COVID-19 Updates

September 3, 2020

Dear friends –

We pray that you and yours are well.  This letter comes with great love, and with the very latest on COVID-19 and Circle.  The big news is that Circle of Peace is planning to regather for outdoor worship in the fall. 

For months, our Board and staff have prayed and read and watched and Zoomed and prayed again about the right time to regather, and we asked God for the guidance to do it safely.  At this time, our leadership is unified in the decision to regather for in-person, outdoor worship in November.  

We still have plenty of details to figure out.  The logistics aren’t 100% clear yet.  But our heart, our reasoning, our “why” is clear. 

Here are seven reasons why we’re heading in this direction.   

  1. Wisdom.  We know some leading churches have already regathered.   We know other leading churches who aren’t regathering until 2021.  We don’t feel the need to be the first, we don’t need to be the last, we just want to be wise.  In this case wisdom looks like being deliberate, waiting and seeing what our friends in other churches and other industries are doing.  We made the choice to let others go first, and then learn what we can based on their experience.  There is also a time lag between cause and effect in public health, so it has been wise to wait and see. 
  • Numbers are dropping.  From the beginning, we said that we would “follow the science” and that we would not regather any time before the peak of the virus.  While we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, the numbers for the state of Arizona are steadily improving.  It appears that this downward trend will continue.
  • Our building is small.  We love our building, but our low ceilings and low capacity and narrow hallways are exactly the kind of space many people will avoid in the era of COVID-19.  That’s the bad news. 
  • Outdoors is safer.  The good news is we have plenty of real estate, and everything we’ve read has said that the outdoors is way safer than indoors.  Some experts say that outdoor gatherings are literally twenty times safer than indoor gatherings (Time Magazine, August 25, 2020, “COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosols.”)  Many churches across the country are turning to outdoor worship as a safe way to gather, and as summer turns to fall, our brothers and sisters in other Phoenix churches are also exploring outdoor worship.
  • Decisiveness.  Throughout the pandemic, all kinds of organizations have been asking, “Do we open?  Do we not?  Are we going to do this?  Or that?”  These are fluid times, and no one knows for sure where what the future holds.  But we feel that the second-guessing and constant back-and-forth tentativeness is unnecessarily stressful for everyone.  When it came to video church, we made the call and stuck with it.  We plan to do the same with outdoor worship. 
  • Marathon Mentality.  Frankly, none of us expected to be doing video church for so long.  But with God’s help we were able to adapt to a new form of worship that, while not ideal, was heartfelt and sustainable.  We are trying to take the same mentality into outdoor church.  That is, we want to adapt to a new form of worship that will be heartfelt and sustainable.  We have held steady with video church for months, and we can safely hold steady with outdoor worship for months if necessary. 
  • Mission.  Circle’s mission is The Great Commission (making disciples, see Matthew 28:18-20) and The Great Commandment (loving God, self, and others, see Mark 12:30-31).  Why did we start a second service last year?  So that we could make space to make disciples.  Why did we move forward on developing a second facility?  So that we could make space to make disciples.  Why are we regathering for outdoor worship?  The same reason.  As a church, we long to regather.  We also believe that people in our neighborhood would come to church if they feel they can do so safely.  Because of this, we believe that the church who meets this need in this season will find itself uniquely positioned to share God’s love with its community.  We want to be that church.

God willing, we will create a setting, an atmosphere, and a tone that is celebratory, informal, and embraces the joy of open-air worship.  After all, Jesus spent a lot of time teaching outside, right? 

Thank you for your prayers and support, it means more than words can express.  If you are able to help in some way with regathering for outdoor worship, please contact our Ministry Director Jaime Howard ASAP (jaime@circleofpeacechurch.com).  Look for more to come, and if you have any questions, please ask.  

With the Spirit’s help, we are figuring this out as we go.  But we are saving a place for you… and for the hurting, the lost, and the lonely in our community. 

