Pastor’s Report 2020

(Note: What follows is a copy of my report included in this year’s Charge Conference paperwork)


Pastor’s Report – 2020

If you wanted to deliberately turn the life of the church upside-down, you could not have imagined a better tool than COVID-19.  Virtually everything changed.  And yet, they didn’t.  Our committee meetings changed, but once we got comfortable with Zoom, and social distancing protocols, most of our committees are still meeting.  We aren’t using our church building on Sunday, and yet, we’re still “having church” every week.  Sometimes via YouTube, sometimes in our church parking lot, sometimes both and two out of three Sunday school classes are still meeting weekly via Zoom (and it’s the younger group that isn’t).  We can’t pass offering plates on Sunday morning, and yet, our offerings are often as good, or better, than they were last year.

The weekly community dinners have changed but have never stopped.  The first week after the lockdown, one sponsoring church cancelled, but the people of Christ Church immediately stepped up, improvised, and prepared a carry out meal so that those who rely on us were fed.  Since then, our regular church hosts, as well as few others, have all stepped in, and stepped up, and our weekly Tuesday meals have continued, and have… grown.  In the last month, the lines have been longer, and the number of guests has increased.  Occasionally, the food has run out, but the word has spread, everyone is adapting, and more food will be prepared for the next meal.

Obviously, there are things that we can’t do.  Our mission trips to Harrisburg, Liberia and Big Creek, Kentucky have been postponed until it is once again safe to do so, but we have already collected an enormous pile of things to take with us to Kentucky simply because our members have taken advantage of this time and used it to do some Spring cleaning.  Similarly, gifts in support of our trip to Liberia are continuing to appear in our church offerings so that, when the time comes, we will be ready.  And, as our Outreach Committee discussed these changes, they deliberately looked for how the needs of our community might have changed and how we might be a part of caring for new communities or new areas of need that were caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.  And so, while some planned and budgeted gifts are not needed, we have shifted gifts, and fund-raising efforts to new places where the needs are great.

Although things sometimes seem to have turned upside down, the mission never changed, and the church has continued to be the church.  We have changed, we have adapted, we are learning new things every week, but we are still here.  Our membership has remained connected in new ways, and we see new names participating in our online forums.  In short, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are housed, and we continue to look for ways that we can be the church, and places where we can be Jesus to the people around us.

The church is still here.

The mission continues.

We continue to seek Jesus Christ and to share his love with the people around us.

We could do nothing less.


I hope that all of you remain well.  I encourage you to continue our mission, continue to be the church, and continue to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Just Do The Next Thing

Some years ago, when I was still working as an engineer, I used to listen to a Christian radio station in Cleveland, Ohio and would often hear a program hosted by Elizabeth Elliot. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that name, Elizabeth Elliot was the widow of a missionary, Jim Elliot, who was killed by Ecuadorian natives from the Huaorani tribe– also called the “Auca”, along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint in 1952. Their story spread around the world and was recorded by Elizabeth Elliot in a best selling book “Through Gates of Splendor” as well as subsequent movies and other books written by Elliot and others.

In any case, in a conversation with a caller on her radio show, Elizabeth Elliot noted that there were many times, particularly after she was widowed with small children, as well as other crises later in her life, that she would remember and recite to herself an old poem entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” On that show, on more than one occasion, I heard her recite it, at least in part, and remind her listeners that when life is hard, when we are struggling to understand how we can possibly move forward, her advice was simply to put one step in front of the other, and just “do the next thing.”

Although I didn’t need that particular wisdom on the day that I heard it, my brain filed it away somewhere. And, there have been several occasions since then that I found myself reciting parts of it to myself, looking up the entire poem online, or just reminding myself to just “do the next thing.”

It occurred to me today that some of you might not have heard it and during the turmoil caused by the Coronavirus, or for a host of other possible reasons, maybe you needed to hear it today. Here it is:

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.
– Elizabeth Elliot

Hang in there friends.

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Television pastor and writer Rev. Robert Schuller used to say,

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. ”

I said it before, but I’m going to say it again anyway…

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just…

Do the next thing.

God Bless.

