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WATCH NOW: Where is Living Stones?

ELKO — While renovations at Living Stones Elko have left many feeling nostalgic, others are wondering, “Where did Living Stones go?”

“We’re still very much here,” Pastor Nathan Hornback assured the community in light of a recent abundance of concerned messages. He said with social media you can only reach so many people, so he thought that “I might wanna throw something out there that says, ‘I know our building looks condemned, but I promise it’s being made beautiful.’”

Before the coronavirus lockdown Living Stones had been funding a building expansion and renovation. Two weeks before their last in-person service Hornback announced to his congregation that the project was fully funded.

When finished, LS Elko will have been transformed from a claustrophobic space cramming attendees into every spare inch, to an open, yet intimate, setting. The new entrance on Silver Street will open to a foyer complete with an information desk and, eventually, a coffee bar. LS Kids will have a dedicated safe space for classes, including an exclusive set of kids’ restrooms. The auditorium, which has nearly tripled in size, will have seating for 303 members as well as a stage with screens for Scripture reading and singing.

After the state’s mandates about gatherings were put in effect, work on the building began unimpeded and still continues. LS anticipates passing its four-way inspection this week.

Like many other churches, LS Elko has been using the internet to continue its ministry, but while many churches are now meeting in person in some form, the task has been harder for LS since they had no meeting place — that is until this month.

“Every Wednesday in September we’re doing in-person services at the Convention Center,” Hornback said, showing his excitement. “The biggest announcement is that starting the first Sunday in October … we get to meet Sunday morning at 9, 11 and 1, finally, and then Wednesday evenings at 5 and 7.

“I’m letting everybody that messages me know, when they say ‘Where did you go?’ ... we’re still here, we’re actually meeting again very soon; but the biggest vision for that is the Wednesday night services are the same as Sunday morning … and so the whole idea is connection.”

Something the church has sorely needed during this season of stress.

Because the venue is not their own, attendants are being asked to follow State of Nevada and Convention Center guidelines. Hornback explained: “We are social distancing there. They do require a mask. It’s sorta like a restaurant … We’re just following the rules because that is just what the Convention Center requires and we don’t want to do anything that causes a problem.”

After preaching to a camera for nearly six months, Hornback admitted to becoming rather emotional over the ability to meet in person.

“It’s been good. Weird, but good. Last night, I cried all night because I just heard people singing. When I was preaching, it wasn’t dead silent.

“You just don’t know. You spend all your time writing a sermon … and you’re like I have no idea — I don’t even — I feel like I’m rehearsing, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m awkward on camera. I’m trying to pretend like that’s a person. Because when you’re preaching, you’re trying to have relationship and you can’t, so you feel like you’re giving a speech.

“Last night, I walked up there to preach and I just kinda looked out and started the sermon, and somebody said ‘Amen’ … and it literally floored me. I stopped and I looked up filled with tears, my eyes were just filled. And I said you have no idea how long I’ve waited to just hear a person.”

In order to keep the attendance at 50, they are using Eventbrite’s ticketing service. One benefit is the attendees register so you can see who’s coming.

“So you can actually, instead of having 50 chairs six feet apart like the Convention Center set up ... we were able to go and actually, before time, put families together. And you are able to create a much more intimate setting.”

LS Elko will still be posting videos to the Facebook page to reach those who are still uncomfortable in gatherings.

“We know that people are in different places. And what it’s about is Jesus. We’re still going to do that I’m still going to preach to a camera.”

As far as being able to meet in their own space again, Hornback said the church was told it will have its certificate of occupancy in November. While the work won’t be completely finished at that time, the building will be usable.

“For now we don’t want any problems with the Convention Center. We will absolutely do whatever they need … We’re trying to just do what we can do, keep the spirit light, keep it about Jesus, keep it about coming together, keep it about safety and do what we can do.

“In our new building, when we get into here, we’ll go back to the lawyers and say, ‘Has anything changed?’ … But until then we just want people to gather, remember Jesus, remember what they’re called to do: Love God and love your neighbor.”

Israel signs pacts with 2 Arab states

WASHINGTON — Israel on Tuesday signed historic diplomatic pacts with two Gulf Arab states at a White House ceremony that President Donald Trump declared will mark the “dawn of a new Middle East,” casting himself as an international peacemaker at the height of his reelection campaign.

The bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of Israel’s already thawing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in line with their common opposition to Iran. But the agreements do not address the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, who view the pacts as a stab in the back from their fellow Arabs and a betrayal of their cause for a Palestinian state.