Jeremy Ashworth, Pastor

June 25, 2020

Dear friends –

We pray that you and yours are well.  This letter comes with great love, and with the very latest on COVID-19 and Circle. 

Here’s the short version: We yearn to gather for worship.  But we believe it is not wise and not safe to do so at this time. 

Here’s the long version: About one month ago, we sent out a letter asking for prayer for our leadership as we try to wisely plan for an eventual, gradual reopening.  We asked for prayers around two areas:

  1. Science and the Spirit.  “Science” means we want to follow the data and follow the science, which at a minimum means not reopening any time before the peak of the virus.  “Spirit” means we are actively seeking and praying for God to guide us into creative ways to be a church family together.   
  • Dimmer dial, not an on/off switch.  We shared in May that we would not open in June, and did not have a start date in mind.  Our plan was to patiently watch and learn from our brothers and sisters who do and do not open, and to create a gradual, sustainable, rolling start plan that works for our church (the building) and our church (the people). 

In brief, here’s what we’ve seen and done in the last month:

  • We did a survey of the congregation and shared those results. 
  • The Board called a Task Force, made up of myself, Sarah Bacon (medical liaison), Ryan Brown (finance), and Shawn Carothers (property). 
  • We began to develop new ways to connect – more on that in a minute. 

As a Task Force we expected to be diligent about all the necessary details: “What kind of hand sanitizer should we buy?” and “What are the best safety protocols?” and “How does our air conditioning system and the size of our worship center impact the likelihood of infection?”  We kept very up-to-date on the development of the virus in our area, and kept a close eye on the experience of other churches who were regathering.  We wanted our decision to be data-driven, meaning: If the virus is trending downward, we open up sooner.  If the virus is trending upward, we open up later.  My hope was that the virus would trend downward.  This has not been the case. 

By now you are probably aware that the state of Arizona is making national news for how quickly COVID-19 is spreading here.  We personally know Phoenix churches who confidently regathered, only to postpone services again because of COVID-19 outbreaks in their own congregation.  We know that some Phoenix churches who planned to regather in June have chosen to wait until a later date, in part due to changing government regulations.  And we know that some Phoenix churches have regathered without incident so far, thank God.  It should also be said that when we talk privately with the leaders of those congregations, they are not all fully convinced that reopening is worth it.  This, along with the guidance of our denominational family, public health officials, insurance experts, and COVID-19 front-liners in our own congregation all lead us to believe that it is not wise and not safe to regather at this time. 

As one of our leaders recently said, “We know it’s not safe to regather.  We crave the contact, but we can’t say we didn’t know.” 

I will say again what we’ve said before: As Christians we are not afraid.  And because we love our neighbors, we do not wish to seed further outbreaks and contribute to the harm of local families, businesses, or healthcare facilities. 

But this time I’ll add something extra: I am disappointed.  To be clear, I’m not disappointed in the members or leaders of Circle.  I am disappointed that we are forced to choose between meeting in person (a core value of mine) and keeping people safe (also a core value of mine).  James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  I confess that I am not feeling joy quite yet.  But more than ever I am aware of our need for wisdom (James 1:5), maturity (James 1:4), and perseverance.  As God gives us strength, we are determined to pass this test, look out for others, and to meet the Holy Spirit in this moment.    

To that end, I invite you to three things:

  1. 2×4 Prayer.  This is a simple ministry where we sign up to pray for two Circle families for four weeks.  This simple ministry is already making a big difference. For more info, contact Ministry Director Jaime Howard at Jaime@circleofpeacechurch.com
  • “Four Ways to Help Others Now” offering.  Several people have asked me, “What can we do to help the hurting and vulnerable people around us right now?”  In response, we are putting a spotlight on four diverse ministries that meet tangible and timely needs.  For all the details, contact Juliana Pitruzzello at frontdesk@circleofpeacechurch.com
  • Touchpoints.  Worship is more than songs and a sermon.  It’s the sum total of all the little things that make us feel connected and cared for, and we miss them. That’s why we are beginning a new ministry called “Touchpoints.”  It’s not a sermon or a Bible study.  It is an intentional effort to share playful, thoughtful, caring gestures in this season.  Can you paint rocks?  Write notes?  Make deliveries?  If you want to know more about how you can help do small things with great love, please contact Jaime Howard at jaime@circleofpeacechurch.com.  Even if you can only help one time, reach out to Jaime and she’ll help connect you with a project that works for you and blesses others.  

