Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Safely Opening Churches Following Quarantine

Safely Opening Churches Following Quarantine

Pastor Bob Tousey, MBA, MACM

I have been silently observing the debate about when and how it will be safe to open churches. I am now ready to share my thoughts. Please read the entire blog as reading only a portion of it could lead to a misunderstanding of what I am suggesting. I will first consider whether services in a building are biblically mandated and then consider whether current restrictions are appropriate.

Jesus and His disciples did not go to a building every Sunday to worship and pray. Quite often Jesus prayed alone or with a few friends. In Matthew 18:20 we are taught “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”.  There is no biblical mandate for us to gather each week in a building. We do that for fellowship and corporate worship which are both very good things but not biblically mandated.

I recently heard an analogy and unfortunately, I forget where so I cannot properly attribute it, but I think it is appropriate to mention. The speaker pointed out that during the great flood, Noah did not leave the ark to go swimming, instead he waited for God to tell him it was safe. While God often protects us, He does not always do so when we are foolhardy and irresponsible. We have heard stories of Pastors who insisted on conducting services during the pandemic dying of Covid-19 shortly thereafter. We should also be mindful of God’s instruction for us to care for our flock in 1 Peter 5:2-12. We may have members of our congregation who are vulnerable to the virus and we do not want to encourage them to engage in large group worship when they could become sick.

With that being said, and this is why I said to read the entire blog post, I question the arbitrary numbers that limit church attendance. To me 10 is an artificially low number which bears no relationship to the circumstances of the vast majority of churches. Many of our churches can hold hundreds and some thousands of people. Is 10 safe and 11 unsafe in such a large facility? Cathedrals and many mega churches can hold thousands of people. Should they have the same limit as a small chapel?

I officiate funerals on a regular basis and it pains me to have a limit of 10 including myself and the funeral staff. Many times, with those limits, all members of the immediate family can not attend even though the service is being conducted in a very large room that would allow for a greater attendance with following social distancing guidelines.

Every church is different, and “a one size fits all” approach cannot be used. In fact, I would argue that such an approach is arbitrary and capricious because it does not consider the circumstances of each church. Both the percentage standard and the fix number standard can be arbitrary and capricious. While the percentage standard does consider the size of the church neither of these standards (10 or a percentage) consider the lay out of the individual churches nor the number or location of exits.

To properly determine attendance limitations, the following must be considered (1) the size of the congregation, (2) the size and layout of the building, and (3) the number of exits. Notice I say exits and not entrances as to monitor the number of people allowed into the church everyone should enter at the same location. I feel that entry and seating will be easier to control and my biggest concern is dismissal because we have everybody attempting to leave at the same time and this is why the number of exits must be taken into consideration.

Once a determination has been made as to how many people are allowed inside a church it is important for the church to establish procedures designed to keep everyone attending safe as well a plan to execute the procedures.

When establishing procedures, the church must consider the amount of time between services to allow everyone to properly exit the church prior to anyone entering for the next service as well as permitting time to sufficiently conduct proper sanitation. Therefore, service times may need to be adjusted. The church should also consider not having refreshments available as refreshments encourage people to congregate. Sanitizer should be available before, during and after each service. The church also must ensure that the church has proper procedures in place to follow social distancing guidelines. Members, staff, and volunteers should wear masks unless they are engaging in a speaking role.

Communion should also be provided in sealed containers and electronic donations encouraged. When electronic donations are not possible a box should be available to accept check and cash contributions. Procedures should be established for processing the donations made by check or cash. The use of gloves when processing is encouraged. This list is not suggested to be all inclusive but simply a place to start.

Outdoor services following social distancing guidelines should also be encouraged. Virtual services should also be continued for those who are sick or uncomfortable attending in person church services.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Movie Review: Overcomer

Movie Review: Overcomer

Pastor Bob Tousey

The Kendrick brothers hit another out of the park grand slam with this movie. I saw it with my 12-year-old granddaughter, Gabby during the Thursday night pre-opening and we both enjoyed it. We do, however, recommend that you bring a box of tissues as several scenes brought tears to both of our eyes.

Overcomer is a story of overcoming obstacles as well as redemption, grace and forgiveness. The movie starts of with a hopeful high school coach, John Harrison played by Alex Kendrick, and his basketball team being confident of winning the state championship next season. However, an announcement that the town’s primary employer will be closing the local plant quickly dashes that dream as many of the school’s families including those of key basketball players, are forced to move to find work.

The once hopeful basketball coach becomes the reluctant coach of the school’s cross-country team. The coach does not even like cross-country but is encouraged to take on the new role by the school’s principal who does not want to cancel another program.

