“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Opening paragraph to “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
If I did not know any better, I would have thought Charles Dickens was writing about our current world. COVID-19 has turned our world upside, accelerating ever-widening chasms between polarized factions and creating even more chaos. I have learned that “COVID-brain” is a real thing – the social distancing, quarantines, and extra precautions add stress to people’s lives, reducing thinking capability by up to 30% (I wondered what was going on in my brain!). Organizations are being tossed back and forth as they attempt to keep up with constantly changing guidelines, while political factions have weaponized fear by demonizing opponents, claiming themselves to be the only “safe” choice. Sadly, this season will not just “blow over,” but will be with us for a long time to come. Lord, have mercy!
At the same time, we have an incredible opportunity to explore and learn how to be “church” in these fluid times (and beyond) as we offer the timeless gospel to a sea-sick and weary world. The possibilities for reaching and serving people for Christ through technology are ever-expanding. Did you know that our own Nicole Smith developed a virtual VBS curriculum that has now been widely shared with other churches across the nation? I am very proud of the staff and members of FUMC – we continue to learn and move forward, even in the midst of the storm!
In order to continue to navigate this COVID season well, the staff and worship leaders focused on a simple strategy of “Connect & Engage” as we began to shift to on-line only worship. It has been very effective, and I propose that we expand that strategy to the whole church, along with two “next steps:”
1. Connect and Engage: At the very heart of “church” is relationship with God and others. Everything we do must preserve and build healthy relationships in and to our faith community, and beyond to those who are not yet here. When we began adjusting our on-line worship, we looked for ways to help people connect, and then engage (not just watch). More connecting was done by other groups: Our Member-Care Committee coordinates calling to check in with those who are most likely to be shut-in. Small groups are checking-in with their members. A new check-in called “Connections” was started on ZOOM for those who wanted more group interaction than a phone call can offer. “Watching over one another in love” was one of the hallmarks of early Methodism – we need to do this now more than ever! Please pray for the staff and leaders who will be adjusting and designing programming to move to an on-line format for the fall, adding in-person programs as it becomes safe to do so. Our priority will be to set up systems and programs that help keep us connected and engaged with God and each other, whether we are in-person or physically distanced. Watch for more information in the coming weeks!
2. Align All Ministries with Our Mission: Shifting the church
ministries to be flexible in uncertain times takes a lot of energy, people-power, and resources. COVID has also caused a dip in financial support, which makes it even more challenging. We want to be sure that everything we do aligns with our mission “to make disciples of Jesus who serve beyond the walls” so that our ministry will be as effective as possible, making the best use of the resources we have. This means that some things we have done in the past may not be done in the future, unless they can be aligned with our mission.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Our communication systems weren’t stellar before COVID, and are now even more stressed. We were in the process of shifting from staff/clergy-driven ministry to staff/clergy partnerships with the congregation when COVID hit. Updating contact information for our congregation became very urgent, as did increasing email communications. Deb Benefield spent many hours doing just that (Thanks Deb!!) The church has purchased “Zoom Rooms” to host on-line meetings and small groups, which helps our work together move forward. However, most communication happens non-verbally, by watching body language and discerning a certain “feel” in the room that ZOOM can’t duplicate. Part of our challenge will be to create communication processes that will clarify expectations, negotiate balanced compromises, are easy to navigate, and will help us effectively connect and engage both with congregational members and those who are not yet a part of our church family.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times! Be sure to treat each other gently (including yourself!). Use that big, wide “umbrella of grace” as we continue to work together for the sake of Christ. At the same time, please bathe all of what we are doing in prayer. God is bigger than COVID, fear-mongering, ugly politics, and factions. In fact, Romans 8:28 reminds us that “ALL things work together for good for those who love God” – even in the middle of a COVID storm. We believe, O Lord; help our unbelief!
Yours for the Journey,