Presently, Gov. Wolf and his staff are producing plans for the reopening of Pennsylvania. State and county officials also outlined plans for further reopening, including certain public health milestones related to community incidence rates of COVID-19, as well as broad availability of testing and tracing measures.
Meanwhile, churches must decide how they will function. At this time, and for the foreseeable future, the HGI campus remains close for gatherings, but our church is still very much open – more on that in a moment.
There are four major points we are considering as we continue to evaluate whether and when to reopen the HGI campus in the months ahead.
1.Public health. We care deeply about human life because we agree with Jesus that every person has infinite worth and is created in the image of God. We have been in frequent and ongoing conversations with medical professionals and government officials to understand best practices for large-group gatherings in the midst of a pandemic. While we are continuously learning more about COVID-19, we are not confident at this time that large-group gatherings involving the traditional elements of Christian worship (singing, prayer, etc.) are safe for individuals or the broader communities in which we live, yet we will continue to monitor this concern, and we look forward to making alternative decisions in the future as circumstances shift.
2.Theology. As of the writing of this letter, the State of Pennsylvania continues to order the closure of non-essential large-group gatherings at churches, dine-in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, gyms, sports venues, etc. It is our best understanding of the New Testament scriptures that we are repeatedly instructed to submit ourselves to our governing authorities unless they order us to do something that violates our faith. Given that churches are not being singled out for closure, we do not feel that our governing officials have asked us in any way to violate our faith in Jesus. To honor the teachings of Jesus and Scripture, we believe we should continue to submit ourselves to the orders of the State of Pennsylvania. Please reference the following Scripture passages: Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:11-17; Titus 3:1-2.
3.Witness to Outsiders. It is our primary mission as a church to help others enter into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. For nearly 18 years, that has been the heartbeat of HGI: that we exist primarily for people who are not here yet, and that we derive that missional heartbeat directly from the instructions of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20), Even people who have historically wanted nothing to do with “the church” are looking at us right now, and we want our decision-making process on physically opening our campus to be thoughtful and prayerful enough that even outsiders are compelled to consider the Jesus we follow. We hope our choice to move through a process of reopening at a thoughtful pace will be a reflection to the outside world of the thoughtfulness of our faith in Jesus.
4.Experience. We truly miss physically gathering together. We miss the conversations, the laughs, the reverent and fun times of worship. We miss seeing our kids learning about Jesus together and playing together at each campus. Unfortunately, at present, we are unable to offer an experience anything like these fond memories at our physical locations. We cannot offer Champ Kidz, because children are terrible at social distancing (and we are anticipating further guidance about safeguards that should be in place for gatherings of children and students in public settings). We cannot sing together in corporate worship because projecting our voices toward one another in a confined room with circulated air isn’t very safe right now. We cannot encourage people to gather and linger and mingle. We long for the day when that changes, but the Sunday experience we could offer at the moment would not feel very much like what we all miss.
For all of those reasons, based on what we know right now, both of our campuses remain closed for the time being. We do not anticipate returning for worship gatherings until we can ensure a safe and positive experience for our staff, volunteers, and attendees. We will provide additional updates in early to mid-June.
However, HGI is more than a building or a campus. In that sense, we are “open” even while our physical campus remains closed for large gatherings. HGI remains open because our pastors, staff and volunteers continue to serve! We are gathering hundreds weekly to participate in Church online on Sundays and Wednesdays. Ministry groups are meeting on Zoom together. Students and kids programming are being shared online with our families. Every single one of our ministry teams is learning and growing through this time, eagerly considering new strategies that will allow us to best serve our congregation and community through this season and beyond.
In addition, we are thankful. So many of you – our members and regular attendees – have continued to give generously and even sacrificially through this unprecedented time. Your generosity has already allowed us to bless others.
Now, maybe more than ever, we have opportunities to demonstrate the love of Jesus in serving alongside other community partners to care for those with great physical and spiritual needs.
Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement.
Pastor Steve and Pastor Wanda Martin
Pastors, Higher Ground International
IMPORTANT HEALTH INFORMATION
Follow the link below to read Governor Tom Wolf's Statement:
Follow the links below to the different Health Organizations that are closely monitoring and studying COVID-19!
Center for Disease Control (CDC):
World Health Organization (WHO):
HGI CAMPUS PRECAUTIONS
With all the uncertainty going on around the Coronavirus, we want to let you know of the extra steps we're taking at HGI to ensure you and your family's safety during our events and worship experiences. As much as we can, we taking extra care to wipe down, clean and disinfect all surfaces, equipment and vehicles.
We have also limited physical contact as much as can possibly allow during scheduled events and services such as handshakes, and hugs, and any scenario that requires speaking to another member in close proximity (3ft or less). In addition we have placed caution messages in our open spaces discouraging any unnecessary touch during this time.
Here's what you can do to help:
If you're feeling sick prior to a scheduled event or service,
we ask that you stay home, and take advantage of our online experience
by tuning into a livestream of our services whenever possible.
Should you need prayer while you're at home, you may post your request right into the chat
or contact our offices to get connected with a prayer counselor
We take the wellbeing of our members very seriously, and we want to see everyone
get through this situation together.
ONE CHURCH. ONE SOUND. TWO LOCATIONS
HGI COVID-19 PASTORS' MESSAGE
HGI COVID-19 MEMBER SURVEY
Thank you for your participation in this survey!
This survey has several questions about your current feelings about returning to regular activities at Higher Ground International when restrictions on gatherings in our community are lessened. We sincerely appreciate our church family taking the time to participate in this decision-making through your contributions to this survey. Please thoughtfully and prayerfully complete this survey by May 27th.
We made this survey based on a document created by Lifeway, which many churches are using to guide decisions towards how to begin gathering again.