Pastor Tim McKenzie’s 9.14.21 Message Concerning Worship Changes:
From the pastor –
The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has voted to require masks in religious settings, in addition to its Public Health Rule requiring face coverings in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. Mecklenburg County urges all eligible people who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated to help slow the spread of Covid-19 and avoid further restrictions.
Bishop Tim Smith and the NC Synod Council have also strongly encouraged congregations to follow the CDC guidelines for all persons to wear masks indoors. All of these leaders, state and church, urge people to be vaccinated “in the hope that increased vaccination levels will continue to reduce infection rates and additional restrictions will not be needed” (Mecklenburg/Charlotte Proclamation).
St. Mark’s now requires masks to be worn in the building by all persons vaccinated or unvaccinated. We continue to allow congregational singing while wearing masks (worship leaders may unmask to lead worship); we also continue the current practice of Holy Communion in two ways; to allow fellowship with food and drink only outdoors on the patio (weather permitting); and to encourage people to be mindful of their distance around others.
The Council also expresses agreement with the Synod’s statement that “congregations support vaccination efforts” and “communicate opportunities for vaccinations including the At-Home Vaccination program offered by the NCDHHS.” St. Mark’s Council recognizes that we must work together as a church with state and national agencies to encourage vaccination as a means to overcome this global pandemic.
The church’s mission continues as we seek to share Christ’s light in a world that is suffering, fearful and anxious. We must continue to be a living sign of the hope that dwells in us through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15). We have been blessed with grace and faith so that through our ministries others might find strength and peace in Christ Jesus. Let us walk in confident faith and act together with courage for others.
In the grace and peace of Christ,
Pastor Tim McKenzie
Pastor Tim McKenzie’s 8.6.21 Email Concerning Worship Changes:
From the pastor –
On August 3rd, Bishop Tim Smith and the Synod Council issued the following statement to all NC/ELCA congregations: “We strongly encourage that congregations follow the CDC guidelines for all to wear masks indoors. Even if you are vaccinated, the recommendation is to wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of Substantial or High transmission—which at this point is almost the entire state of North Carolina.” (Follow the link for the new Synod Guidelines) NC Synod Guidelines August 2021
In light of these guidelines, St. Mark’s Congregation Council voted on August 4th to: 1) “strongly encourage” that masks be worn in St. Mark’s building by all persons whether vaccinated or unvaccinated; 2) allow congregational singing wearing masks (worship leaders may unmask to lead worship); 3) continue current practice of offering Holy Communion in two ways; 4) allow fellowship with food and drink only outdoors on the patio (weather permitting); 5) not return to social distancing, rather to encourage people to be mindful of their distance around others.
The Council also expressed agreement with the Synod’s statement that “congregations support vaccination efforts” and “communicate opportunities for vaccinations including the At-Home Vaccination program offered by the NCDHHS.” Please follow this link: At-Home Vaccination program
St. Mark’s Council recognizes that we must work together as a church with state and national agencies to encourage vaccination as a means to overcome this global pandemic.
This is not a step backwards, rather, these measures are a necessary step forward as the church seeks to cooperate with state and national efforts to end this pandemic. Let us gather together, pray together and work together, so that one in Christ we might continue to be a living sign of hope for the world.
Jesus said to his followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). St. Mark’s continues to move forward in mission, confident that in Christ we have the strength and vision to see our way forward and overcome the challenges of this world. Let us walk in confident faith and act together with courage for others.
In the grace and peace of Christ,
Pastor Tim McKenzie
Vaccinations – A Reflection by Bishop Tim – North Carolina Synod 8/3/21
Let each of you look not only to your own interest but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 (NRSV)
I learned a tough lesson right after college when I traveled to spend the summer working with medical missionaries in West Africa. Children in remote villages were dying by the hundreds of dysentery from dirty water. We had plenteous pills that would almost instantly save those children’s lives. I’ll never forget those mothers with sick children, and I was full of gratitude to be a bearer of healing and hope. How naïve I was, how presumptuous, to assume that they would trust me, a white stranger, with their little ones. No amount of pleading could convince them to let us give their dying children that medicine. I watched many of them die in their mothers’ arms while I held what would have saved their lives in my hand. I had always thought how terrible it would be to be surrounded by horror and death and not be able to do anything about it. I learned that summer of 1982 that it’s even worse to be able to help, to save lives, but be misunderstood, mistrusted, and rejected by the underinformed and misinformed.
