You might be wondering when we will regather for physical services. Our staff is addressing that very question right now. I’ll share the details with you next week. There are lots of issues connected with such a decision. I want you to know the kinds of things we are considering to resume well. 

I know that several other churches have opened. I’ve talked to over 50 pastors in the Tucson and Phoenix areas as well as pastors around the country. Many churches have yet to resume and several well-known churches (Northpoint Community Church) in the country have announced they won’t regather until 2021. One thing we’ve learned is that churches regathering, on average, are seeing about 25% of their normal pre-COVID19 attendance. I fully understand that most folks are not ready to regather yet. 

Here are some of the issues and questions we are considering: 

  • How do we balance the genuine need to gather with the need to be safe? Many of us truly miss meeting physically with each other. I do! And many are apprehensive about large gatherings indoors.
  • In this new reality, will live worship be the great experience we had before? The new reality is that the room is three-quarters empty due to practicing physical distancing, fewer people willing to gather publically, and while wearing masks. 
  • How do we keep kids and students safe? There are extra challenges to keep them physically distanced, rooms sanitized, managing check-in, etc.
  • Will we have enough volunteers willing to serve to be able to minister to our adults, kids and students? We can’t do what we do without our amazing volunteers. We also need time to train and retrain our staff and volunteers.
  • Do I have the right staff now to be able to regather? This summer we lost our Children’s Pastor and we are searching now. That role is vital for a successful regathering. 
  • Is this the right time to refocus our staff time and energy on regathering? What you likely don’t know is that I’ve used this COVID-19 season to lead our staff through some major rethinking about how we engage more of our church. We have to find a way to help all of us reach lost people, be discipled and disciple others and expand our service to our neighborhoods and community. I’ve been especially burdened by how difficult in this COVID-19 season it has been to reach people not connected to God or a church. Even before COVID-19, it was hard to get folks engaged, but engagement is vital. We need to make some major changes in our strategy, programming (even when we physically regather), as well as the staffing and resources needed to make it happen. Do I want to divert our energy and focus on this back to having physical services right now? Yes, we need to meet. The question is when is best.

The list of questions is longer than this, but I won’t bore you with the details! I deeply appreciate your prayers for me, our staff, and our elders. Thank you to those who’ve sent cards of encouragement. These are hard times to live. These are hard times to lead! But we are still the church and I’m confident we will come through this season better prepared to be a better church tomorrow. I’ll update you next week with more of when we’ll regather and how.

In an effort to continue to work together to stay healthy, and with much thought and prayer, we’ve made a few decisions. Before we talk about those decisions, we want to remind you of this: We are still the church! We can still be Jesus to our families. We can still be Jesus to our friends and neighbors. We can continue to find ways to love people to Jesus and make a difference, by reaching out to others. Don’t let fear take a grip on you, but rather, let fear be a reminder to draw nearer to God. Our God is still the same God He was before this pandemic appeared. 

The decisions that we’ve made have been formed through love, not fear. They are painful and not what we wanted to do, but with the current circumstances, we believe the following plan is best at this time:

  • Pausing Physical Sunday Services: For this season, with the rising COVID-19 cases, the facemask requirements, and a few close calls from people who attended our services unknowingly positive for COVID-19, we believe pausing our in-person services is the wisest thing to do now. This change will allow us to explore how we can engage with our church and community at a higher level.
  • Kid’s and Students Services Also Paused: Online content will continue at pantano.church/kids and pantano.church/students.
  • Closing Our East Campus: During the week, we’ll be closing the campus with a couple of exceptions; Care Groups and memorial services will continue.
  • Offices Are Closed: We are still available through our social media accounts or by calling the office at 520.298.5395.
  • Kids Crazy Days Camp Canceled: Sadly, we had to make the decision to cancel our Kids Camp. 

We are committed to continuing to provide a high-quality digital experience with our online campus. Sunday service times are 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm. Plan in advance to have bread and juice to partake in communion at home. We are still providing online options for students and children – go to our online campus page to access those – www.pantano.church/online.

