Is Covid Over?

Is COVID Over?

Our Easter Sunday worship service this year had a better attendance than in 2019.  This year’s official count was one hundred and three years ago it was ninety-three, and attendance at our Easter Vigil service was three more than the last time that we were able to have one.  Does that mean that our worries about Covid -19 are over, and our church is “back to normal”?

Well, no. 

At the very least, it’s too soon to tell.

Yes, we do seem to be past the worst of it.  And yes, many of our members and friends do seem to be finding their way back to in-person worship.  But I’m not ready to say that we’re completely out of the woods and our concerns about Covid-19 are behind us. 

While the war in Ukraine has pushed Covid out of the daily headlines, the pandemic, and the virus that caused it, is still causing trouble around the world.  Most recently, China has been dealing with multiple outbreaks in several places, locking down entire cities, shutting down businesses, closing ports, and creating more disruption to the supply chain which, in turn, causes problems for people, and businesses, around the world.  And China isn’t the only country that has had problems.  Several European countries have had surges in their case counts, health officials in the United States have seen spikes in several areas and are still warning that we might see additional problems in some places.  So, it may be too soon to throw away our supply of masks, although we can all hope that we won’t need them.

The good, even extraordinary, news is that things are getting back to some sort of normal.  Many, though not all, of our members and friends are returning, in-person, on Sunday mornings.  And, more importantly, although attendance hasn’t quite returned to where it was, it is getting better.  Moreover, using Easter attendance as a benchmark suggests that we’re doing pretty well.  Some churches have suffered significant declines during the pandemic that look as if they may be permanent, but indications are that we seem to have weathered the storm… so far. 

At this point, we have returned to doing most of the things that we were doing before.  Our committees are all meeting, we’re holding most of our activities, and we’re almost back to “normal.”  And the good news is that the necessities of the pandemic taught us some things, such as Zoom, that we continue to use to allow increased participation and save some of us from extra trips into Alliance.  But we aren’t yet where we want to be. 

“Almost” isn’t good enough.

While our Easter attendance is certainly encouraging, and our weekly attendance is getting better, we aren’t yet back to where we were.  And, honestly, where we were still isn’t where we want to be.  Some of our members still don’t feel safe going out in public, and that’s okay.  After worrying for more than two weeks while Patti was in the hospital last fall, I completely understand why being in a large group, like in church, might concern some folks.  And, knowing that the virus is still spiking in some places suggests that it could happen here, again, too.

So, what should we do?

First, have hope.  With the arrival of effective vaccines, things are much better, and, over the course of the last two years, our doctors and hospitals have become much at treating this illness, survival and recovery rates have increased, and promising new Covid-specific antiviral medicines seem close to approval.

Second, stay safe.  We understand that all of us are different.  Each person, and each situation, is different.  So, do what you need to do to stay safe, and to feel safe.  We will continue to offer online options for those of you who are unable to get here in person and we will welcome you back when you are ready.

Third, don’t stop being who you are.  Christ Church is an amazing and awesome place that is filled with amazing and awesome people.  We are known in our community for our outreach and love for our neighbors and that is an incredible reputation so don’t stop doing the things that we’ve always done.

And fourth, don’t stop inviting people to Christ Church.  What we have here is great, but people won’t, and can’t, know how wonderful it is unless someone like you points it out to them.  Every time it comes up in conversation, and sometime when it doesn’t, invite your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, hairdressers, barbers, classmates, and anyone else you encounter to visit us.  Carry invitation cards with you in your wallets and purses.  Don’t keep our church a secret.  Go out of your way to sing the praises of Christ Church everywhere you go.  And, since we now have such a strong online presence, and our livestream compares very favorably to other churches, inviting those people to check us out online is a good option.

Because our goal isn’t to get back to “normal.” 

Our goal is not to survive.

Our goal is to be better than ever.

And to grow the Kingdom of God.

Blessings,


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Applied vs. Theoretical Christianity

General George McClellan

Applied vs. Theoretical Christianity

In 1861 President Lincoln gave General George McClellan the responsibility of building and training the Union Army and he did so with excellence.  McClellan was a master of organization and so while he did an admirable job of building the Army and was popular with the troops, he was still removed from command less than a year later.  Why?  Because despite General McClellan’s skill as an organizer, he was described as “ineffective” when commanding the army on the battlefield.  Just as we see in science, where theoretical physics and applied physics are two entirely different fields of study, the theory of battle and the application of that theory can be, and often are, vastly different and require an entirely different mindset.