After agreeing to assume this new duty the coach is disappointed when only one student, Hannah Scott shows up for tryouts, and as it turns out Hannah is asthmatic. With the help of his family, a newfound friend and Hannah’s relentless commitment, Coach Harrison, embraces the challenge. As other students hear about Hannah story, she begins to attract a strong cheering squad at her competitions.

As Hannah begins to grow in her athletic ability she also grows in her faith and accepts Jesus Christ as her Savior.  While Hannah improves her athletic talents throughout the movie, she continues to fall short of a win. Then comes the biggest race in Hannah’s life where she comes from behind to close the race neck and neck with the race’s favorite. They finished with identical times and the race had to be reviewed for a winner to be declared. I’ll let you watch the movie to find out if Hannah pulled off an amazing upset. This is a must see movie and will be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Celebrating the Individual Masterpiece God Created: A celebration of life vice a traditional funeral service.

Celebrating the Individual Masterpiece God Created:
A celebration of life vice a traditional funeral service.

By: Pastor Bob Tousey, MACM

        We are each God’s masterpiece that He created anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the things God has planned for us (Ephesians 2:10, NLT). He designed each of us for a unique role (Erik Rees, S.H.A.P.E, Finding & Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life, 2006, pg 18). It would seem that when our journey on this earth ends, we should celebrate the Masterpiece that God created, but sadly that is not often the case. We often focus on the loss that we are feeling because our loved one will no longer be part of our daily lives instead of focusing on the gift that our loved one was to us during his or her time on earth. We mourn instead of celebrating the gift we were given.

As a child I remember funerals being a gloomy event, where the focus was on the loss of a loved one, rather than celebrating a life well lived. The viewing would typically last two days after the death with the burial taking place on the third day. There was little to no laughter in the room, most people were dressed in black and weeping could be heard. The room was filled with flowers rather than memories of the life the person lived. The funeral service or mass would be very ritualistic and boring. It didn’t end there because the family was expected to wear black for an entire year to mourn. I remember when my dad died my mom had to go out and buy black clothes so she could “properly” mourn.

This ignored the Christian teaching that life on this earth is intended to be for a season, a very short season at that in comparison to eternity. Our loved one in fact does not die but goes on to eternal life. Several years ago, before his death Billy Graham reminded us of this with the words "Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God."  Ideally this should be the destination for each of us. When our life on this earth ends, we enter eternal life in which, ideally, our loved one no longer will suffer earthly pain, suffering and loss. Isn’t this something to be celebrated?

Today, the family has more freedom to choose when the viewing and service is scheduled as well as setting the tone for the event. Sometimes it is even a week or longer after the death. This allows loved ones to travel in. The family can decide how long the viewing will be often choosing to hold the viewing and service the same day. Very often an atmosphere will be created to celebrate and honor the life of their deceased loved one. There will be pictures at the viewing, if the person had an artistic gift, some of his or her creations would adorn the room or if they were competitive, trophies won will celebrate those achievements. I recently even saw the deceased’s motorcycle next to the casket and have been greeted by the deceased’s well-behaved dog who was allowed to attend the viewing.

The service whether religious or not can also be used as a time to celebrate the life lived.  While most of the services I conduct are Christian, I have on occasion lead a service for a family who preferred to celebrate the life without religious references. Unless the family is asking me to do something that would violate my convictions, I am more than honored to help the family obtain closure in a manner that they are most comfortable. Whether the service is Christian or non-religious we can always celebrate the life. I find that celebrating the life is consistent with Christian beliefs as God as created each of us to be a unique individual and the celebration of life honors the masterpiece God created. This takes a little more time than it would if I just simply read from a prayer book. I need to speak to the family and learn about their loved one. This can involve a phone call, multiple phone calls, a visit to the family home, a meeting in a diner or at the funeral home. I have done each of these. Sometimes it takes a few minutes and sometimes the better part of a day, but my philosophy is to do what it takes to minister to the family and help them heal. I often arrive at the funeral home early or even the night before the service to meet extended family and friends to view the pictures and get a better sense of the life the person lived. I encourage family and friends to speak at the service if they are comfortable doing so and if they are not but want to share something, I will offer to read it for them. I also provide the family with a copy of the service so they can read it later or keep it with mementos of their loved one’s life.

The religious portion of the service contains uplifting scriptural readings and prayers followed by short explanations of comfort and often will connect the reading to the deceased’s life. I will typically use a poem to transition from the religious portion to the celebration of life portion of the service. The idea is to honor the way the deceased lived and assist the family with closure.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Movie Review: Unplanned

Movie Review: Unplanned

By: Bob Tousey, MACM

Normally, I will view a movie on its opening day so that my review can be out early, but this was not the case with Unplanned. As much as I hate to admit it, I had reservations about watching this movie as I was not sure I was strong enough to handle some of the more graphic scenes. However, this morning God clearly placed it on my heart to watch the movie and I am glad I did. There certainly were scenes that made me uncomfortable and some that even brought a tear to my eyes but that is what makes it such a powerful movie. The story it tells is an important one and I pray that those who need to see it will see it.