Staying Connected

One way is to download our app. You’ll be able to access our adult, student, and kid’s online content, and several other tools [download here]. Another way is to join a Group. More and more Groups are doing this virtually and finding it to be an amazing experience. You can also Find A Group online!

As we navigate through our current circumstances, we will continue to reevaluate our resources and staff to align how we can engage with our church and city. Remember, we are NOT closed. The church is not a building; the church is a movement of people who live to help others meet, know, and follow Jesus.

Would you continue to pray for our church to be unified as we manage the tension of all the needs, wants, and desires of those impacted by these decisions? Please also pray that we would use this time as an opportunity to reach our neighbors, co-workers, city, and world in new and unique ways. We thank you, our Pantano Family, for your continued support.

Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription

I know some of you can’t wait to worship physically this Sunday, June 7th, as we resume our services on the East Campus. I also know some of you have concerns about your health and the risk of gathering as a group. If you are at higher risk, we encourage and affirm your choice to continue to attend our online service from home or wherever you might be. If you are feeling sick or have been sick recently, please participate in our ONLINE service from home. Remember that we are following a phased plan of resuming services – check here for details

We are asking a few things of you in order to protect you and others and mitigate any outbreak that would require us to close our campus again. Here’s what to expect this Sunday:

Arrival

We’ve developed a touchless system as you enter into services; when you arrive, the doors will be propped open. Pick up your prepackaged communion as you enter and a Bible if you need one. Coffee, water bottles, and lemonade or punch will be available at the outdoor basketball court. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout our campus.

Wearing Masks

I am well aware of the many different perspectives on COVID-19 and how to care for ourselves and others. In this season, our focus is on caring for others, even if it means some inconveniences and setting aside personal preferences out of care for one another. We want our worship experience to be a judgment-free zone (see Romans 14). 

We’ve asked our staff and Sunday volunteers to wear masks at least through June (then we’ll assess the current situation). You are not required to wear them, however, we do recommend them and please feel free to wear one if you are comfortable doing so. We will be providing masks if you forgot one or decide you want one. 

Physical Distance

PLEASE practice safe physical distancing. Refrain from handshakes, hugs, or any close physical contact. Wave, smile, or talk to each other at a safe distance! You personally might be comfortable shaking hands and hugging, but many people are not, so please help us make everyone, especially our visitors, feel comfortable and safe. Also, please consider attending our 1 PM service where there’s more room to physically distance; it’s hot outside and cool in our auditorium that time of day!

Giving

We encourage everyone to give using one of our online options (phone app or website). If you wish to give by check, please visit one of the giving boxes located in the lobby, auditorium, or courts or you can mail it to our office at 1755 S. Houghton Road. 

Dismissal

Please be vigilant to practice physical distancing as you exit and avoid crowding at the exit doors. After exiting the building, please practice social distancing in the lobby, courtyard (where there are drinks and lots of tables), or parking lot if you visit with folks.

We look forward to connecting with you in a way that both protects the health of our congregation and allows for the freedom to participate in public worship.  See you this Sunday – live or online at 9 am, 11 am or 1 pm!

Glen Elliott

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Every single one of us struggles in judging others. Every so often, I hear that voice in my head that is judging someone’s actions or behaviors, whether it’s how they drive or the type of music they listen to.

I was standing at a restaurant entrance to get take out to honor my wife for Mother’s Day. There was a crowd waiting for the take-out and myself and others were trying to respect proper physical distance. Then, some guy stands within a foot right next to me. What?! I started to make judgments about him. Judgment comes fast and easy. Unchecked, they cause us to act and react in ways that are not like Jesus. 

Jesus made it clear – “Do not judge.” (Matthew 7:1-5). James repeats the caution – But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12). And Paul says it this way – Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13). 