____________________________________________________

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The Death of “Normal”

“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

You’ve all heard it.  Sometimes it seems as if we hear someone say it every day.    But you know what?  The old “normal” is dead and it isn’t coming back.  I’ll explain what I mean in a minute, but while the death of normal makes me a little sad, it also gives me hope.

For most of us, getting back to “normal” means that everything returns to the way that it was before COVID-19 turned our lives upside-own and sideways.  But so much has changed and, if we’re honest, we have changed, that there’s no way for us to go back to the way that they were before.  And, if we’re brutally realistic, some things are still going to get worse before they get better.  So, how is any of that hopeful?

First, let me explain why we can’t go back as if this year was a children’s playground “do over.”  Some things have changed that simply can’t be erased.  People we love have died and we can’t get them back.  Businesses have closed that won’t reopen, and more are likely to do so before this is over.  Movie theaters and other businesses are starting to close as the pandemic drags on and while some of them may have enough money to try again when things get better, most of them are gone forever as are the jobs that they created.  But, after six months, our behavior is changing too and, by the time COVID-19 burns itself out or we develop a vaccine, our habits and patterns of life will have changed as well.  People who never used the drive thru at the bank or the pharmacy will be used to it, and many of us will like it enough to keep using it.  Many of us have discovered the convenience of Zoom meetings and, while we might not meet that way all the time, some of our meetings will remain on Zoom and other electronic platforms.  People who didn’t cook at home a lot are learning how, and some of them are getting pretty good at it and are discovering that it’s a lot cheaper (and healthier) than eating out.  Families are spending more time together and more time outdoors.  And every one of those changes, from small ones to big ones, changes how we do business and how we live our lives.

Churches are discovering the same thing.  Churches have had to completely change the way that we fund our operations.  Obviously, there isn’t a weekly offering plate if there is no weekly in-person worship service.  So, with essentially no notice, churches had to find ways of either collecting a weekly offering by mail or doing so electronically.  Christ Church has been blessed to have a congregation that navigated that pivot well, thanks to your adaptability and thanks to finance and computer literate members who had the building blocks in place long before we needed to rely on them.  But some churches haven’t navigated that transition nearly as well, and many of those churches may not survive.  All of us have seen those changes in our Cub Scout pack, our weekly Community Dinner, our collections for the hungry and the homeless, our online worship, and a hundred other ways.

But, at the same time, not all those changes are bad.  Some of us are discovering how easy that donating electronically can be, and we might just like it.  Our move to online worship may have lost a few of our regular attenders but, at the same time, we’ve added a few new “faces” in worship.  Each week there are several people who are “liking,” commenting, and sharing our services online that we haven’t yet met in person.  People are “visiting” our church, and our worship services, that likely would not have physically walked in the door before we were forced to change.  And some of the people we’ve known for years have discovered that our online worship, newsletters, and “Newsy Notes” have allowed them to stay connected even when they are working weekends, sick, travelling, or retire out of state.  The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to shift our perspective.  As much as we love our church building, it’s possible that we are less likely to think of “church” as a building when we are prevented from spending so much time in it.  It might just be easier for us to think about “being Jesus” to the people around us when we don’t physically see the Outreach Committee at church every Sunday and expect them (or the pastor) to be Jesus for us. 

And if those changes help us to meet new people, share the gospel with new friends, reach out to our neighbors, get to know their names and their problems, to love them, and be Jesus to them, that’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s not something that I want to give up when this is over.

It’s time for us to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back.  But while this pandemic is still a long way from being over, now is a great time for us to think about what our “new normal” will look like when it finally is.  Church in the “new normal” is almost certainly going to remain online in addition to “in-person.”  Some of our meetings are likely to remain on Zoom simply because it’s convenient as well as easier for some of our member who don’t like to drive after dark during the winter months.  Some of us will continue to use the option of giving online. 

But how will we, as the people of God, be changed?  Will we be more loving?  Will we be more compassionate?  Will we be more aware of our neighbors, coworkers, and other people around us?  Will we be transformed by this natural disaster, and by God, into people who are more like Jesus, who love like Jesus, than we were before?  Will our church become known, even more than we were, as a church who cares about our neighborhood and about our community?  Will we, more than ever, act as if we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God?