The movie is based on a true story about a former Planned Parenthood clinic Director, Abby Johnson. Abby was raised in a conservative Christian home with staunch pro-life parents. Her husband was also pro-life. Abby was very transparent in her story sharing that in her early years she had two abortions herself. Abby rose from the ranks of a volunteer at Planned Parenthood to one of its most successful clinic directors. In fact, shortly before her transformation she was named Planned Parenthood’s Employee of the Year. Her career with the organization appeared to be on the fast track until she questioned some goals that were established to double the number of abortions performed. She was reprimanded for questioning the goals but went back to work the next day more determined to carry out the mission of the organization. This determination all changed when Abby was called into a procedure room to assist with an abortion and she watched it on the ultra sound. What she saw changed her life forever. She not only left her position as clinic director, but she became an avid advocate for the pro-life movement.

The scene with the ultra sound hit home with me as my conversion from pro-choice to pro-life came as the result of an ultra sound. Although mine was not viewing an abortion. Mine came about when my wife was twelve weeks pregnant with my daughter, who is about to turn 29. I accompanied my wife to the ultra sound appointment and when I saw my daughter moving, I knew she was not a clump of tissue, but she was a baby, my baby. In a matter of seconds, I knew I could no longer support abortion.

I encourage you to see this movie. The story is one that we all must understand. I encourage you to also read my blog post “Healing: Mark Bradley Morrow, Post Abortive Father.” This tells Mark’s story of 4 abortions, a vasectomy, 1 adoption, 2 reversals, a miscarriage, and 2 beautiful babies.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Iron Sharpens Iron: The importance of mentoring

Iron Sharpens Iron: The importance of mentoring

By Bob Tousey, MBA, MACM

           When we think of mentorship the biblical verse that often comes to mind is Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) which teaches that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. For teams to be strong it is important for senior members of the team to take time to share their experience and wisdom with junior team members. For this to work it is equally important for the junior members to be humble enough to accept the guidance of their mentors.

            The power of mentorship can be seen in Exodus 18:13-22 (NIV). In this passage Moses father in law, Jethro, observed Moses hearing disputes of the people from morning until evening. When Jethro inquired why he was spending so much time hearing these disputes, Moses replied these people have come to me to seek God’s will. Jethro admonished Moses that this was not good, it was too heavy a burden and would wear him out. Jethro then goes on to advise him to find other capable and trustworthy people and allow them to hear the minor disputes pointing out this would free Moses to hear the more difficult disputes. This advice resulted in disputes being heard in a timelier fashion and Moses did not wear himself out by hearing all the disputes himself. Moses was humble enough to follow the advice of his father in law and adopted the system he suggested. 

In a future post I will discuss the importance of delegation as I see too many leaders who fail in this task but today, I will focus on the importance of mentorship which is a valuable developmental tool. Early in my career I was taught that the first responsibility of every leader is to groom his or her successor. This is what keeps an organization healthy and when done properly allows for an orderly succession plan, which prevents chaos when a leader leaves the organization because there is already someone ready and able to fill the outgoing leader’s shoes. It also helps the organization grow. As the more junior members of the organization grow through mentorship, they can begin to assume more responsibilities which free up the senior members of the team to spread their wings a bit by taking on other new and innovative tasks, which can improve the organizations overall effectiveness.

            Too often I see organizations stagnate because of the lack of growth and worse yet fall apart when a leader suddenly leaves and there is no one ready to assume the mantel of leadership. It is important to prepare for the unexpected as it can occur. We must remember that leaders can be tempted away from an organization with more lucrative offers and even if they are not, they can become disabled and or worse yet die suddenly. When this happens there is a big hole to fill when no one has been groomed to take over. So, begin now. Mentor the next generation of leaders. This will keep your organization healthy and more effective for many years to come.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine

Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine
By: Pastor Bob Tousey

        The Mercy Me song “I can only imagine” has always had a special place in my heart and very often I will use its lyrics when delivering a message at a funeral to illustrate that while we are on this earth we can not possibly imagine what Jesus has prepared for us. So, when I heard about the movie I was excited. I am happy to say I was not disappointed. While the movie has a slightly different plot than I imagined when I first heard about the movie my heart was touched as I watched the story unfold.
        The plot centered upon the story of song writer Bart Millard and his family as he was growing up. His parents divorced, and he was raised by an abusive father. If anyone is sensitive to scenes of domestic violence the movie may not be an appropriate choice for you. However, it delivers a message of redemption and grace. As Bart matures into a young man and sets out on his own to pursue a musical career, he and his dad are estranged. However, his dad is diagnosed with cancer, begins to read the bible and is transformed into a loving and kind man. The two eventually reconcile and his dad’s transformation was the motivation for the song “I can only imagine”.
        There are other story lines in the movie which depict Bart’s wife’s life long love of Bart, Bart’s struggle in showing his love back. The movie also depicts the struggles the band Mercy Me faced in their early days. All in all, it is a wonderful and enjoyable movie which I highly recommend. While this review shared some details, there will still be many enjoyable surprises for you as you watch this movie. Go ahead, buy some tickets, you will be glad you did.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Will this be the last Christmas: A wooden cross on the highway