In fact, all of Romans 14 is about how we are not to judge one another. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Basically, Paul is saying that followers of Jesus often have strong opinions and disagree about matters of opinion and preference. We have different concerns and convictions. To that Paul says; Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. (Romans 14:1). There are so many disputable matters that we easily judge, whether its politics, proper social customs, or how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is growing discord in the church and between churches regarding COVID-19. Some who follow Jesus are demanding we meet in our church building, as it is a constitutional right. Others are saying it is unwise and unsafe and will refuse to attend. Some applaud the use of masks while others jeer those who do. Some judge others on the mask issue as being either soft or reckless… depending on the choices they make. Yes, this is happening between brothers and sisters in Christ and between churches. May I encourage us to choose kindness and grace and refuse to judge one another? 

Let me speak into this a bit more. Our Governor and Attorney General have been very clear that churches are considered an essential service and are constitutionally protected to meet, so any church can physically meet right now. The question of when to physically meet is not a constitutional matter or about religious persecution. The question is only about what is safe, wise, and prudent. 

Some churches have started meeting while others are not. Every church is different because of their buildings, their programs, their size, and complexity. Smaller churches can meet much more quickly than can the larger ones. Let’s not judge each other.

We are looking at the soonest date it is wise to resume physical services on our campus. There are a huge number of factors and realities we have to face in order to open with reasonable safety and protection for all attendees. Here’s just a few of the myriad of issues and questions we are dealing with: How can we provide meaningful worship in an auditorium while practicing physical distancing guidelines? How will we adequately sanitize the facilities before and after each service? Can we count on enough volunteers willing to meet and serve? Is it wise to open in phases? 

I hope I can answer these questions, and more, as early as next week. Stay tuned! No matter what we decide, some will be eager to physically meet while others may choose to never attend a church service again and only participate online. Let’s not judge one another on disputable matters. What I’m sure of is that the love taught by Jesus and presented in our Bible is one that puts others first, sacrifices for others, accepts others even when there are differences, and is patient and kind. Let love overwhelm any temptation to judge.

Glen Elliott

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Almost everyone is thinking or saying something like this – “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” We want to go back to our normal work environment. We want our kids to go back to school. We want to resume our normal routine.  But does God want to take us back to normal? Was normal that good for our souls? 

What if “normal” never returns? What if normal has been forever changed? I’m not sure that life will go back to the way it exactly was before COVID19. I think more companies will figure out that working from home is a better financial option. Education and shopping might not ever be the same. Travel, especially internationally, will likely never be the same, much like after 9/11. However, I’m no futurist who can prognosticate what things will look like in a year from now. No one knows for sure!

But here’s the bigger issue: Do we want things to go back the way they were? Yes, we want to have the freedom to go out and eat and shop without fear or worry. Yes, we want to have access to basic services. But the fact is that having to shelter in place for the last five weeks or so has taught all of us some things that need to change about ourselves and our lives. We’ve discovered and are now doing things that in fact are valuable and important. We’ve learned that what we thought was essential and important wasn’t so valuable while replacing those things with things that matter.

I’ve heard fathers talk about how they are more engaged than ever with their kids and are loving the extra time with them doing silly kid things that just didn’t happen before. Do we want to go back to “normal” when we didn’t have lots of margin for our kids?

Parents are engaged more with their kids’ education and are taking responsibility for their spiritual development because they have to. Do we want to go back to “normal” where we left that all to other people?

More people are attending church right now than at any time in American history. Half of all churches are reporting growth right now. Decisions for Christ are at an all-time high! Do we really want to go back to the normal of the past where folks routinely disregarded God?

Personally, I’ve spent much more time in prayer and the prayer times have been richer, deeper and longer. I’ve needed God more now than before COVID19. Do I really want to go back to the days before when I thought I could manage most things on my own?

What if God has a purpose in this time of disruption to take us to a new and better “normal?” What if we were to seek God asking him what he wants us to take into our new world after COVID19? What if God is trying to help us see what needs to be changed in order to be transformed into someone more like Jesus? God does work all things for good when we trust him, seek him and desire him to work through our hardship and trials (Romans 8:28).