Fast forward to early August of 2021. The synod office has had almost a full-on opening of back to normal—meaning, of course, pre-pandemic. How devastating is it, on so many levels, to realize so quickly, so starkly, that this virus is far from done with us? Oh, it could be. We have, as with measles, polio, and many other diseases that ravaged, one magic bullet that can eradicate COVID’s threat: a vaccine. It’s plentiful, free, increasingly proven safe, and amazingly, as vaccines go, effective. But fewer than half of all eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, and astoundingly, half of those claim that they do not plan to be. It’s their right. But is it their right to be transmitters of the Delta variant and even worse, incubators for future variants against which our current vaccines do not provide protection? If it is indeed their legal right, it is not the way of Jesus. I’m addressing this to folks who claim to follow Jesus, and any way you slice it, he’s way less interested in your individual rights than in the common good and the last, lost, and least.
United Methodist Church Bishop Ken Carter of Florida, where the virus is in a phenomenal spike, wrote last week: “We are here to love our neighbor. We love our neighbor as an expression of our love for God. The whole law (Torah) can be summarized in this way. Our love extends especially to the most vulnerable. Jesus was a healer. The cross was laying down one’s life for one’s friends. We place the needs of others before our own. We choose life rather than death. The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
He concludes with this remark with which I profoundly resonate: “That the church in the United States cannot say unambiguously that masks and vaccines are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace reveals how far we have drifted from the core mission of discipleship in the way of Jesus, who was a teacher, healer, and sacrificial servant.”
In his July 29 press conference, the governor did not announce a mask mandate for the state of NC, despite double-digit COVID+ numbers and the biggest surge in the virus since February. But I get it. It’s so hard to roll it back once people feel that they’ve endured their purgatory and have now been set free from their previous shackles. I have a very full dance card this fall trying to catch up on several things we couldn’t do last year, including seven funerals. I will be at the very least wearing a mask. Many are resisting such a reintroduction of any suggested guidelines. Pandemic fatigue is real. Nobody wants to go back. But denial is not only not our friend. It is deadly. This week, the NC Synod Re-Gathering Task Force is meeting to reconsider possibly issuing COVID Re-Gathering Guidelines again after lifting them all in late May. Synod staff might face new travel and participation restrictions as well. Dang and double dang!
I do not wish to shame the unvaccinated. We are people of grace, right? Nothing I say in anger or disgust changes minds. All I know to do is encourage, invite, and inform that the vaccine is the way out of this mess and the best way to be a disciple of Jesus. That’s not my political opinion. It’s sound theology as well as scientific and medical fact. Just like care for your neighbor above your own individual rights is the way of Jesus.
Jesus understands our frustration and lament. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” Last week one of our grandchildren sharply reminded me that I couldn’t make him do something. He was right. But I tried really hard to help encourage and empower him to choose to do the right thing. Eventually, he did. So, we plead. We love. We encourage. We inform. We lament. We wait. And we rejoice with each new vaccination decision.
Walking with you,
NC Synod Bishop
Click the following link for a PDF copy: “Vaccinations – A Reflection by Bishop Tim Smith”
Pastor Tim McKenzie’s 6.15.21 Email Concerning Worship Changes:
Announcement about Sunday – June 20, 2021
This email concerns two worship related items that St. Mark’s Congregation Council unanimously approved at its regular monthly meeting, Monday June 14th.
1) The singing of “Gathering” and “Sending” hymns will be added to the beginning and end of the current Sunday service. We look forward to being able to sing familiar songs of praise as we come together for worship!
2) Holy Communion will now be available in two ways from the center freestanding table at the Sunday service. Worshipers will have a choice of either receiving the Eucharist as a “Communion Kit” or by a more traditional method of a wafer and a small cup of wine. Communion assistants will wear gloves and masks during distribution to ensure the continued safety of the congregation during the service.