Will this be the last Christmas?: A wooden cross on the highway

Pastor Bob Tousey

        A few weeks ago, I was a passenger in a car traveling on northbound Interstate 95 approaching the exit for Route 100 in Howard County, Maryland. As I was looking upon the grassy median, I started to wonder—why wasn't there a wooden cross situated on the side of the road with my name on it? I realize to some; this might appear to be a strange question-- mainly since I am alive, and a wooden cross often represents a scene of a fatal car accident. Being alive at that moment, for me, was indeed a mystery.

So, please, allow me to rewind time for just a moment as I explain an incident that occurred on  October 8, 2017, at about 8:30 p.m. On this evening, I was driving my car on 95 North. All of the sudden, for reasons unknown, my car went out of control (we have since learned my front driver's side tire blew). The next memory is of a paramedic treating me. It all happened in a matter of seconds, I had just gotten on 95, and I was traveling at the posted speed limit, and the road was clear. Despite traveling the speed limit and having a clear roadway, my car was spinning out of control, and my last memory was a white SUV passing me. My only thought was "this is not going to end well." I do not recall impact or being extracted from my car, but I do recall that brief moment of clarity in the ambulance.  This brief moment of allowed me the opportunity to identify a familiar face of the paramedic treating me.  I recalled her face from my previous ministry as a Chaplain for the Howard Country Fire and Rescue. Just as quickly as I regained consciousness, I lost it again, only to wake up at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma.

As I had awakened again, I was greeted by a Maryland State Trooper.  I was very disoriented, but the conversation with the trooper I recall very well.  The trooper commented that he was happy to have the ability to speak with me. You see, the trooper explained that from the appearance of the accident scene he did not think I was going to be alive.  From the pictures, it was evident this accident was significant, but fortunately for me, I only sustained six broken bones, and I was spared from having any permeant injuries. The best news of all is that my injuries did not require surgery. However, my injuries were severe enough that I was admitted for five weeks of medical treatment and rehabilitation. 

After speaking to my pastor  on the phone, I explained to him that Jesus stood between me and the tractor trailer. My pastor being the clever and quick-witted person that he is stated, "You should have let Jesus drive." If, I may, please let me share some of the history of my pastor's statement.  For those that are not familiar, this accident was not the first time I had dodged death or serious injury. You see, twenty years earlier—just a few miles away from the above location on Route 100 West, I was travelling in a car on westbound route 100, and I saw a car from the eastbound side jump over the median and into westbound traffic. My initial thought was that death was on the horizon, so I closed my eyes, I held on tight and uttered to myself, "Jesus, help me." Jesus responded by diverting the collision and my life was spared. As I describe this experience, I always refer to Carrie Underwood's song, Jesus take the wheel, and fortunately for me "Jesus, took the wheel." Jesus is the only way to explain how this potential tragedy was avoided. My testimony concerning this experience is available on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AabAbkWSamI.

I must wonder--why God chose to spare me on multiple occasions, yet others are not so blessed. I may never know the exact reason why, but as we are taught in the Book of Job, only God sees the whole picture and has a complete understanding of His plan. Often, we may never understand why life unfolds the way it does, but I have to remember that God has a plan and a purpose for my life, and all of our lives. All I can do is be open to that plan and be willing to do what God calls me to do. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me towards that plan and for the ability to carry it out in a manner that honors and glorifies God.

I began this story by sharing how God has shown me grace and mercy throughout my life. I am far from a perfect person and have fallen to temptation, but each time God has extended me grace. For this, I am eternally grateful. I recognize that each day is a gift from God and that I must treasure it as such. May God bless each of you reading this, and I encourage you to improve those strained relationships in your life and to use this Christmas season as a time to repair those relationships, while you have the opportunity. Most importantly, invite loved ones over, hug them, and tell them how much you love them. One thing I realize, more so, than ever is that this life can change in a second. Don't live it with regrets, because you never took the opportunity to repair those relationships. I say this with all sincerity that you cannot take life for granted because this might be the last opportunity you have to celebrate Christmas with them. Celebrate the birth of Jesus by reconciling with others, show them love and grace. God bless each of you and have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.