If you missed last Sunday, I spoke about this in my online message based on James 1:2-5. You can watch it or share it with those who need a message of hope and encouragement right now. Watch What in the World is Going On?click here.

Glen Elliott

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Changed Forever

9/11 changed our world forever. COVID-19 will do the same. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when the crisis passes, we won’t go back to the way things were before. More folks will work from home. We’ll use all our digital tools in new and deeper ways. Small groups will utilize online meetings more. And we can’t even imagine how it might change shopping, food delivery versus eating out and more. 

A couple of years ago I committed our church to develop a legitimate online campus with the technology and the staff needed to make that happen. That included having our first online pastor – Nick Farr. I’m so grateful we did that as we were able on day one of this crisis to provide a quality online alternative to a physical worship service. I’m so grateful for our amazing production team who are working overtime to provide great online options not just for adults, but for students and kids too.

By the way, some of you had trouble getting online through our website last Sunday; the reason was the platform we use added 12,000 churches in one week and their server had issues. They’ve purchased extra bandwidth and servers to keep that from happening again. We should be fine going forward. Every week there are three ways to watch: 1) Pantano.Online; 2) Facebook live or; 3) YouTube.

Stay Up to Date, Connected, and Get Help

We’ve set up a special web page titled COVID-19 Update to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening. With things changing so fast, we are even dating the updates! On that same page, you or someone you know can also request help like food, supplies or help shopping. You can leave prayer requests or ask for pastoral help on that page also. To get updates to your phone text “Pantano” to 31996.

Our pastors will be communicating daily (Monday – Saturday) through a short video on our Pantano Facebook or Instagram pages.

Day of Prayer and Fasting

In times like these, we need the church to come together to pray and fast. Wednesday, March 25th was a day set aside by church leaders from around our city for prayer and fasting. If you missed this announcement, you can choose any day to pray and fast for our city, nation, and world. Our tech team and leaders (Did I say how proud I am of our team?) were able to help broadcast a one-hour prayer service from our auditorium. If you missed it, you can watch it at pantano.church/LightUpTheDark

Deeper Dive – Thursday at 7 pm

Thursday night at 7 pm Josh Reich, Michael Goodwin and I will be hosting a Deeper Dive into the Holy Spirit. This will finish our teaching series called Ghost. We received about 3 pages of questions and we’ll be able to answer most of them. Go to https://pantano.church/online/ to watch the Deeper Dive. I’ll also make my notes available online at Deeper Dive along with the video, so you can watch if you miss the Thursday 7 pm broadcast.

During this time, be confident in the fact that our God is in control.  Ask the Holy Spirit to continue to lead Pantano as we Love People to Jesus.

Glen Elliott

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Many of us are already tired of COVID-19 emails, posts, and news. The reaction to COVID-19 is as polarized as our political climate. There are those who refuse to accept that there is any reason for concern. Then there are those who are living in fear and panic. Neither is helpful. 

Fear

Our response in this should be no different than our everyday life. Refuse to live in fear and panic. This too will pass. Take reasonable precautions. This is one of those many opportunities we have in life to put faith to work. Look to God and trust him to guide you through these uncertain days. 

God is faithful. Someday I might write a book about all the times God has helped me through danger and uncertainty. I’ve lived through a cholera epidemic, an extended period without running water, lawlessness, 2000% inflation that made money worthless and more. He has always been with me. He cares deeply. The Holy Spirit is in me and guides me. That is true for you also. 

Rely on God and don’t let the news dictate how you feel or respond. Let God guide how you feel and react – that’s real faith. Remember the Apostle Paul’s simple but profound words – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7).

Love

Love comes first. Love protects (1 Corinthians 13:7) and that means we do what we can do to protect ourselves and others. We put others first and fight against our own selfishness that draws us to focus on us while forgetting about caring for others. Hoarding is wrong…period. If folks are in need, be willing to help and share. That has always been the way of Jesus. We are still on mission. Our mission is to love people to Jesus. Now, with the pandemic upon our world, we have the opportunity, more than ever, to express the love of Jesus to so many who are in need or living in fear. 

