add additional ministry as our state moves forward through the Governor’s plan in accordance with the relevant laws and guidelines.

 

Ultimately, we know that the key in our safe return is not in us, but is in the Lord’s hand of protection upon us. Above all, then, as we follow this plan for a return to worship, we will continue to seek the Lord’s guidance and follow His direction.

 

 

In conclusion, I know that not everyone will see these issues in the exact same way that I and the other pastors have come to see them. That’s ok.

 

To those of you who won’t feel comfortable, for whatever reason, in returning to church: we love you, and we support you as you prayerfully follow the Lord and your conscience. For those of you who think we are being too careful and too slow – we love you also! We hope you will prayerfully bear with us as we strive to honor the Lord. I’d like to urge all of us to remember that the things that unite us as Christians, that unite us in the Gospel, and that unite as a church family are greater than the occasional difference of opinion we’re going to have on some matters. If you still have questions or concerns after reading this letter and after reading the specific plan documentation on our website (and that was e-mailed out to every member) – please reach out to us and we’ll do our best to explain things and answer your concerns. 

 

For those of you who are ready to get on board with the vision we pastors have laid out here: I have two requests for you.

 

  1. Will you please pray for us? I can’t fully express how urgently and desperately we desire your prayers for wisdom and for safety for our whole church family and for our community.

 

  1. As we reopen, our need for volunteers to appropriately staff the cleaning and sanitization ministries, as well as staff our Children’s ministries with people under the age of 65 and in good health will be great. Would you consider volunteering to help? If you’re willing to volunteer during this time, please visit the Connection Site at and let us know. We’ll get in touch with you and get you the training you’ll need to be a part of our safe re-opening. Thank you for prayerfully considering being a part of this.

 

We firmly believe that meeting together as a church is essential!

 

So let’s work together to make this happen for the glory of God and with a right testimony for a lost and hurting world that has a greater need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ now more than ever.  

 

We love you. All of us pastors are praying for you.

Thank you for your time in reading this.

God bless you.

--Pastor Josh

Spokane Baptist Church

(509) 499-9888

Office@spokanebaptist.com

4506 North Harvard Road

Otis Orchards, WA 99027

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