May 1, 2020
As I sit down to write my newsletter article for May, it is hard to believe we have been in isolation for 7 weeks now. I share in the question you are all probably asking, “When will we be able to be together again in person as a church?” However, before we attempt to answer this question, let us celebrate the ways we have been able to “Be the Church” in the midst of this pandemic.
Technology has become key in our ability to stay connected during this time. We have been able to worship together online for four Wednesday Lenten services, nine worship services, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. The makes the grand total of 13 worship experiences. I have not been able to do this alone. I thank Shana for being at and participating in all of these services. I thank all those who have done things such as children’s time, scripture reading and singing for the online recordings. I thank Cassandra for getting the file onto our website each and every week and making it available to you all (side note: It takes about three to four hours to get the file up online).
We have used the online platform Zoom to hold four council meetings, two cabinet meetings, two worship meetings, two mission meetings, two Christian Education meetings, eight women’s Bible Studies, eight men’s Bible studies, three fellowship lunches and one Sunday school class. In addition to all of this, the Mission and Care committee continues to make phone calls to our congregation to touch base and bring any pastoral care issues to me to respond to.
The members and friends of St. John’s UCC have always been a powerhouse when it comes to stewardship and this has not changed in our time of isolation. Members and friends have continued to either mail their tithes in or use the new online giving portal. For the financials in the month of March, we had a surplus of $822. I attribute this to the faithful members and friends of St. John’s UCC, who never cease to amaze me with their generosity even in the midst of a pandemic.
The ministry of St. John’s UCC is vibrant in the midst of the pandemic. Is it our ideal? No. For example, I stopped by Carol Crosson’s house after recording the worship service today to drop off the flowers in memory of Jerry Crosson. All I wanted to do was to be able to give her a hug on behalf of the congregation. Instead, I had to stand six feet away. It broke my heart. So, no, this is not the ideal way to do ministry. But it has not stopped us from “Being the Church” and being there for our members and friends.
So, now on to the question of the day. “When will we be able to be together again in person?” On Monday April 27, the church cabinet met for their monthly meeting. In this meeting they unanimously agreed to propose to the church council their preference to not meet in person as a church through the month of May. In the council meeting held on Tuesday April 28, our church council made the decision to continue to suspend all “in-person” worship services and church-sponsored activities at the church through May 31. The church building continues to be closed to the public.
Council will meet again on May 26 to discuss further actions. It is our hope we will be back worshiping together in June. The number one priority to the church council in this decision of when to re-open is YOU! The following was written by our conference minister, the Reverend Dr. Ginny Brown Daniels, and was a wonderful resource for our April 28 council meeting.
“As your Conference Minister, I write to strongly suggest that the Churches of the Missouri Mid-South Conference continue online worship and ministry until June 1, 2020. I offer the following to explain my recommendation in greater detail:
Theological Grounding I am reminded of the psalmist who prayed, “How long, O God?” in the midst of the exile of the Israelites. They yearned to go home but were forced into exile for 50 years. They wrestled with the shift of God’s presence (from temple to the tent amongst their exile). They wrestled with their unknown question of how long they would remain in exile. My friends, many of us in the past few days have prayerfully asked this same question about how long we need to remain in quarantine and be the Church while observing physical distance for the health of all.
Current Status The governors of Arkansas, Memphis, and Missouri, are encouraging faith communities to worship in person starting May 1. Interestingly, they have also cancelled school for the remainder of the school year. One could ask why faith communities are allowed to gather in-person when schools are not. Our question as Church leaders must be, “When is the best time for our members, neighbors, and community to return to in-person Church events?”
For me, as your pastor, the answer to this question is…when the people of the church are safe in doing so. I have proposed and council approved the creation of a transitional task force to discuss and put together a plan of how to re-open the church when it is safe to do so. This committee will meet starting Monday May 4 and continue to meet in May. The committee will present a re-opening plan for council approval on May 26 and upon council approval the plan will be communicated to the congregation.
Please know you are all in my thoughts and prayers during this time. If you need anything or if you know of anyone who is in need, please call me at 636-697-7985.