The medical experts we are talking with say that the next 4-6 weeks will be key for the state of Arizona, so we will continue to watch and wait and pray attentively.  And we will continue to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the starter and finisher of our faith. 

Your presence is missed.  Your encouragement, prayers, and patience are priceless.  Look for more to come, and if you have any questions, please ask.  

Jeremy Ashworth, Pastor

May 20, 2020

Dear friends –

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3).  We pray that you and yours are well.  This letter is long, but it comes with great love, and with the desire to share the very latest on COVID-19 and Circle.

Here’s the short version: Please pray for those who are impacted by COVID-19, and please pray for our leadership as we try to wisely plan for an eventual, gradual reopening.

Here’s the longer version.

Please continue to “pray for one another” (James 5:16), especially those in our church who are directly impacted by COVID-19.  Many of us are healthy and fine, thank God!  We also know that jobs have been shaken, and family rhythms have been disrupted.  Some of our brothers and sisters are trying to stay busy.  Some are trying to stay sober.  Circle has people of all ages with pre-existing conditions and compromised immune systems.  We have a great group of senior citizens, including one person in our church who is 100 years old.  We’ve had pandemic pregnancies.  We’ve had premature babies born during the shutdown (baby is healthy, thank God!).  We have a surprising number of medical professionals in our church who work with COVID patients.  We have people in our church who are doing COVID-19 testing in our immediate neighborhood.  We have people in our church whose family members have tested positive for COVID-19.  We have members of this church who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are fighting it now.  Please “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

The leadership of Circle is asking that you pray for us as we discern next steps.  In March we announced that we would be postponing all in-person gatherings until further notice.  As much of Arizona begins to gradually open up, we share in the eagerness for a return to normal.  We miss each other.  We also share in the frustration that “normal” will not come as quickly as we would like.

Part of the good news of the last few months is that, behind the scenes, the Body of Christ has united in unprecedented ways.  We are blessed – spoiled, really – by the gifts and skills within our own congregation.  But in the past few months we have been overwhelmed by the ways in which Christian communities from across the Valley and across the country have freely and enthusiastically shared their resources, ideas, and expertise with us.  On our own we never could have generated or purchased the resources that were simply given away to us.  We have also been excited to give back and “bring something to the potluck” as other churches have borrowed ideas from Circle.  (If you want to know more about this, just ask Pastor Jeremy).

Nationally and locally, some churches are beginning to gradually open up.  But as we consult with health leaders, civic leaders, and other church leaders, the advice we are being given is sobering.  We are grateful for this collective expertise, but the protocols that are being recommended (strict sanitation procedures, physical distancing guidelines, etc.) are daunting and potentially unfeasible.  Frankly, the protocols that make us feel safe in a doctor’s office feel creepy and un-worshipful at church.  (Again, if you want to know more about what has been recommended to us, just ask Pastor Jeremy).  Some churches who opened up in the last few weeks have already closed because the virus spread so quickly throughout their congregation.

As Christians we are not afraid.  And because we love our neighbors, we do not wish to seed further outbreaks and contribute to the harm of local families, businesses, or healthcare facilities.

So we ask for your prayers around two areas:

  1. Science and the Spirit.  On the one hand, the state of Arizona has not yet reached the projected peak of the virus, and we will not reopen any time before the projected peak.  We are also in a great position to monitor the medical impact of the gradual reopening in the Peoria area (science!).  At the same time, we are actively seeking and praying for new and creative ways to gather and worship together (Spirit!).
  2. Dimmer dial, not an on/off switch.  We will not reopen in June, and we do not have a start date in mind.  Like most other churches (and businesses), we will not have an immediate snap back to normal.  We will patiently watch and learn from our brothers and sisters who do and do not open, and will create a gradual, sustainable, rolling start plan that works for our church (the building) and our church (the people).