There is an old military adage that likely dates to a German Field Marshal in the early 1800’s that says, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  And the reason that is true, is because theory and application are always different.  That means that an effective battlefield command must be able to adapt as conditions change, or as members of our Marine Corps often say, “Adapt and overcome.”

In the church, we encounter that same disconnect between theory and application.  Thinking, learning, and teaching about Christianity, are often quite different from the practical reality of living a Christian life or of putting “boots on the ground” and doing the things that we talk about on Sunday.  We see that difference in the hundreds of church growth books that are on the market.  It seems like every year someone else has a new book, with a new formula, that’s sure to grow your church ten percent in the first two months.  But those formulas are what worked for the author, and although there may be lessons that we can use, what worked in their church, in their city, at that time, has no guarantee of being effective in our church, in our city, at the time we decide to act.

But the second disconnect between theory and application is even bigger and it’s been a problem… well, forever.  Jesus called out the Pharisees for it when they criticized his disciples for not washing their hands.  Nowhere in the Law of Moses is handwashing required, only tradition required it.  But the Pharisees, although they knew the law better than anyone, gave gifts to the church but left their parents hungry.  They learned the law, they knew the law, the taught the law but they kept a tradition that broke the law.  There is, and always has been, a gap between knowing what to do, and doing it.

Our challenge, as the followers of Jesus Christ isn’t just to learn about Jesus, but to put “boots on the ground” and do the things that Jesus taught us to do.  It’s one thing to learn, and know, and even teach, about being generous, merciful, kind, forgiving, and loving, but doing those things is often another thing entirely.  We have not been called to be experts in theoretical Christianity, but to actively practice applied Christianity. Our calling isn’t to know things about Jesus, our calling is to be like Jesus.

Because knowing a lot of stuff about Jesus isn’t going to change hearts or grow our church.

But acting a lot like Jesus will.


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Christmas after Lockdown

Christmas After Lockdown

The last year and nine months has been, and continues to be, a long, strange, whirlwind of constant changes, news stories, changes, adaptations, and continued hope for a return to something approaching the “normal” that we remember.  Because of the threat of the coronavirus, and the statewide lockdown, we were unable to meet in person for Christmas Eve and so we did the best that we could to “meet” one another virtually.  Due to the hard work of our church staff and volunteers, and the amazing video editing of Bob Wallace, we produced a Christmas Eve video that I think surpassed almost any other similar attempt.

But as good as it was, it just wasn’t the same.

No matter how well we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child individually, there was still something missing.  Christmas wasn’t the same without being together.

Families are like that.  When we are apart, we can mail our gifts to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together.  In fact, for many of us, giving and receiving gifts has lost the urgency and the sparkle that it had when we were children.  What’s important, and treasured, now is just being together, seeing one another, sharing our stories and our lives, and just spending time together.

And Christmas Eve is all of that, and more.  Because the Spirit of God dwells within each one of us as the followers of Jesus, when we are together, we feel the presence, not only of other people, but also the presence of God himself.  That’s true every Sunday, and any time that we meet in groups that are large or small, but if you are like me, we feel that sensation of closeness to God most keenly only a few times each year and one of those times is on Christmas Eve.

This year, many of us will, once again, meet together, in person, for Christmas Eve, but we will also be livestreaming that worship service for anyone who is unable to attend or who still feels uncomfortable being around a crowd of people.  Rest assured, however, that we continue to encourage mask wear for everyone in attendance and remember that there is ample room to find seats with plenty of “social distance” between you and others.  In fact, if this year looks like others in recent history, you can probably have the balcony all to yourself.

