COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Updates

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dear Friends of First Presbyterian Church

You have been in our prayers and on our hearts and minds as we have gathered by Zoom to make decisions about our life together as a family of faith. We thank you for lifting us in prayer, too.

This season has presented us with many new questions and challenges and we are grateful for your support as we seek the Spirit’s wisdom. Our most recent decision regarding the FPC campus and operations is due to expire on Monday, May 25. We have therefore sought the guidance of our church’s recently formed Task Force for Campus Operations about how we should proceed in the days ahead.

That Task Force is acting on our behalf to consider data and guidance from public health and government officials. Their goal is to provide a roadmap for a time when we will be able to gather again at the corner of Peachtree and 16th Streets. As you can imagine, their work is complicated, since our church serves many groups of people in many ways. As a reminder, this Task Force includes the following church members: Ben Balsley, MBA, former CEO of ONEPATH (Session member), Anna Bramwell, MD, Pediatrician, Piedmont Pediatrics, Ann Council, MPH, Chris Edmonds, CEO, ENERECAP Partners LLC, Sheryl Gabram-Mendola, MD, MBA, Emory’s Surgeon-in-Chief for Grady Health System and the Director of the AVON Comprehensive Breast Center at Grady, Kristen Holtz, PhD, President and CEO, KDH Research and Communications, Richard Kauffman, MD, North Atlanta Primary Care, Hans Lee, MD, Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Wellstar Hospital, Wade Miller, JD, Partner, Alston and Bird, Gary Mize, JD, Senior Counsel, Alston and Bird, and Patricia Thompson-Reid, MPH, Community-based Health Specialist at the Centers for Disease Control. The task force also includes staff members Tony Sundermeier (Senior Pastor), Rebekah LeMon (Executive Pastor), Stephanie Lane (Senior Director of Communications and Connections), JoAnn Regruto (Director of First Presbyterian Preschool), and Craig Anderson (Facilities Director).

The Task Force divided its work in order to best utilize the expertise of its members and bring us a new set of procedures as soon as possible. In the weeks ahead, their areas of focus will be:

  1. Gating Guidelines and Metrics for Readiness: synthesizing CDC and other guidelines and applying them to our context; determining what measures we need to meet before we can ensure safety on our campus
  2. Insurance and Compliance: planning for all foreseeable needs and complying with applicable guidelines
  3. Operational Logistics: considering all aspects of our gathering (building access, movement of people, space configuration, reservations, cleaning, supplies, etc.) to create a new set of procedures for a new time in our life together
  4. Ministry Programming: evaluating each of our existing ministries according to the above; considering and presenting new opportunities for ministry
  5. Ongoing Communications and Messaging: keeping our community informed about ongoing work and decisions; making all changes to our operations clear so that all are informed and confident before coming back to campus
  6. Finances: considering the financial impact of expanded operating costs

The Task Force is considering weighty questions with implications for people’s physical and emotional well-being and they have many details to work through in the coming weeks. To assist these efforts, the task force developed a congregation-wide survey. Please complete THIS SURVEY to help guide their work. We hope you will join us in praying that God will bring this group wisdom, creativity, and patience.

At a special called meeting of the Session on Sunday, May 17, we received and approved the Task Force’s recommendation to continue to worship by livestream and to keep our campus closed for most gatherings until at least August 1, 2020. The campus will continue to be used for services through our community ministries, and our Women’s Transformation Center residents will continue to live on site. We are exploring options for appropriately distanced outdoor gatherings for summertime, and our staff will continue to bring us together in worship through the livestream and other online connections.

We expect this news will be comforting in some ways, as we do not make any premature decisions or take any risks with health and safety. We also hope it will alleviate some fatigue and offer some clarity, as many of us are weary of day-by-day decision-making and waiting for news about each of the gathering places in our lives. We also realize that it might feel like a long way off, particularly as some businesses and other spaces begin to open in our state. We want to acknowledge all of those feelings and share that we expressed them in our discussions too. None of us wants to wait longer to be together. This is not a decision we made lightly, but one that is born of our church’s theology and identity. We are a place of radical hospitality, a people bound together because we have all received Christ’s welcome. We recall the words of 1 Peter 2:10: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Because we have all been welcomed by God, we must also ensure that everything we do is in a spirit of welcome for all of God’s children. Our call is not to get back to campus as quickly as possible, but to be hospitable in all that we do.

