Annual Report 5 August 2020
The words are dramatic and unsettling: pandemic, recession, social unrest, mob violence, racial prejudice, lockdown, partisan politics, protests, anger, and despair. We have been observing these in our country through a significant portion of 2020. Our world has changed, and as followers of Jesus Christ we face unprecedented challenges. How do the people of God who make up Aspen Ridge Church face these times of uncertainty?
In a culture marked by political and social division over many things, including the best response to the coronavirus, a waiting and watching world is wondering if there is anything around which one may unite? Members and regular attenders of Aspen Ridge are tempted to divide over peripheral issues, including whether to wear a mask. I know of individuals who will not attend “in person” services because the government requires masks, and other individuals who will not attend because too many people are not wearing masks. We have an opportunity to unite around the gospel and our shared faith. I do want to commend those who resist dividing over public health guidelines or partisan politics. I further want to challenge all to maintain our unity in the bond of peace.
Our society is marked by fear and apprehension. Will I contract coronavirus, or a child, family member or loved one? Will therapeutics or a vaccine be available in a timely manner? You may be a person with risk factors or special levels of vulnerability. I know of individuals who will not gather for weekend services or small group life because they are afraid of contracting coronavirus. A waiting and watching world is wondering if there is a source of confidence beyond uncertain health factors? I do want to commend those who, alongside of prudent precautions, follow Christ in a bold and public manner. They witness to their faith in Christ, take steps of baptism and church membership, and connect publicly with the people of God in small group and weekend gatherings. They serve friends and neighbors alike.
A significant number of jobs have been lost due to lockdowns and many other factors surrounding the pandemic. Many are receiving unemployment and with uncertain prospects for the future. Some are tempted to stockpile and hoard. A waiting and watching world wonders if they will be sustained in the future. This test becomes an opportunity. Will followers of Christ be protective of limited resources? Or will we live with open hearts and open hands? Will we trust God only when circumstances are favorable? I do want to commend those who faithfully give to the Aspen Ridge Church general and benevolent funds. While the downturn has surely influenced giving patterns, some 80% of our giving has stayed in place during the last 5 months. Further, a significant portion of our giving has migrated online. This is a positive development, indicating a high degree of commitment to this local church.
It appears a number of persons and families have not fared well during the lockdown. Some of these individuals have appeared in my office seeking the grace and freedom that Christ provides. Marriages are hurting, children are acting out, and compulsive/addictive behaviors are on the rise. People are wondering if there are answers for life problems that they seem not to be able to manage? What may be done with anger problems or depression? I do want to declare that we find freedom in Jesus Christ. We do not take credit for this, but we understand what God has done for us in Christ, and we affirm the truth of our identity in Christ. I commend those who identify a need for help and seek redemption from God and by wise and trusted counsel. I am pleased when I hear of Christ-followers who go toward these troubling challenges with grace and hope and healing.
These widespread circumstances have not been favorable for experiencing community. After three months of no public weekend services, Aspen Ridge Church re-opened Father’s Day weekend (June 20-21). We have seen attendance levels at our public weekend gathering about 40% of what they had averaged before the lockdown. A number of our small groups are healthy and meeting, but a number are taking an extended break through the lockdown and into the summer. A waiting and watching world wonders if public worship will remain a freedom enjoyed in the country? A person came up to me recently and said they took for granted the freedom to assemble in worship until that freedom was removed. I do want to commend those who are connecting with small group life as this appears very sustainable during a season of social and public unrest. I also commend those who connect with us online…
What should the people of Aspen Ridge Church do in this season of difficulty and uncertainty? We should press on in our faith. In Middle School I remember my teacher saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I understand that statement now in a far different way than when I was a youth. Will we believe, pray, gather, guard, serve, unite, and witness… in Christ? I envision a day when every person in our community receives a demonstration of Christ’s love through the people who make up Aspen Ridge Church. Can you imagine the interest our harvest field may take in spiritual things? Would you like to be a part of a team who God uses to make that happen? I do.
In Christ’s Hope,
Dr. Jeffrey Clark