But, whichever, option you choose, I hope that you will join us.  Moreover, I hope that each one of you will invite at least five others to join us.  Christmas Eve is easily one of the most attended worship services of the year in almost every church in North America and, for that reason, is a time when friends are most willing to accept an invitation to attend. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas are a time when we draw close to one another, and draw close to God, in a way that is both special and memorable not just because of the people, but because it is a time when we encounter the Spirit of God in a special way.  Of course, we will share the extraordinary experience of hearing our choirs, bell choirs, pipe organ, and singing traditional and meaningful carols of Christmas together.  But most importantly, we will remember the story of God’s invasion of the earth and the arrival of the Christ child, who would become the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

I hope that you will join us as we draw closer one another, and closer to God, together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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2021 Pastor’s Report

2021 Pastor’s Report

During 2021 we continue to struggle with the fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic.  For nearly half of the year we were online only, then in-person, but outdoors, and now indoors with livestreaming to those who remain uncomfortable with a return to indoor worship.  The pandemic, and its effects on worship has, not surprisingly, had enormous ripple effects throughout the life of the church.  Giving, while stable through 2020, saw a major decline during the first half of 2021 but has seen some recovery since our return indoors.  Church committees, which did an admirable job of pivoting to Zoom during the lockdown, have largely returned to in-person meetings but, to some extent, still struggle with finding ways to maintain effective mission and ministry while also wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

But, as we have transitioned back to worship in our sanctuary, and have retained our online presence, we are hopeful that, as the pandemic, eventually, winds down, that we will see more members return to a fact-to-face connection.  We are hopeful that we will renew our connection with our friends and meet in-person with those who found us online, and whom we have only met virtually.  We are hopeful that our attendance, and giving, will return to, and exceed, our pre-pandemic levels, and we look forward to a return to more active participation in mission and ministry outside the walls of our church.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything this year.  Although all meals continue to be carry-out only, we continue to host the weekly community dinners which are now serving more than 130 meals each week.  Christ Church once again raised considerably more than was pledged for our part in the “Apostle Build” Habitat for Humanity house constructed this summer.  And, due to the unexpected spike in the price of building materials caused by the pandemic lock down, the excess funds that we raised were sorely needed and greatly appreciated.  Our United Methodist Women had a successful Basement Sale fundraiser and, once again, donated a large amount of unsold clothing and housewares to our friends at the Big Creek mission in the Red Bird missionary conference.  Even though we have been unable to send a mission team for two years, we hope to deliver a full trailer of donations before the snow flies.  These and other mission efforts have adapted and continued despite the difficulties of the past two years.  This adaptability and persistence encourages us and makes us hopeful that next year will be even better.

And so, as we move toward Thanksgiving, Advent, and a New Year, we understand that the crisis is not over.  We look forward to preparing 1200 Thanksgiving meals for our community, double our number for last year and close to where we were before the pandemic.  But we know that we will continue to face struggles and will have obstacles to overcome.  At the same time, we are encouraged and hopeful that God will has plans for us and will continue to use Christ Church as a lighthouse of hope and an embassy of his kingdom in our community and for our world.  Our prayer is that we will move from a place of struggle and surviving, to reviving, and then onward to thriving.

We may not know the future, but we know who holds the future. 

And that future is full of hope.


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Two “Top Ten” Lists for 2019 – Part 2

Two “Top Ten” Lists for 2019

Part 2 – Top Ten Blogs of 2019

Yesterday, I published my Top Ten” (actually Top Five) sermons from last year.  What follows is the list of my most “popular” blog posts.

#10) “Fear” (February 21)

Writing before the Special General Conference on issues of sexuality in the United Methodist Church I shared a few words for those who were worried about the outcome and the future of our church.  Although that conference is over and the future is slightly more in focus, my opinion hasn’t changed.

#9) “So, What Do We Do on a Mission Trip?” (September 25)

After our team returned from our latest trip to The Joy Center and Red Bird Mission in Kentucky, I explained a little about what happens there.

#8) “One Year In” (June 20)

A few words on my first anniversary at Christ Church

#7) “Pastor’s Report 2019” (October 28)

My summary of our year written for our official Charge Conference report.

#6) Confession and Pardon for Scout Worship (July 28)

Here I share my contribution to a Protestant worship service at the World Scout Jamboree in the event that that others might it useful for future scouting events.

#5) “What Happens When We Die?” (November 1)

One of my friends asked this question online and I shared it here because I know others have asked the same question.

#4) “Cutting the Baby in Half” (October 24)

Regardless of its apparent necessity, I don’t think that dividing the United Methodist Church will end well for anyone any more than Solomon’s proposal to cut a baby in half.