Though we are still not completely free of the pandemic, we rejoice at being able to restore these parts of the Sunday Service of Holy Communion. Please know that if you need or desire to wear a mask during worship, your are always welcome to do so. We want all members and friends to feel safe during the worship service.
I look forward seeing you in church on Sunday!
Grace and peace,
Pastor Tim McKenzie
Pastor Tim McKenzie’s 5.24.2021 Letter:
May 24, 2021
Dear Members and Friends of St. Mark’s,
Greetings in the name of Christ Jesus. I write to you with some significant and joyful news regarding our worship and fellowship life as a church.
By the unanimous vote of St. Mark’s Congregation Council on May 20, 2021, the restrictions of social distancing and masks have been lifted consistent with the CDC and the order of Governor Roy Cooper.
With Executive Order #215 (effective 5/14-6/11) and following the CDC May 13th guidance “that fully vaccinated individuals can safely do most activities without a mask or the need to social distance from others,” Governor Roy Cooper has lifted indoor mass gathering limits, restrictions for social distancing and the requirement of masks for persons who are fully vaccinated. Additionally, the guidance of the NCDHHS reads, “People who are not vaccinated should wear a
mask and maintain distance in all indoor public settings and in outdoor settings when they can’t maintain six feet of distance.”
Congregation Council Actions
St. Mark’s Congregation Council unanimously voted to adopt these guidelines as written above, effective May 20, 2021. We are very pleased to be able to begin to re-gather with greater freedom, and hope that members and friends of St. Mark’s will also feel confident about re-gathering for Sunday worship and fellowship.
St. Mark’s Congregation Council continues to take seriously the safety and the health concerns of all members and friends. Therefore, if individuals need or desire to wear a mask during worship, the Council wholeheartedly supports the continued use of masks for those who desire to wear them. Regarding first two rows of pews, the Council voted that they remain roped off to allow adequate space between musicians, lectors, worship leaders and the congregation.
Regarding outdoor youth events at the church, the Council unanimously voted to make the wearing of masks optional for outdoor youth events, leaving the final decision regarding this matter to the parents of St. Mark’s youth.
Regarding Sunday Worship
These new congregational guidelines were introduced on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021 and announced at the beginning of worship. Because capacity limitations and social distancing are no longer required, reservations are also no longer needed prior to attending Sunday worship. I look forward to seeing you in church!
For the foreseeable future, however, Holy Communion will continue to be offered using “Communion Kits” prepared and distributed in the manner currently under use. The return of mass singing and choirs are currently under review. Though spoken responses in the liturgy are fine, for the time being, we continue to refrain from the singing of the liturgy and hymns.
Regarding “Drive-Thru” Holy Communion
“Drive-Thru” Holy Communion has provided an important means of distributing the Eucharist, and I am grateful that so many have made use of this means of receiving the sacrament. We rejoice that we are able to gather in-person with freedom in greater numbers. Therefore, Sunday “Drive-Thru” Holy Communion will no longer be offered after the last Sunday in June. “Drive-Thru” Holy Communion will be available June 13th and 27th, and the times have been adjusted to 10:45-11:30 am. After that, if Holy Communion is desired by anyone unable to attend Sunday worship, please contact the pastor to arrange a time to come to the church to receive Holy Communion.
Regarding Sunday Fellowship
Finally, the Council voted unanimously to approve the restarting of after worship fellowship with drinks (coffee and juice) and cookies on the church patio to promote fellowship.
Therefore, it is with thanksgiving that I write to you knowing that we are making progress toward being fully free of the pandemic. Though we continue to be in a time of transition, and St. Mark’s “hybrid worship” of both in-person and online continues, I rejoice that a greater sense of freedom and confidence is being restored to the church and to society.
I pray for God’s continued protection and healing upon this congregation, its families, and our world as we seek to make Christ known in word and deed. May we remain steadfast to Jesus Christ who never leaves us, always walks with us, and gives us strength to be light and hope for the world.
In the grace and peace of Christ,
Pastor Tim McKenzie