Please know that you are missed.  Your encouragement, prayers, and patience are priceless.  Look for more to come, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Jeremy Ashworth, Pastor
Circle of Peace Church Board
Debra Merrifield Carothers
Dawn Hunn
Shawn Carothers
Louene Trout
Connie Josey
Ryan Brown
Clark Youngblood
April 8, 2020

Dear friends –

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2).  We pray that you and yours are well, and are sending this letter to you to give you the latest on Circle, COVID-19, and Easter.

First, many thanks.  Thank you to all who participated in any aspect of our life together in the past few weeks.  Thank you to those who are calling to check on people in our church.  Thank you to all who supported the blood drive on April 5 – we were 100% booked!  Thank you to all who tune in to our online services, who create videos and who give feedback.  Thank you to all who participate in small groups and kid’s ministry via Zoom.  Thank you to our staff and Board who are doing incredible work behind the scenes.  Thank you to all those whose faithful giving is making a deep difference right now.

Second, as you probably know, we have postponed all in-person gatherings until further notice.  We are experimenting with new ways to engage as a community, and we wanted to let you know about these opportunities:

  • Online worship at 10:30 AM on Sundays.  Go to www.circleofpeacechurch.com at 10:30 AM on Sundays and click on “Livestream.”  Or you can go to www.youtube.com  and search for “Circle of Peace Live.”  Yes, there will be a service at 10:30 AM on Easter Sunday.
  • For the latest on children’s ministry go to https://www.facebook.com/kidsatcircle.  The site features Zoom calls, discussion questions, and great videos.
  • We continue to receive numerous inquiries about financial giving.  Anyone can mail a check to 8430 W. Deer Valley Rd, Peoria AZ, 85382.  Anyone can learn about digital giving options like Zelle or Planning Center at our website: https://www.circleofpeacechurch.com/donate/.  If you have any questions, our Office Manager Juliana is happy to help, info@circleofpeacechurch.com or 623-879-6700.  A few people have asked if they can still give to the Assistance Fund or to the Building Fund in this time, and the answer is “yes,” just designate that fund on your gift.
  • What about Love Feast?  Love Feast is a traditional worship service held on the Thursday before Easter.  At Love Feast (also called Maundy Thursday) we re-enact the events of the last supper by taking communion, sharing a meal, and washing feet.  As an alternative to Love Feast, we have provided a resource called “Walk With Jesus” (Click the link to download a .pdf).   This resource is bigger than a single worship service, it is a self-guided, ten-step guide to an at-home experience to help prepare your heart for Easter.  (Special thanks to Jaime Howard for her adaptation of this resource originally written by Sarah Sorell).  It’s not the same as Love Feast, but if you use this rich resource, we would love to hear from you about the impact of this self-guided “walk” into the life of Jesus to learn from him. .  To go with this resource, check out “The Servant Song” on video by Dawn Hunn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5mBP8IjmKs&feature=youtu.be
  • “Couch Pastor” Videos.  Pastor Jeremy Ashworth recently started creating short, personal, weekly pastoral videos.  At this time you can find those videos on Jeremy’s personal Facebook page and the Facebook page for Circle of Peace Church.

We are in an unprecedented season.  We do not know how long it will last.  We are throwing our love and prayers behind all people impacted by COVID-19, especially vulnerable populations and front-line service providers in our community.  So we look for more to come.  We continue to believe that God has called us to be stewards of this moment.  And we continue to pray that by His grace and for His glory we will be innovative, adaptable, and fearless – together.
With love,
Pastor Jeremy Ashworth

March 18, 2020

Dear friends –

On March 13, we sent out an email and Facebook message about Circle of Peace and COVID-19.  Today the Church Board and I have an important update: Circle of Peace is cancelling all in-person gatherings for the next 15 days (through April 1).