I hope so.  I see it happening in bits and pieces and it’s growing.  We are, every day, taking baby steps in a new direction.  And, if that new direction carries us closer to Jesus, I don’t ever want to go back to the old “normal.”

I urge you to keep praying for Christ Church, for our church family, for the new names and new faces that we are reaching in new ways, for our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and for the world. 

The old “normal” isn’t coming back. 

Feel free to grieve its loss.

But there is hope.

We will, eventually, pass through this trial and arrive on the shores of a new “normal.”

Let us pray that when we arrive, each one of us, and our church, is more like Jesus than ever before.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Crisis Fatigue

Crisis Fatigue

I have compassion fatigue.

Or at least something like it.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the term, compassion fatigue is the name given to describe the limited human ability to expend emotional energy.  Simply put, we can’t care about everything.  Ordinarily, you see compassion fatigue in those who work with hurting people to the extent that they seem to become senseless to the pain of others.  We see social workers to whom suffering children and families have just become numbers, or workers at the Social Security or unemployment office who close their eyes to the humanity in front of them. 

Some time ago, I experienced it when Patti and I chaired the church missions committee.  So many letters, cards, videos, and other requests for funds came to us through the church, and through the mail, that we simply couldn’t read them all.  The church had a limited budget and couldn’t give funds to even half of them.  Likewise, we had limited emotional energy, and we didn’t have the capacity to worry about the needs of every single organization that asked for our help.

Something similar is happening now.

We are surrounded by hurting, isolated, people.

The news is filled with an endless parade of crises.

Facebook and other social media outlets are filled with the reports of friends and family that are struggling.

And I find myself tuning out.

To be fair, I’m trying to be selective.

I don’t have the emotional energy to care about everything.  There is so much going on that I don’t have the time to focus on the myriad of legitimate concerns that confront me.  I need to care, but I need to take care of myself and my family at the same time.

But sometimes I feel like I should care more.

There are so many important issues to confront.  Immigration, racial inequality, church finance, unemployment, mourning the loss of church family members, a divisive national election, a divided denomination, and the list just goes on and on.

And the elephant in the room is always COVID-19.  Every day I think about it.  It has changed the way we live, the way we work, the way that we associate with other, and the way that we are… permitted… to care for others.  This virus has changed the way that we do everything.  And, worse than that, it requires that we pay attention to it, to spend some of our emotional energy on it, constantly, every day.  We have to think about how often we go to the store, or how often we leave the house, or how many people we might come in contact with, or whether we have a clean mask to wear, and so on.  All day.  Every day.

And the emotional toll of that constant attention nibbles away at our compassion.

I feel it and I’m sure you do too.

We have a limited amount of emotional energy.  We simply do not have the capacity to care about everything.  And when our concerns, and our necessary attention to this virus is added to the constant parade of important concerns, we find ourselves unable to care about them all.

We just don’t have the time or the energy.

So sometimes I feel like I should be paying more attention to important issues that are facing our society, or our church, and I feel guilty when I don’t study them, and highlight them in my preaching or my writing. 

But I just can’t.

I’m sure that you may have felt something similar.  The Coronavirus is stealing from us.  Its constant demands for attention are stealing our emotional energy and our capacity to care.  But we can’t close ourselves off to the world.  We can’t allow ourselves to shut down emotionally.  We need to be conscious and aware of the emotional toll and take steps to protect ourselves.

Already, I’ve seen otherwise nice people post unkind, uncompassionate, and sometimes downright mean things on social media as they argue about politics, or race, or the coronavirus, or, well, you get the idea.  But in our fatigue, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of becoming so focused on one problem, or one crisis, that we are unable to see how that focus causes us to mistreat others who are battling their way through a host of other crises.

I admit that I’m tired.

Whether you want to call it crisis fatigue, or compassion fatigue, or COVID fatigue, or something else, we need to admit that the continuing bombardment of urgent physical, social, and political disruptions is wearing on us.  And we need to take steps to protect ourselves.

If you have to, turn off the news occasionally.  Or take an extra day off.  Or turn off the internet for a day or two.  But do what you need to do to restore your equilibrium.  Recognize that you don’t have the emotional capacity to worry about everything at the same time.  Leave yourself some emotional space to care about the people closest to you so that you can reach out to your friends, neighbors, or coworkers when they need you. 