Our governor’s current executive order instructs people who self-identify as vulnerable to remain at home until at least June 13. This group includes many in our community—members, friends, and staff. When we look at another person, we don’t immediately know what burdens they are carrying. We don’t know how old they are or whether they have something that’s on a list of “underlying conditions.” We don’t know if they are anxious or caring for loved ones who are. We don’t know if they have seen COVID-19 up close or have become fearful about interactions. Apart from this pandemic, we would never ask members of our community to group themselves by vulnerability or age or access to childcare or comfort level. So rather than dividing into groups of those who might possibly come and those who couldn’t, we are choosing to live out our call to ensure that our campus is a safe and welcoming place for all people.

Given that summer is often a period of lower attendance, the timing of this decision also creates space for us to see what happens in our state in the coming weeks, to wait for clear guidance relevant to our different types of gatherings and ministries, and then to shape our operations carefully to address all needs. First Presbyterian Church has long been a thought and theological leader, and in this moment, we hope to be no different. We hope that this decision will communicate to our congregation and the community our deep love for people. And when we do gather in person again, we will be sure that we have done everything we can to make our gathering safe and a witness to Christ’s welcome for all.

In the meantime, we are comforted by the knowledge that no church is just its building. Since March 15, we have seen our congregation come together even though we are physically apart. We give thanks to God for all the ways we are, even now, living out Christ’s love and hospitality. May we continue to reach out to each other, to worship together online, and to pray for one another. We pray for God’s protection and peace for you all.

The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta,

Noreen Andrews, Ben Balsley, Tim Bennett, Rick Bold (Clerk), Erin Boorn, David Dantzler, Dale Dewberry, Michele Garren, Cathy Hasbrouck, Florida Huff, Becky Kelley, Sarah Kirsch, Rebekah LeMon, Tad Little, Julia Newsom, Dell Rearden, Gary Shell, Greg Smith, Robert Sparks, Tony Sundermeier (Moderator), Keith Thompson

Important Community Updates

We will not gather to worship in person at least through August 1, 2020, but will continue to livestream at 11:00 a.m. Sunday mornings. We will continue to be diligent, thoughtful, and measured in our decision-making, following the guidance of public health officials and prioritizing the health of every member and friend of the church.

Livestream

Bulletin

Sunday Mornings

On Sunday, April 26, we will launch a new sermon series that runs through July: Second Wind, Second Light: A Sermon Series on Christian Community. 

We will also offer online faith formation for all ages on Sundays in May and June. Each gathering will include a pastor or staff member.

  • Pre-K (and their parents), 10:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Kindergarten and first grade (and their parents), 10:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Second and third grades, 10:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Fourth and fifth grades, 10:00-10:45 a.m.
  • Middle school, 10:00-10:45 a.m.
  • Adults, “Office Hours” with Chris Holmes, 9:30-10:30 a.m.

We will release more information about these options soon, including leadership, schedule, and how to access these online offerings. Please note that these gatherings will not meet on Memorial Day Weekend (May 24) or for the month of July.

Thursday Evenings

We are launching a new weekday worship and faith formation initiative on Thursday, May 7, 2020. We will livestream a 30-minute service from 6:45-7:15 p.m. Our first series, called “The Wisdom Collaborative,” will include preachers from around Atlanta sharing scripture from the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes) and preaching short sermons. We look forward to sharing a list of guest preachers soon!

Office Hours: An Online Pop Up Bible Study

Sundays through June 28th from 9:30-10:30 a.m. on Facebook

Join First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta’s Scholar in Residence, Chris Holmes, and Columbia Theological Seminary’s associate professor of Hebrew Bible, Brennan Breed, for a new study entitled, “The Book of Job: Seeking God in a Chaotic World.” This course provides a close examination of the Book of Job and several of its central themes. Once again, Office Hours will feature conversations with professors from around the country, including Christine Yoder (Columbia Theological Seminary), Brent Strawn (Duke Divinity School), Carol Newsom (Emory University), Choon-Leong Seow (Vanderbilt University), and Safwat Marzouk (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary).

Join the Facebook Group

Watch past recordings

On Mondays through Thursdays, we will provide a daily devotional written by one of our pastors, sent by email and posted on our Facebook page. Friday emails will be more informational, and on Sundays, we will send a brief email with the day’s opportunities for worship and learning.

Pastoral Care Emergency Number:
(678) 508-4702
 
Pastoral Care Non-Emergency: Rob Sparks, Associate Pastor for Care, rsparks@firstpresatl.org

Our Community Ministries, which serves over 900 of our neighbors each month, continue on Monday-Wednesday from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30-8:30 a.m. Security will also be present in the Smith Building lobby Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. 

