Who knew that by the beginning of April 2020, this word would be on everyone’s lips. By May the word was overused and by June downright obnoxious. But few words sum up 2020 more appropriately. From a global pandemic to economic uncertainty to shocking injustice, social unrest, and rancorous politics culminating in a contested election and attempted insurrection…UNPRECEDENTED! Few words more appropriately sum up this past year.
But just as the challenges of the past year have been unprecedented, so also have been the opportunities. The shutdowns in March 2020 kept us at home, worshiping and fellowshipping remotely for nearly three months. Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day and every service in between, the church building at the corner of Montrose and Melvina sat empty on Sundays at 10:45 AM and 7:30 PM. Truly an unprecedented challenge, but one that also presented unforeseen opportunities.
In 2020 we did not meet less – WE MET MORE! Daily prayer meetings on Zoom convened – and continue! – each and every weekday at 3:00 PM. Sunday services were broadcast from the parsonage via YouTube, Facebook Live, Instagram TV and Zoom. John played the piano in the living room. Tanya sang and led worship in the dining room. Ric and Che led Sunday school from their homes. Several people ministered music. I preached the sermon, led in communion, and sought by God’s grace to shepherd the flock. One special memory is hosting the Good Friday service from our dining room table. Another is Tanya’s online Easter Egg Scavenger hunt! Another still is the “Song Nights” when people shared their God-given musical talents and testimonies on Zoom. Youth group continued. Tanya led daily devotions for teens. Jason hosted a Bible story time for kids. The Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meetings reached more people via Zoom and Facebook than it ever did when merely meeting in person.
Services were moved online, but none were cancelled. While we mourned not meeting together in the same proximity and closeness we are used to, our church family did not forsake the assembling of ourselves, nor did we close ourselves off from the outside world. After three months broadcasting from the parsonage, on June 21 (Father’s Day) we moved services back to the church, continuing to broadcast online via YouTube and on the church website as well as Facebook Live and Zoom. Our YouTube subscribers now top 1,500. One Sunday evening service in June was shared dozens of times and viewed by nearly 3,000 people on Facebook. (Our regular pre-pandemic attendance on Sunday evenings was less than 30 – that’s 100 times more people reached!)
This year we partnered with our local food pantry by volunteering time and donating needed supplies. I am proud of the work St. Cyprian’s Food Pantry has been doing to help families in need throughout the pandemic. They have had to move operations outside – even in this month’s bone chilling cold weather! – and they are reaching hundreds of people each week and hundreds of families each month. I am working hard every Monday and Thursday to assist in the food distribution, and I’m proud of the other volunteers from Montrose who have also stepped up to help in this important ministry to Chicago’s northwest side. Many neighborhood food pantries had to close during the pandemic. St. Cyprian’s is now providing food for many more people than it did previously, and some families visit the pantry weekly (or more!) to ensure children are fed and household needs are met.
Unprecedented challenges create unparalleled opportunities. I list just a few of the ways we have adapted and excelled this year, and I am excited to continue living the adventure in 2021. You are a part of it. None of it could have happened without you. Your consistent financial contributions to the church are humbling. Your faithfulness and courage are inspiring. I praise God from whom all blessings flow, even as I give thanks to Him upon every remembrance of you!
Just as God raised up Queen Esther “for such a time as this,” so He has raised us up to serve His purpose in our generation. It is hard to wrap our minds around all the challenges we have weathered this past year, and only God knows what hurdles lie along the course ahead. We have done our best to wear our masks, wash our hands, and watch our distance. Some have rejoined regular services at the church building. Others continue to faithfully participate online or via telephone. Still others we have sadly had little contact with. New friends have joined our fellowship, and we are looking forward to baptisms this coming Easter.
Life at Montrose continues, but things are different. When will all return to “normal”? What will become the “new normal”? Church attendance across America was already in sharp decline. We must not assume that post-pandemic openings will suddenly usher in a rush of new attenders. That is why Jesus did not tell us to stay put. He told us to go. So we are going to continue doing what the King of King and Lord of Lords authorized and commissioned us to do. We are going to continue making disciples of Jesus Christ. We are going to keep looking up in worship, digging deep in God’s Word, building into the body of Christ, reaching out to the world around us, and sending forth into the harvest.
Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." It all begins with prayer. We cannot do this on our own. We must be fully reliant on God to accomplish the daunting task before us. As we love God and the people He created, prayer must always be our first response.
I am excited and nervous about the journey ahead. Isn’t that the definition of adventure? With eyes fixed on Jesus, let’s run the race marked out for us. We were created to run freely, so let’s drop worldly weights, disengage from sinful entanglements, and leave our burdens at the foot of the cross. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we know Who holds tomorrow. He is good, and He is God, and that’s all we need to know.
Living the Adventure alongside You,
Jason Platt, Lead Pastor
Montrose Baptist Church
Chicago, February 2021