There is a Q&A with details on the reverse.  If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

By not meeting in person for the next 15 days, we shut down 12 previously scheduled gatherings, not counting worship and small groups.  On the one hand, we are so disappointed to not be able to gather as we normally would have.  On the other hand, it’s pretty exciting that we’ve grown to the point where we had scheduled 12+ gatherings in 15 days!  We are confident that our decision not only follows the science and most recent government guidelines, it also follows Jesus’ command to love our neighbors by not putting them at risk.

The bottom line is this: For a period of time we will stop going to church, but we will not stop being the church.  We will continue to make disciples, to grow as followers of Jesus, to love God and self and neighbor, and to give and receive God’s peace.  Our mission has not changed.  Our goal is to prayerfully use this disruption as an opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit and experiment with different methods.

We acknowledge the uncertainty of this season.  We all feel it.  Please remember and pray for those especially at risk, and for health care professionals, both inside and outside our congregation.  Since new information about COVID-19 is emerging every few days – sometimes every few hours – it is wise for us to expect more changes to come.  And we believe that God has called us to be stewards of this moment.  So by His grace and for His glory we will be innovative, adaptable, and fearless – together.

With love,

Pastor Jeremy Ashworth

COVID-19 and Circle Q&A – Current March 18, 2020

Q: What about Sunday worship?

A: We will not gather for worship on Sunday March 22 and Sunday March 29.  Pastor Jeremy will do a livestream of the sermon at 10:30 AM.  To connect to the livestream, go to www.youtube.com and search for “Circle of Peace Live.”

Q: So we’re not gathering in person for the next 15 days (through April 1) – what about after those 15 days?

A: Short answer: we don’t know yet.  Since new information is emerging every few days – sometimes every few hours – the wisest and most responsible choice is to monitor and adjust.  We are all closely watching new developments, and with God’s help we will act based on whatever limitations and opportunities we are presented with.

Q: What are we doing to minister & connect in the next 15 days? 

A: This is so important!  Our plan is to organize a new effort to call every single household connected to Circle once per week.  The goal of this call is simple: a thoughtful check-in, a word of prayerful encouragement, perhaps to learn if someone has a need, or to see if someone can meet the need of another.  In this time of “social distance” this ministry of “spiritual connection” will be critical.  We need people now who are willing to take on this ministry of calling one or more households once a week.  If you are available, or even just curious, please contact Jaime Howard at jaime@circleofpeacechurch.com.

Q: What else can we do to help? 

A: Due to the urgent need for blood, Circle is hosting a community blood drive on Sunday, March 22nd from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM.  We are told that you  will not be able to drop-in, but will need to register beforehand online or by calling Katrina at 602-770-4675. We will be posting a link soon where you can book your appointment online.

Q: What about financial giving to Circle during this time? 

A: Mail a check to 8430 W. Deer Valley Rd, Peoria AZ, 85382.  Learn about digital giving options like Zelle or Planning Center at our website: https://www.circleofpeacechurch.com/donate/.  Any questions, our Office Manager Juliana is happy to help, info@circleofpeacechurch.com or 623-879-6700.  We’ll not belabor the point, but in the spirit of transparency it needs to be said that consistent giving will be crucial to the church’s financial health in this season.

Q: What are other ways we can connect digitally and spiritually? 

A: Pastor Jeremy plans to send short video devotions to the church on at least a weekly basis through Facebook.  Our Ministry Director Jaime Howard will offer some videos and resources for kids at https://www.facebook.com/kidsatcircle/.  We will embrace this opportunity to experiment, so look for more to come.

March 13, 2020

Hi friends –

We’ve received several inquiries about Circle and COVID-19, so as Pastor I wanted to share the following.  Some of it is logistical, some of it is spiritual, I hope all of it is helpful.