Take the time to rest both physically and emotionally.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a step back.  As they say in the airline safety briefings, “You can’t care for someone else, unless you take care of yourself first.” 

We need to care for ourselves so that we don’t lose our sense of compassion entirely.

We need to rest so that we will, as the Apostle Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, “…never tire of doing what is good.”


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What is Your Charge Condition?

runnin-on-empty-1532397In our house we have two places that we can find batteries.  New batteries, still in their packages, are in a box under our computer printer.  These are generally all pretty good except for a few cheap ones I got for free.  Used batteries, and all our rechargeable batteries, are in the basement on our “recharging table” that I built when all our kids each had a dozen toys that used batteries.  The charging table once had three different battery chargers where we could charge everything from triple ‘A’s to ‘D’ cells and 9V rechargeables.  And, just to be sure, we also have a battery tester that can measure the charge level in all of those sizes as well as in any button cell batteries that we might use in our bathroom scales, hearing aids, or whatever else.

And while this is obvious to anyone who has ever used batteries, the reason that we need a battery tester is that you can’t know a battery’s charge condition, that is, how much charge is on (or in) a particular battery without testing it.  But we humans aren’t all that different.  We put on a good face to the world, but we keep what’s inside hidden.  We might reveal our hearts to a few people who are closest to us, but we rarely talk about our emotional energy level, or our personal “charge condition.”  There are times, as parents, as laborers, and as human beings, that life simply takes a toll on us.  Times when we seem to just keep on giving, and the world keeps on taking our energy, until we feel as if we are running on empty and have nothing left to give.

Social Distancing isn’t helping.  While it’s possible that introverts may suffer less, extroverts gain energy through personal contact, from engaging in conversation, and from just being present with other people.  But the pandemic has stolen that from us.  If we’re lucky, we are still working, but we are working from home, or our employers have instituted policies that help us keep our distance from one another.  And while that might help to keep us safe from the Coronavirus, it drains us of the emotional energy that we need to survive and thrive.

If I need a battery from our charging table, I know that the batteries that are on the charger are good ones.  Current has been trickling into them so that when we need them, and their energy, they are ready.  But the batteries that have been sitting in a box, separated from the thing that fuels them, are anybody’s guess.  But they all look the same on the outside.  You can’t tell by looking at them.

And spiritually, we are fighting that same battle.  Because of the Coronavirus, and because of social distancing, we aren’t gathering, we aren’t worshipping together, and some of us aren’t even bothering to spend time on spiritual matters at all.  Without that weekly meeting, without those human interactions, it becomes all too easy to neglect our spiritual health altogether.

And as a result, our emotional and spiritual batteries are running down.  We increasingly feel drained, weak, and empty.  And in that condition, we won’t be ready to go when we, and our full strength, is needed.  When we feel drained and empty, we are less likely to stand up for the oppressed, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to do the work of the church, or to be Jesus to the world around us.

We must fight back.

Once we pay attention to our charge condition, it becomes easier to make it a priority.  The batteries on our charging table only need a little trickle of current to be prepared.  But they need to be exposed to the current for the charger to do any good.  We need that exposure too.  We need to find ways to charge our emotional and spiritual cores.  We need to fight.  Do whatever works for you.  Arrange to call a friend for an hour one, two, or three days every week.  Plan a Zoom meeting with your family for no other reason than just to talk.  Open your Bible.  Attend Sunday school via Zoom.  Read a Psalm every morning, and one chapter of the Gospels in the evening, read a hymn, sing a song by yourself, watch a worship service on YouTube (even if it’s Tuesday).  Write notes to your friends and to people who you know are isolated and lonely. 

We are not alone.

We must fight together.

We will get through this, but if we neglect our spiritual and emotional “charge condition” we will continue to drain our batteries and run on empty.

Do it.

Pick up the phone.  Open your Bible. 

Do something.

Do whatever it takes to charge your emotional and spiritual batteries.

Because we cannot survive or thrive if we’re empty.