#3) “I’m Not Going” (March 25)

I explained to my congregation, and to anyone who cares, that regardless of how our denomination may, or may not, divide, I have no plans to leave this local church.

#2) “Do We Need a Catholic Order of Methodists?” (October 30)

While I doubt that anyone cares what I think, this is my proposal for how our denomination might stay together.

#1) “A Jamboree Honeymoon” (July 31)

While I was at the World Scout Jamboree, I met a young couple who were so passionate about scouting that they were spending their honeymoon sleeping in separate tents and working as staff so that scouts from all over the world could have the experience of a lifetime.  This post was read almost eight times more than #2 and ten times more frequently than #3 because it got picked up by both our Annual Conference and our denominational web pages.

Honorable mention

“Changing the World with Muddy Boots” (July 23)

While this is officially my least read blog of 2019 (and probably the shortest), it’s still has an important message and is one of my favorites.

 

 

 

 


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2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

Social Media Year in Review

 

Last week I wrote what is essentially the “first half” of an overview of last year.  I may still write a “top ten” list of the most read posts from last year, but while last week’s post was mostly about the church, this week’s is more personal.  While I did include some blog statistics in last week’s post, it was only those that related to the weekly posts of the Sunday sermon and, although that is probably the bright spot of this report as well, this post will cover more ground than that.

First, and most strangely, my old blog on Blogger, which I no longer maintain, and which I have clearly labelled as having moved to my new address on WordPress, still gets regular traffic.  It seems that, at some point, I might be forced to either edit every single post with a note about moving or delete that account entirely.  In any case, even though no new content has been posted there in almost four years, it still had considerably more traffic (5814 views) than my new one (3994 views).  This is both humbling, and an illustration of how well Google can push traffic toward its own properties.

Obviously, the traffic on my blog is pitifully small, especially when you read that you can begin to “monetize” your webpage or blog once you reach a benchmark of something like 10,000 visitors per month.  Even so, while the number of visitors to my old page is about half of what it was the year before, the number visitors to the new page nearly doubled.  Specifically, there was an 85 percent increase in visitors from 2018 to 2019 which was only slightly better than the 84 percent increase that we saw from 2017 to 2018.  So, while traffic to this blog is still small, its growth has almost doubled in each of the last two years.  And that, is both encouraging and humbling.

Some of that growth is reflected in the increase in subscribers.  At the beginning of 2019, 70 people subscribed to my blog on WordPress, and at the end of 2019 that number increased to 120.  Separate from that group, there are also two lists of folks who subscribe to blog notifications.  The first receives each week’s Sunday sermon, in its entirety, by email.  That list grew from 141 to 213.  The second list receives email notifications every time that I post a blog (like this one) that is not a Sunday sermon.  That email is usually just a notification that there is a new post and includes a link to that post.  Less impressively, his second subscription list increased from 18 to 24.  I’m not sure which of these is “cause” and which is “effect.”  Did increasing blog traffic drive increased subscriptions, or vice-versa, or did they feed one another?

On Facebook, I have, so far, resisted the call to create a new profile and separate my “public” and my “private” or “personal” life, but I do try to be careful not to accept too many friend requests from total strangers.  As of now, I have 812 Facebook “friends”, but I have no idea how much that might have grown since last year.  Neither do I track the growth of my network on LinkedIn, but again I do try, somewhat, to limit that platform to people that I’ve met in person.  Theoretically, Twitter should be the place where I gather “fans” that I haven’t met, but I probably don’t expend enough effort or focus there, so over the course of the year my follower count dropped from 389 to 371.   The number of people who subscribe to paper copies via snail mail decreased from 7 to 5, and although we haven’t been able to get into a routine of getting videos posted, a few things did and the number of people subscribing to my YouTube channel somehow managed to increase from 3 to 7.

Again, even though what I do online is not anything close to my “main” ministry, we are reaching people through this medium and the results are encouraging.  I hope that your New Year is a bright one.

For all of you you’ve been here all year, and for those of you who are new this year, thank you.  Feel free to comment below and let me know how these messages might have helped you this year, or what topics you might like to see addressed in 2020.  As usual, I’m sure there will be more ideas than time, but even if I don’t get to yours, your suggestions and comments are always welcome.


To read the first installment of this year-end review, click here: 2019 By the Numbers (Part 1).


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