  1. Pace yourself. We’re in new territory with new developments happening every day.  Listen to real experts (like the CDC) but be careful about how much media you consume.  Breathe deep, pray without ceasing, be patient, and ask God for wisdom.  Give it some time to resolve.
  2. Follow the experts. If something substantial comes from a government official (like the state of AZ) or a health official (like the CDC) Circle will take action.  We’re going to follow government guidelines and follow the science.  Likewise, if your Doctor tells you to do something or not do something, please follow your Doctor’s orders.
  3. Day at a time. Since new developments are happening in real time, we’re going to take it a day at a time.  As of today, 3/13/2020, we are not planning on cancelling anything unless we have to.  But if we have to, we will.

Here are some things to think about for this Sunday March 15:

  1. I (Jeremy) am going to be there for both services. I am writing a sermon and planning to preach my heart out just like I would any Sunday.  We plan to livestream and record the sermon for the podcast just like we would any Sunday (special thanks to Jason Powell and his team who have worked so diligently to make this happen).  At this point we plan for children’s ministry to operate as normal.
  2. Feeling sick? Stay home.
  3. I know this might feel weird, but we recommend that we greet each other verbally (“Hi! Good morning!”) but not physically (hugs, handshakes, etc.).  This is not normal for your church or for your pastor, but the fact is some of us already do this anyways during flu season.
  4. If we’re able to get a hold of some extra hand sanitizer, we’ll have some. We plan to hold doors open as you come in so you don’t have to touch door handles.  Likewise, we will set out the offerings baskets so you don’t have to “pass the basket.”

Several people have recently asked how to see sermons and / or how to give online.

To watch sermons go here: https://www.circleofpeacechurch.com/category/sermons/
Or visit our Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9vXcykFlTuWx1oNnjO5eeA
To see several options for giving go here: https://www.circleofpeacechurch.com/donate/
Any questions about this, just contact Juliana at: info@circleofpeacechurch.com or 623-879-6700.

A word about our community: Circle is made up of people who are young and not-so-young, infants and toddlers and one man who is 100 years old.  We have members who work in healthcare and public schools.  Some of us are very healthy, others of us have compromised immune systems.  Likewise, the community beyond our congregation is diverse in terms of age and health.  By all means take care of yourself, but love your neighbor as yourself and look out for the interest of others as well as your own interests.

This might sound like a strange change of subject but stay with me: I don’t know any normal person who gets excited about obscure Old Testament laws, like those in the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy.  However, those seemingly boring books are full of guidelines about cleanliness, hygiene, and physical health.  Why?  Because God cares about physical health, human disease and prevention, and communal well-being.  This moment is a good reminder of the scope of God’s care and the depth of God’s character (thanks Dr. Scott Gourley).

But this moment is not just about God’s character, it is also about ours.  A friend of mine recently said: “Times of collective and personal crisis will reveal who we have conditioned ourselves to be” (Amy Gall Ritchie).  This is an opportunity to be salt and light.  I repeat: This is an opportunity for followers of Jesus to be a witness to the world and to be who we say we are.  “Worry is not our friend, and panic is not our way… it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray” (Todd Wagner).  Provide for your family.  Check in on vulnerable people, because if we do it to the “least of these” we do it to Jesus.  Seek the peace of the place where you are.  Look out for and show up for your neighbors.  Do not be a “carrier” of needless fear.  As another friend recently said, “My prayer is that we would sense the peace of Christ in the midst of these circumstances and that we would trust the working of God’s Spirit, even as things feel uncertain. Christians are the people who remain calm in the face of uncertainty, and who stay grounded in the person and presence of Jesus Christ during times of societal anxiety” (David Rice).

There will be logistical disruptions.  But I’m encouraging all of us to follow the science, and follow Jesus.  Follow the experts, and follow Jesus.  Follow your Doctor’s orders, and follow Jesus.  And wash your hands.  And follow Jesus.

Shalom,

Pastor Jeremy Ashworth

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