August 27, 2020
My beloveds in the Lord,
Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Here we are at a time that we could never have imagined on March 15th when we announced the suspension of our in-person worship and gatherings. We had no idea that this would continue even now, over five months later. In those first weeks, we thought we were dealing with a short-term crisis that would pass. Then in the weeks that followed, things seemed to settle into a routine of sorts. And many of us thought, “Ah, this is passing.” But then came the summer months and we saw the numbers in Polk County and Lakeland peak and our commitment to safety precautions strengthened. And now, things seem to be improving and for that we are grateful but we still are cautious as school and college have resumed with in-person classes.
In these five months, we may have moved from shock to anger to obstinance to impatience to submission and perhaps we are cycling back on a few of these even now. I know that we all miss our usual gatherings together whether for worship or a fellowship meal or a Bible study or even a committee meeting. I believe that we must grapple with the fact that it is most unlikely that things will be as they were last February in the foreseeable future. So rather than merely waiting this out, we are working on creating a “new normal.”
To that end, we are communicating more by email and US Mail rather than announcements in church. We are worshipping in our homes on Sunday mornings rather than at 745 South Ingraham Avenue. Our usual Sunday morning Bible Study happens on Wednesday evening via Zoom. Sermons are printed out rather than spoken. Coffee hour has moved from Fellowship Hall to our respective kitchens where we stay in touch with each other again by Zoom.
The ministry of the church continues as we worship, study, pray and serve. Social Ministry still follows Graceful Giving focusing on a community need each month with drop-offs at the Fellowship Hall on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. (Safety precautions are observed and it is a great opportunity to greet those who come by.) Council and most committees meet on a regular basis and the administrative work of the church continues in a new way reflecting this “new normal.” Council is carefully tracking the statistics of the incidence of the virus. (Special thanks to Rusty Washburn.) The Covid Response Task Force is meeting to consider when to resume in-person gatherings and the precautionary steps to be taken. Work behind the scenes is being done to increase our online worship presence beyond our Thursday Evening Prayer. We continue to serve with our mission statement in mind.
Of course, this “new normal” is happening in our personal lives as well. We are more cautious in our contacts with others. Our errand-running is not the same as it was before. We may have doctor’s appointments online by tele-health. Vacations and trips that were planned have been cancelled or postponed. If we have a loved one in a nursing or care facility, our hearts hurt at not being able to visit them as do theirs as they miss seeing friends and family. And we wonder if we will see our visitors from the north this fall and winter. Yes, things have changed.
Adjusting to these changes is not easy. Anxiety and fear may lurk in the backs of our minds or spirits. Joy may seem allusive. Spiritual contentment may be a distant memory. I understand. If any of these describe you, know this – you are not alone. These are normal responses to these abnormal times. If you would like to talk with me about this, we can make arrangements to do that either in my office or your home with appropriate safety precautions or by phone or Zoom or Skype or the like. Please do not hesitate to reach out. That’s why we are here for each other. Now, as we move forward, I ask three things of you who are a part of this community of faith. First, as the people of God were preparing to enter into the Land of Promise, Joshua, their leader exhorted them, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9. So it is that I exhort you as we are entering into new territory, one that I believe also is a Land of Promise. Remember that the Lord is with us each step of the way. Second, as difficult as change is, I ask you to approach the changes in these days with a sense of wonder rather than criticism. Let us ask, ”Huh, I never thought of it this way. I wonder if this could work or what changes might help.” Think broadly. Ask questions. Be slow to criticize. Offer suggestions. Finally, please pray for Grace, for our leaders, for the church throughout the United States and around the globe. Please pray for the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord and the spirit of joy in God’s presence.
During these days, please be sure to take positive steps to care for yourself – for your body and mind and spirit. Set modest goals and then set them again, even if you didn’t meet them today. St. Paul urged the Christians in Thessalonica to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Take a look at the “Daily Quarantine Questions” and see if this may be a way for you to take modest (or ginormous) steps each day. You are not alone. And if you feel like you are, please call me.
And now, may the peace of Christ that passes all understanding be with you all.
In Christ’s love,