A Letter from Pastor Jeff Metzger
Hey River Hills family,
I sure miss seeing you face to face, but I’m SO GRATEFUL for the many ways we’ve been able to stay connected and make a real difference throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Obviously, we’ve wrestled with many decisions concerning re-entry into campus life.
How will it look DIFFERENT?
– What has CHANGED in the short term and what has changed forever?
– And my guess is the BIGGEST QUESTION on everybody’s mind right now is WHEN – when can we begin to regather on our campuses?
-We now know the answer to the when question – June 7 at 9:30 and 11:00. And believe me, nobody is looking forward to that day more than me!
With the news changing every day, our River Hills team aligned on a specific set of criteria that are informing/guiding our important reopening decisions. It’s the WHY behind the what.
First, let’s remember – River Hills NEVER CLOSED. There’s a huge difference between a building being open and the church being the church. We’ve been connecting and reaching more people than ever. We had more people watching/experiencing Easter this year than any time in history. The Gospel is being communicated each week online and in person as we talk to our neighbors. People are finding hope and help in Jesus. People are finding community in online groups. Members are being checked on by phone. Compassion is being unleashed locally through our weekly generous food donations. Our mission has not slowed down.
In Belize our mission efforts supplied sewing machines and helped start sewing micro businesses. Our sewing friends in Belize have been contracted to make masks for companies to distribute. That’s a triple win – for the economic benefit of our friends in Belize, for public health, and for River Hills’ efforts to see people blessed and Jesus honored. God used you to make that happen!
And because of your incredible generosity, giving is healthy. Online giving is at a record high! (Are you one of the many who have automated their giving online? If not, why not check it out?!) Checks are being mailed in. People are even giving during our Saturday drive through. Thank you for loving God through giving.
We are NOT building centric. We are Jesus and people centric. River Hills is open and well!
Second, please know River Hills is committed to health and safety. Protect yourself and others. We now know how to do that. Campus gatherings will operate with social distancing and all recommended best practices for health and sanitation. True, our worship services might seem different, less intimate with social distancing. But, we are ready to safely give it a try.
Kids are a top priority and kids don’t know HOW to social distance. For that reason, there is a plan for phased reopening for children and students. Watch for more details. In the meantime, we encourage families to worship together in the auditorium. We will provide age appropriate activities for your children.
Third, we potentially face a perception challenge. We certainly don’t want our campus regathering to hurt our witness to our neighbors and communities. Resuming on-campus gatherings can potentially TURN-OFF unchurched people to the goodness of Jesus and lead them to conclude that the church is out of touch and uncaring to the needs of our world. We want to be known as hyper-loving! That is who we are! We must continue to express love in every way possible.
I’m guessing we have 3 kinds of people in our church/region.
- NOW people. Some are saying, “I’m tired of this. I’m ready to resume normal activity now.”
- LATER people. They say, “I do plan to return to a service at the building, but I’m gonna wait a little while and see what happens.”
- NEVER people. “I’m not coming back for a long time – maybe not until they create a proven vaccine.”
And you know what – I admire and respect all 3 of these positions. I am a risky, early adopter by nature. I tend to have a much higher tolerance for risk than others. With this though, I am taking the advice of a multitude of informed doctors, lawyers, pastors, and leaders in our church. We are walking the line between taking carefully considered risks and unnecessary gambles. While we will never eliminate risk, we can reduce it. I don’t want to be so afraid of doing something wrong, it keeps us from doing something right.
So please pray for us, because it will be impossible to please all 3 parties (the Nows, Laters, and Nevers) with any decision we make. So please assume positive intent. This is very complex. Do we require masks or not? For everyone or just some? What about temperature checks? What if all the volunteers needed to serve can’t/won’t come? Welcome to my world! And what about the spiritual, mental and physical toll the last 50 days have taken on quite a few of our wonderful staff and volunteers? I know this as a leader – deciding to suspend in person services was a lot easier than re-introducing them!
And here’s the final principle that’s guiding us right now … ANY PLANS WE MAKE could CHANGE quickly, SO WE WILL REMAIN AGILE AND FLEXIBLE. If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout this crisis it’s that THINGS CHANGE. The news, guidelines, and projections change, so if we need to revisit these drivers and make any mid-course adjustments, we will. We believe God, good sense, government officials, and health care experts have all revealed that now is a prudent time to begin to regather. We will continue to listen, learn, consult, and adjust our path medically, legally, culturally, logistically, and experientially as needed.
As we move forward our current state of doing online ministry will continue. Our online team is working overtime to make that experience the best it can be and I am so proud of them. I know you may be experiencing screen fatigue with zoom calls and online school, but honestly, it’s never been easier to invite someone to church, just by sending a link or sharing a social media post. If you can’t regather at this time, host a small gathering in your home with family or friends to worship together.
In uncertain times decisions are never easy to make. God may lead other churches differently than we sense He’s leading us. We will learn from them and cheer them on. Our goal as leaders from the day this all came down in March has been threefold. Protect the health of people; continue to bless and serve our community in every way possible; and continue to lift up Jesus while guarding the reputation and mission of the church – both short and long-term. I firmly believe what I have shared today will continue do just that.
There’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of – my love and appreciation for YOU has never been greater. And I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to be your pastor, especially right now.
Due to statewide school closings, some students will not be provided their usual weekly lunches. We want to do our part in our community, so please bring Lunchables, Spaghetti Os, or fruit cups to church. We will distribute these items to neighborhoods during school closures.
If you or anyone you know needs assistance for your child, please call our office (513) 677-7600.