We are open on Sunday morning, 6-7:30 a.m. for boxed breakfasts and mail pick-up for those working during the week. We are taking every safety precaution available to us and continue to comply with the standards of social distancing outlined by the State of Georgia.

The Samaritan Counseling Center continues to work with clients online.

In the days ahead, if you would like to connect for online Spiritual Direction, Pastoral Counseling, or Clinical Therapy sessions, please reach out to Executive Director, Katie Sundermeier, at ksundermeier@samaritanatlanta.org or Clinical Director, Anna Ward Martin, at awmartin@samaritanatlanta.org. You can also email any one of our team members directly.

We are committed to providing mental and spiritual healthcare for those who reach out to SCCA in times such as these.

We will continue to work from our sliding fee scale available on our website.  Additionally, please reach out to Katie Sundermeier to discuss financial needs during this unprecedented time if needed.

Also available on our website is a complete list of our staff and a place where you can donate online if you are able to support the work we are doing today.

Through August 1, 2020, employees of the church, Childspring International, and Johnson C. Smith Seminary will continue to tele-work with the exception of a portion of the Community Ministries staff and volunteers; worship leaders, including broadcast staff and volunteers; and essential security and custodial personnel as necessary.

THURSDAY, MARCH 12, 2020​

Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta​,

Our Psalm for this week’s sermon series is Psalm 95. In this song, God is enthroned as King and Lord over all things. At the heart of the Reformed tradition is the conviction that God is God. In these uncertain days, we remain rooted and grounded in this truth. God is sovereign: this is our hope, our confidence, and our peace in the midst of the storm.

After consultation with physicians and public health professionals and conversation as a Session this afternoon via ZOOM, FPC is implementing a number of changes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community, effective immediately.

During this time, I would call on each of you to stay connected to other church members.  Pick up the phone. Call someone. Please especially be mindful of members and friends who might feel very isolated. I would also ask you to pray. Perhaps you would commit individually or as a household to pray the following prayer on a daily basis even as we trust God to be God in this time.

Adapted from Rev. Jill Duffield — God of all that is seen and unseen, our anxiety rises as the invisible coronavirus spreads. We worry about the impact of this illness on healthcare workers, older adults, those already physically fragile, the vulnerable among us and people whose livelihoods are tied to the regular movement of people and commerce. We recognize in this moment how inextricably connected we are to one another and we hope that this unmistakable realization will shape all our actions in ways that foster the common good, increase compassion and expand communal care. Bring healing to the sick, strength to the caregivers, comfort to those who mourn, peace to those in quarantine and mercy to all of your beloved creation. In Christ’s name and for his sake we pray. Amen.

Blessings,
Tony Sundermeier
Senior Pastor

Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta​,

Through God’s grace and mercy, we continue to be the church for one another and for our neighbors in the city and beyond. We are seeing “Resurrection Resilience” in so many ways: in a prayer over the phone with a member in the hospital, in regular zoom gatherings with our children and youth, in an online Bible Study shared by young adults from First Presbyterian and our partner churches in Brazil, in daily devotionals, in small groups and Bible Studies that are staying connected remotely (the church’s Zoom accounts have logged close to 400 hours and 2,700 participants in the last month!), in over 4,000 households worshiping together online on Easter Sunday, in “extra-mile” in-kind and financial gifts, and in the support we have been able to offer hundreds of our most vulnerable neighbors through our ongoing community ministries and Meals on Wheels. Truly, by the power of the Holy Spirit and with our collective willingness to humbly follow Jesus Christ, the church has been the church in these disorienting times.
 
Our Session and staff continue to seek faithful responses to our shared call and the needs of our community. While plans can be changed as circumstances change, the following are our Session’s decisions about our life together for the near future.
 
Worship
We will not gather to worship in person at least through May 24, 2020, but will continue to livestream at 11:00 a.m. Sunday mornings. At its May meeting (or a called meeting, if needed), Session will determine how we will worship on May 31 and beyond. We will continue to be diligent, thoughtful, and measured in our decision-making, following the guidance of public health officials and prioritizing the health of every member and friend of the church.
 
Campus Operations
Campus operations will continue on a limited basis. All employees will continue to work from home except for those who are leading worship and running our broadcast, a small number of community ministries staff and volunteers, and security and custodial personnel as needed. Our community ministries continue on Monday-Wednesday from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30-8:30 a.m. Security will also be present in the Smith Building lobby Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. The residents of our Women’s Transformation Center have been staying at a local hotel for almost three weeks following a positive case of covid-19 for one individual. Thankfully, she has recovered and all the women have been tested and received negative results. They are moving back into the WTC this week.
 
