May the grace of our good and loving God be with you. We are in the midst of crazy times, so I want to begin this letter by thanking you for being the living hope, hands, and feet of Jesus for our community.
The week between Monday, March 16th, and Sunday, March 22nd, EFUMC made lightning fast changes in how we do our Sunday worship in response to shelter in place orders and quarantine restrictions from local and state government. Since then, we’ve gone from doing two services “live” to one service “live streamed”. Sunday school classes, bible studies, and meetings are being held via zoom. After suspending our weekly food pantry distribution, we have been able to restart a monthly drive-thru distribution to keep supporting our community. Our congregational care ministry has been faithfully reaching out with calls, cards, and text messages to help us stay connected to one another. The church adapted and is thriving. We are learning new things, making new priorities, reaching new people all while still taking care of our longtime, faithful, members. Thank you.
There are still many questions about what comes next. I’ll try to answer many of those question in this newsletter. The questions foremost on everyone’s minds are: When will we worship together in person? How many people can gather? What will our policies and protocols be for keeping everyone safe and healthy? I wish there were simple, clear cut answers with a date to regather attached, but there isn’t. Bishop Schnase has asked and encouraged the clergy and church leadership to be cautious and discerning about re-launching “in person gatherings”. We are being asked to abide by CDC recommendations. As of now, we do not have a set date to re-launch our Sunday mornings in person. The board and I will be in conversation about the best way forward. I have consulted with medical professionals in our community as well as with other clergy. My hope is to be able to gather again mid-July or perhaps August.
In accordance with the CDC, we will need to see a decrease in active cases for 2 weeks before we can safely set a return date. It’s important to consider what we will be returning to. We would still be required to social distance, families may sit together but would need to be 6 feet from other families and individuals. No touching, no corporate singing. Hand sanitizing stations up front and masks for all present in the congregation. At this point, based on the number of cases in our county, we could allow for 25% of our current seating capacity – so roughly 25- 30 people. It feels important, that when we return, we do so when we can all be together. Yes, there are variances for churches. I know, many churches have already begun to open. Our Bishop reminds us that our first principle as United Methodists is to Do No Harm and that as people committed to doing no harm, we should be setting far higher standards than the minimum set forth for the protection of our congregations and our communities.
While all of the above is true and good, it sounds very impersonal. So, let me say it this way. I love you, my friends. I love being your pastor. I love wrestling God’s word with you and worshipping with you. No one wants to gather again in person more than I do. But until I know that we have done everything we can to ensure everyone’s safe return, we should wait. We are still the church. There is still much work for us to do. There is still much that we ARE doing. As you read the other articles in this newsletter, I hope you will prayerfully ask, ‘how can I participate? How can I help? What gifts do I have that I can offer God through service to the church?’ We can all do something, what will you do? We’ll continue to live stream. We’ll continue to find ways to connect and take care of each other. We’ll listen for God’s heart and act accordingly.
Grace and Peace,