 

 

 


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Endurance

If any of you have participated in sports, or even something as simple as casual walking, one thing that we all learn is that endurance cannot be purchased at the store.  We can buy good shoes, and sports equipment of all kinds, but the ability to play through an entire game, whether it is a walk in the park, or full contact football, or tennis, golf, soccer, or anything else, can only come from hard work.  If we say that there is a price for endurance, then that price can only be paid in sweat.  I have friends who, after major surgery, could barely walk across the room without stopping for rest.  But they persisted.  First it was a walk across the room, then to the end of the driveway, and then walking down the street one telephone pole at a time, until finally they were walking several miles every evening.  The same growth in endurance is seen in other sports in much the same way.  As strange as it sounds, just as we learn patience by being patient, we learn endurance, we train our bodies to endure, by repeatedly enduring. And, as difficult as it is for us to live through a global pandemic, we are learning to endure, and we learn endurance by enduring.  Granted, compared to the bread lines of the Great Depression, or ration cards and blackout drills of World War Two, the difficulties and hardships that we face may not be as great as those faced by other generations, but like it or not, great or small, these are ours. But as we stay at home, practice social distancing, and are separated from one another and from loved ones by doing so, as many of us suffer from unemployment caused by the shutdown, or by other byproducts of the pandemic, it is worthwhile for us to remember that the writers of scripture were no strangers to suffering and endurance.  In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul writes: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you, patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. Let me pull a few bullet points from Paul’s words that apply to our current situation:
  • We worship the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort
  • God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God.
  • We are distressed for the comfort of others. In this situation, we are fighting against our desire to be together so that we might not, unwittingly, pass this virus to others, family, and friends that we care about, and bring harm to them.
  • Paul says that they were distressed, and experienced trouble, beyond their ability to endure, but at the limits of their endurance, they learned that they could rely upon God rather than relying upon themselves.
It is the calling of the strong to protect the weak, and today we struggle against the pandemic by denying our desires to protect the weak and the vulnerable among us.  But our struggle is not without cost.  The cost of our endurance is being paid in sweat, in tears, and in great frustration. Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Please don’t allow your spirit to be crushed.  Pray that God might give you strength and endurance beyond your own.  Pray that we might learn to rely upon God rather than upon ourselves.  Encourage one another wherever, and whenever, possible.  Call, write, email, text, video chat, Zoom, or whatever it takes to stay connected and to encourage those around you who are struggling.  And please, please, don’t feel as if you must stoically struggle alone.  If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Call me, call a friend, let someone know that you are struggling so that we can do whatever we can to help. And finally, because we are still the church, and our mission to do the work of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop for a pandemic, also remember Paul’s words from 2 Thessalonians 3:12-14. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Hang in there.  Endure as long as you can.  Lean on God when your endurance ends.  Help one another.  Help the people around you. And never tire of doing good.   Blessings, Pastor John    
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Fear or Faith?

I am not afraid.

If you read my blog last week (Who Will Be the Canary?), you probably noticed that while I look forward to returning to worship in our church sanctuary, I prefer to err on the side of caution.  And, as I noted in my greeting yesterday morning, I find it a little odd that we are being told that it is safe to return to corporate worship (with proper spacing) but day cares, sports teams, and others are being told to limit activities to groups of ten.  Similarly, hospitals nursing homes and other care facilities remain closed to visitors and family members.  In that environment, I am just not convinced that it is responsible to put nearly one hundred of us in a room together.

I realize that there are several schools of thought on this issue.  A few of my colleagues believe, and have made it clear in online forums, that such cautiousness will harm church attendance and membership.  But I am not so sure.  In 2016, the entire Chipotle restaurant chain lost customers and revenue when 55 customers were sickened by the e coli bacteria in seven states.  The damage to sales (attendance) took years to repair.  An outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in your local church would be a major media event and, if we’re going to use church attendance as a measuring stick, would have an even more profound impact than cautiousness.  In any case, while we are making plans to return to corporate worship in our sanctuary, I think it’s more important to put the safety of our members ahead of worries about attendance.

But I am not afraid.