Hundreds of people massed on the sun-washed South Lawn to witness the signing of agreements in a festive atmosphere little marked by the coronavirus pandemic. Attendees did not practice social distancing and most guests didn’t wear masks.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day “is a pivot of history. It heralds a new dawn of peace.”

Neither Netanyahu nor Trump mentioned the Palestinians in their remarks, but both the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers spoke of the importance of creating a Palestinian state.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, even thanked Netanyahu for “halting the annexation” of West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians in exchange for Emirati recognition. Netanyahu, however, has insisted that Israel has only suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.

“Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East — a change that will send hope around the world,” al-Nahyan said.

Bahrani Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said Bahrain would stand with the Palestinians. “Today is a truly historic occasion,” he said. “A moment for hope and opportunity.”

But in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israe l, apparently meant to coincide with the ceremony. The Israeli military said the rockets were fired from Gaza and one was intercepted by air defenses. Earlier in the day, Palestinian activists held small demonstrations in the West Bank and in Gaza, where they trampled and set fire to pictures of Trump, Netanyahu and the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain.

Israel and the U.S. hope the agreements can usher in a major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, follow suit. That could have implications for Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Until now, Israel has had peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan.

Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognizing Israel include Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

“We are very down the road with about five different countries,” Trump told reporters before the ceremony.

Many longtime Mideast analysts and former officials, among others, have expressed doubts about the impact of the signings.

In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three signed a document dubbed the “Abraham Accords” after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

The “Abraham Accords” and the bilateral agreement signed by Israel and Bahrain fell short of more detailed formal treaties that are the diplomatic norm. Both documents were made up of general statements pledging to advance diplomacy, mutual cooperation and regional peace.

The most detailed of the agreements was the one between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The nations agreed to approve bilateral agreements on 15 areas of mutual interest, including finance, trade, aviation, energy, telecommunications, health, agriculture and water.

During the signing ceremony, the leaders were seated at a long table where President Harry S. Truman once held weekly luncheon meetings with his Cabinet. Discussions about the Truman Doctrine to restrain Soviet expansion during the Cold War and the Marshall Plan to send billions in economic aid to Western Europe after World War II were held at the table.

The stagecraft, including live music and flags was meant to evoke previous Middle East agreements. Trump’s political backers are looking to boost his standing as a statesman with just seven weeks to go before Election Day. Until now, foreign policy has not had a major role in a campaign dominated by the coronavirus, racial issues and the economy.

Besides Republicans, a few House Democrats attended the event, a notable development at a time when their leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is barely on speaking terms with the president. Many Democrats, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, widely support the deal.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said she accepted the invitation immediately on receiving it over the weekend. “It definitely was a monumental event, and the ceremony was very fitting for that,” Luria, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a telephone interview afterward.

Questions remain, however, about the significance of the agreements. Even in Israel, where the accords have received widespread acclaim, there is concern they might result in U.S. sales of sophisticated weaponry to the UAE and Bahrain, thus potentially upsetting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

Nevada court blocks 2nd-degree murder charges in DUI cases

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada Supreme Court ordered a change in the handling of DUI cases involving fatal crashes by prohibiting prosecutors from charging defendants with second-degree murder.

The decision issued Monday stemmed from a case in which authorities said a man caused a fatal crash after driving with marijuana in his system and speeding, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Chief Justice Kristina Pickering wrote the order signed by the other six justices concluding the state cannot level a second-degree murder charge for a death resulting from DUI.

“Although malice may be inferred from the facts of this case, which would support a charge of second-degree murder, the Legislature has pre-empted such a charge for cases of non-intentional vehicular homicide,” Pickering wrote.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said the decision would result in prosecutors dismissing second-degree murder charges in at least five cases.

However, Wolfson said “none of those cases would be outright dismissed.”

A possible response to the order would be to convince the Legislature there should be harsher penalties in felony DUI death cases “where people travel at excessive rates of speed and otherwise exhibit an extraordinarily reckless behavior,” Wolfson said.

The high court’s order essentially reversed a previous decision in the case against Ronald Leavell. Authorities said Leavell was traveling between 70 and 142 mph through a Las Vegas residential neighborhood.

Leavell’s attorneys, Deborah and David Westbrook, who appealed his second-degree murder charge in the 2017 crash, lauded the decision.

“Intent matters, which is why we have different laws for different things,” David Westbrook said.

A second-degree murder charge “doesn’t discourage anybody from committing a reckless act. Because it’s a reckless act. You can’t convince people not to do something they didn’t intend to do,” David Westbrook said.