The Blood of Jesus

Let me address one theological issue. I’ve heard and read Christians saying that the blood of Jesus will protect them from COVID-19. That is not true. That is not a promise found in the New Testament. Paul was stricken by a health matter and he prayed repeatedly in faith to have it removed, but it wasn’t. God’s response was this – 9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The blood of Jesus protects us from the eternal punishment from our sin and spiritual death, not from viruses, sickness or disease. God is with us to help us in and through our difficulties, but he has not promised to insulate us from them. We live in a broken and fallen world. But, we are not alone, nor are we helpless!

To put it another way, our hope is not found in stockpiling tons of toilet paper, masks, and disinfectants. Our hope is in the blood of Jesus, not to eliminate the virus today, but to one day create a new heaven and earth where  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). 

Sunday Services

This Sunday, we will continue to meet as one church online at 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm. We’ll finish our Ghost series about the Holy Spirit with a focus on spiritual gifts. We’ll have additional resources for your kids and our students have their own online option.

Deeper Dive

We are still going to have our Deeper Dive: Holy Spirit Q & A session. We’ve moved it to Thursday, March 26th at 7pm. This will be a free online streaming event at our Online Campus, pantano.online. Josh Reich, our Southeast Campus Pastor, will be asking me the questions you have posted about the Holy Spirit and we’ll take a Deeper Dive into what the Bible says about this topic. You still have time to post your questions at – https://mypantano.church/deeperdive

Updates

Keep watching our webpage – https://mypantano.church/covid for updates on when our physical meetings will resume. Don’t forget to text “Pantano” to 31996 to get text updates.

Glen Elliott

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At Pantano, we take seriously your safety and health. With the coronavirus taking center stage in the news media, we understand your concerns and we want to make sure that those with health risks are protected the best we can. First, let me remind you of how YOU can help by taking these precautions to keep yourself and others safe. Then, I’ll share how we as a church are addressing this on our campuses.

Please be mindful of the guidance from the Arizona Department of Health and the CDC:

  • Stay home when you or your children or students are sick. Remember that you can watch the Sunday message live at www.pantano.online or past messages at www.pantano.church/watch.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If you have traveled to a high-alert area (currently China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan – this list may grow), please observe the recommended 14-day self-quarantine and refrain from attending church events, classes, groups and services until the 14-day time-frame has been observed. 

We are monitoring the status of the virus and are in touch with a virus expert (who happens to be a part of our church!). Here are the measures we are addressing or have added at our physical campuses:

  • We have purchased additional hand sanitizing stations to be located all over both campuses.
  • Communion (bread and juice) will be in self-contained pre-packaged cups.
  • Our Kid’s ministry will increase their cleaning procedures for the classrooms. We already clean well, so we’ll just be adding more effort and diligence.
  • We’ll have signs and verbally suggest that folks avoid handshakes and hugs at church during this season.
  • We’ll prop open the main entrance doors for entry and exit to help people avoid touching door handles (except where security requires the doors closed). 
  • We’ll clean hard surfaces as often as we can with proven sanitizers.
  • Printed handouts will be placed on tables rather than physically handed out.
  • Should the outbreak become more prominent in our area, we have plans to take additional steps all the way up to and including canceling services and events.
  • Please text “Pantano” to 31996 to receive notifications if we need to change or postpone services on physical campuses.
  • We will also alert you if we need to cancel any events on our physical campuses including groups, classes, or large events.

The uncertainty of this outbreak is creating anxiety in our culture. Yet, we remain certain of God’s steadfast presence and careful attention to all that is happening. Please join us in praying for those who are affected by this illness, as well as their caregivers and those who are working around the clock to minimize the impact of this virus. In Psalm 46, we are reminded that it is God who is our refuge and strength, and our ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, let us be wise, but not fear, while we continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a lost and broken world.

Glen Elliott

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