While there have been many posts on social media that churches (and pastors) should simply have faith, and trust that God will protect us, this isn’t an issue of fear versus faith.  While I have seen reminders about how God protected Daniel in the lions’ den or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, I don’t think that they apply here.  Yes, they all had great faith and, yes, God protected them, but at the same time, Daniel didn’t volunteer to be thrown to the lions.  And, realizing that Shadrach and company were bound hand and foot prior to their attempted incineration says something about their willingness to participate in the experience. 

Yes, Bible heroes the likes of Moses, Gideon, and David are lifted up as people of great faith, and they were.  But it pays to remember that they were also cautious.  Moses was content to raise sheep, for forty years, until God commanded him to return to Egypt and promised him divine protection.  Gideon led Israel’s revolt against the occupying Philistine army, but God spent days convincing him that the voice he heard really was God, and that God really was promising that Gideon wouldn’t die in the attempt.  Yes, David volunteered to fight against the giant Goliath, but David had spent years training with a sling and stones and had used them to fight against a lion, a bear, and other wild beasts before he did.

Being cautious doesn’t mean that we lack faith.  It just means that we choose not to risk our lives foolishly. 

Let us take the time to understand our enemy and the weapons we have at our disposal to fight against it.

Let us be careful, cautious, and listen for God’s voice.

The heroes of our faith did these things too.

 

 

 


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Who Will be the Canary?

Whether we know it or not, some of us are about to be asked to a “canary in a coal mine.”

While that phrase is probably familiar to many of my friends from coal country, let me offer you some brief historical background.  In the years before more advanced technology, the people who dug wells, mined coal, and worked underground often ran the risk of being overcome by carbon monoxide or other toxic, but odorless, gasses.  To defend themselves, these laborers began to carry small birds, often a canary, with them underground.  Since the birds were small, they would be overcome by the presence of toxic gases, or simply a lack of oxygen, before their, much larger, humans owners would.  These underground laborers knew that if the canary lost consciousness and fell off its perch, they were already on borrowed time and needed to head for the surface.

That brings us to this present Coronavirus pandemic, social distancing, and for my purposes, church worship.  Soon, as state health advisories are relaxed, church members will begin to ask, or even press, for pastors to resume congregational worship.  Some churches in our area have already set a date, in the next couple of weeks, to do so.  Certainly, we will do things differently.  We will offer hand sanitizer, our staff will be dizzily disinfecting everything in sight, we will space ourselves out in the sanctuary, we will refrain from shaking hands, and we might even eliminate singing for a while.

But should we?

I know what our congregation looks like, as well as all those parishes in which I have served and been a member or regular attender.  And all of them were, and are, full of wonderful saints who belong to any number of vulnerable populations.  Our churches are full of mature citizens, elderly persons, cancer patients, a variety of immune suppressed brothers and sisters, as well as those suffering from asthma, heart and kidney disease, and other health issues.  Opening our churches for congregational worship puts all these vulnerable friends at risk.

Think about your own friends, family and other saints in your church.

Which of them would you choose to bury before year’s end?

I’m certain that, like me, you’d like to avoid that.

But by rushing to be first, by opening as soon as we are “allowed” to do so, or as soon as state or denominational health advisories are relaxed, we are volunteering to be the “canary in a coal mine.”  Like those coal miners, we don’t have the technology to measure our safety.  We don’t have a test, or a meter, or a buzzer that will tell us when it’s not safe.

As reasonable as the voices around us may sound, everyone is guessing.

We think… that it’s probably… safe.

But the people who tell you that it’s probably safe will be watching the churches that go first to see what, if anything, happens.  And, as sincere as they might be, and as reasonable as their voices may sound, they won’t be the ones burying your friends, family, and saints of the church.  You will.

I miss our church family.  I miss our community.  I miss our hugs, and handshakes, and covered dish dinners.  I miss the choir, and coffee and donuts, and everything else.

I completely understand why you would want that back.  I do too.

But whomever goes first, is volunteering to be the canary.

And it’s worth remembering that, for the canary, it doesn’t always end well.

Like you, I look forward to welcoming our community of faith into the church sanctuary again.  I long for a return to “normal.” 

But I have no desire to be first.

My friends, my family, and my church are far too valuable to be used as a lab experiment to see if it’s truly as safe as some bureaucrat, government official, or scientist thinks it is.

You can volunteer to be the canary if you want to.