Finances and the Paycheck Protection Program
The financial health of First Presbyterian Church remains strong. Our strength is a result of your faithful generosity in regular and “extra-mile” giving. Through April 21, our April giving is up 20% from April 2019! I am also pleased to report that through the diligent efforts of Peggy McCurdy, our Director of Accounting, we have received a forgivable loan of approximately $890,000 under the CARES2020 Act Paycheck Protection Program, covering 2.5 months of payroll and related costs of the church and preschool staff.
Following news that we had secured this loan funding, Session voted to release 1st and 2nd quarter budgeted allocations totaling approximately $70,000 for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, per capita denominational funding, and our mission partners in Kenya, Brazil, Haiti, and Villa International. We intend to fulfill every commitment reflected in our 2020 budget for community ministries, global mission, and other ministry partners by year-end even as we receive and release money for needs that continue to arise as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Please continue to give so that we can realize our 2020 budget and be ready to meet the challenges that may come in the days ahead.
 
Member Assistance Fund, Food Pantry, and Community Ministries Support
Some of you have asked how you can provide support for our most vulnerable members and neighbors. Here are three ways to help:
 
First, we have a “Member Assistance Fund” that supports members of the congregation who are experiencing financial hardship by assisting with rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments, etc. If you would like to support this fund, you can mail a check or make a gift online and mark it “Member Assistance Fund” in the optional memo field.
 
Second, we have experienced an increase in people seeking food from our food pantry and expect that that trend will continue. We can receive in-kind gifts, Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. in the Smith lobby, but are also encouraging people to contribute gift cards to local grocery stores (Publix and Kroger are preferred) in small increments ($5, $10, $20) so those we serve can purchase perishable items for their households. Checks and online gifts may also be designated for our food pantry.
 
Third, we have increased funding needs in a number of our other community ministries, as we welcome some neighbors who are struggling with rent and utility costs and others who need MARTA cards to get to work. We have also added the cost of outdoor restroom and sink trailers to provide support for our neighbors and our Sunday breakfast costs have increased as we provide a meal that has been prepared off-site. Gifts to support any of these ministries (or gifts simply designated for community ministries generally) are needed and deeply appreciated.
 
Worship and Faith Formation in May-July
I am excited to introduce a worship and faith formation plan that will take us through July 31, 2020. This plan allows us to remain entirely online or, if it becomes safe to gather, to create a hybrid option that allows some folks to participate in-person while others are online.
 
Sunday Mornings
This Sunday, we will launch a new sermon series that runs through July: Second Wind, Second Light: A Sermon Series on Christian Community. Wind and light are images that help us understand how we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and who we are called to be. Using the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, we will seek our “second wind” and how to be a “second light” (Jesus is the first light!) as we explore the commitments, values, and mission of Christian community.
 
We will also offer online faith formation for all ages on Sundays in May and June. Each gathering will include a pastor or staff member.
  • Pre-K (and their parents), 10:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Kindergarten and first grade (and their parents), 10:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Second and third grades, 10:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Fourth and fifth grades, 10:00-10:45 a.m.
  • Middle school, 10:00-10:45 a.m.
  • Adults, “Office Hours” with Chris Holmes, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
We will release more information about these options soon, including leadership, schedule, and how to access these online offerings. Please note that these gatherings will not meet on Memorial Day Weekend (May 24) or for the month of July.
 
Thursday Evenings
We are launching a new weekday worship and faith formation initiative on Thursday, May 7, 2020. We will livestream a 30-minute service from 6:45-7:15 p.m. Our first series, called “The Wisdom Collaborative,” will include preachers from around Atlanta sharing scripture from the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes) and preaching short sermons. We look forward to sharing a list of guest preachers soon!
 
We will also offer Thursday evening faith formation opportunities from Jamie Butcher, Chris Holmes, Keith Thompson (20s/30s ministry), and Rachal Little (High School ministry) from 7:30-8:30 p.m. More information about these opportunities will also be released soon.
 
Friends, I know this was a lot of information, so thank you for your perseverance in reading this letter. And thank you for your perseverance as a follower of Christ through this time. Ours is still a world of hope, and God will continue to give us what we need to be faithful in the days ahead!
 
Blessings,
Tony Sundermeier
Senior Pastor
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