Feel free to go first.

But I’m in no hurry.

 

 

 


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When Will Church go Back to Normal?

Since both our governor and the President of the United States have been making a lot of noise about restarting the economy, and “getting back to normal,” I’m certain that many of us are wondering when church, and specifically, Sunday worship, will get back to normal.  It’s a great question, and it’s one that I have spent time thinking about, and one that has generated considerable discussion among my Methodist and other clergy colleagues.

And the answer is… it depends.

First, it depends on how quickly the rules are relaxed, both by our various levels of government and by our bishop.  But second, it also depends on how you define “normal.”  As to the first part, Governor DeWine has already made it clear that he intends to find a way forward with a “phased” restart which will insist that reopening businesses follow the safety protocols that have already been developed and put in practice by those essential businesses that have remained open.

What I think that will mean to the church, is that the restart will, at first, open things up to small groups of five or ten and then only if those group can insure a six-foot spacing between people.  It may also insist that meetings be kept under an hour.  Obviously, those guidelines will preclude worship, but we might be able to restart Bible studies, Threads of Love, or small Sunday school classes.  A little farther down that road, when larger groups are permitted, we might be able to worship in our sanctuary, but there will still be some significant changes.  We will have to be deliberate in spreading out across the sanctuary so assigned seating might be necessary.  We won’t want to shake hands, hug, or pass a plate from hand-to-hand, so our greetings and offering will look different.  Communion is going to be different too, and I have no idea how we will manage it just yet.  Similarly, it won’t be safe for the choir to squeeze into the choir loft, or the choir room, together so either we won’t see the choir for a while or, Lew and the choir will need to get a little “creative” in how they arrange themselves.  I honestly don’t know yet what that might look like.

And, more than that, any of our members and friends who are in a “vulnerable population” may well want to wait even longer.  Like it or not, gathering in groups is going to be risky, and potentially life threatening, until a vaccine is proven to be safe and becomes widely available.  That means that even though the economy restarts, people who are older, immune suppressed, have heart disease, asthma, or some other “underlying medical condition” may well want to stay home and join us in worship over the internet for some time to come.  That means that we should, and already are, thinking about how we can record, or livestream, our worship service over the internet even after we return to our sanctuary.

Altogether, the only thing that will be “normal” for a while will be change.  Things are going to be different, and the “normal” that we are used to, and the “normal” that we’ve seen for the last hundred years or so, is probably not going to return for at least twelve months.   And twelve months might easily turn intosomething like thirty-six months.  And, at some point, we might just have to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back and just get used to a new normal.

But no matter what normal ends up looking like, God hasn’t changed.  Our faith hasn’t changed.  Our mission hasn’t changed.  We are still the church.  We are still called to carry out the mission of the Kingdom and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  We will still go about doing the same work that we have always done.  How we go about doing that work might change a little, and that’s okay.  This is a pivot point in history.  The church has adapted to change through the Renaissance, through the Industrial Revolution, through the changes brought about by steam ships, railroads, electricity, automobiles, and the internet, and we will adapt to whatever new things lie in store for us today and in the future.

Take heart.  Have courage.

God is with us.

But hold on to your hat, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

 

 

 


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A Seuss-ian Easter Poem

My brother, Mark, received an awesome poem from Rev. Gill Hill, who was a shipmate of our father on the USS Manderson Victory, an ammunition ship in the Pacific, during WWII.  The author is unknown, but it is an Easter story written in the style of Dr. Seuss and the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  I was impressed by it and so I recorded it on YouTube and I wanted to share it with you here.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.


Did a Grinch Virus Steal Easter?

 
 
Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began,
bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.
People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.
 
As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.
People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.
 
April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world just supposed.
“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”
 
Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.
“Easter can’t happen this year,” they proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”
 
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.
The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.
 
“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.
 
“That noise,” said the world, “would be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.
And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.
 
But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!
It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!
The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!
 
Each saint in each nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!
It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
 
“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”
Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
 
And what happened then?
Well….the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share of the source of your life in this fight?
The churches are empty – but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is Victor over death, doom, and gloom.
 
So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.
 
May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the Church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that –
Let it start a revival.
 
—Author unknown
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


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