One of the best things about the United Methodist Church is our connection. Many may be feeling isolated, alone, and out of touch. Btrenda Capen is creating a page on the conference site (www.vaumc.org) especially for local church stories of how you and your church are keeping the connection alive and well during the coronavirus pandemic. You may inspire others to do the same. Please send stories (and pictures if you have any) of creative ways your church is keeping the connection alive to BrendaCapen@vaumc.org
Reflection: What the Pandemic Has Done to the Church
By the Rev. Dr. R. Franklin Gillis, Retired
In a recent conversation with a retired ministerial colleague, we talked about the challenges facing the United Methodist Church because of the pandemic. He said, “Just look at what has happened to the church! We’ll never be the same!” While he said the comment out of frustration, it caused me to reflect on his statement. I partially agree with what he said. Our churches will never be the same, but hopefully not in the undesirable way he seemed to mean it. The Church as we know it has been forced to change. Accordingly, I want to share some of the changes I think we as the church have encountered and some of the challenges we will continue to face.
The United Methodist Church has been challenged to rise to the occasion of new ways to be the church. Disruptions to our normal patterns have forced us to find new ways to worship and be in ministry. Many pastors and church staff members are providing creative worship, conducting necessary meetings, and communicating with their congregations through electronic means including live streaming, YouTube, Facebook, Google Meet, Zoom, and other forms of technology. Our churches have continued to be in ministry in our communities by volunteering, donating, marching, and serving the needs of others in many varied capacities.
Many folks are relying more on their spiritual resources to provide guidance for these difficult times. Prayer has taken on a wider and deeper meaning. More people are searching the scriptures to discover words of encouragement and hope. While we’re unable to see our church family each week, we are reaching out to stay in touch and check on the well-being of those we cannot see regularly. Reaching out to others with calls and mailings have become daily disciplines.
We have been reminded that our church is not just “a place,” but “a people” called to be the church in action through acts of kindness and compassionate love for others. We are learning the necessity to be open to change for the common good. We are learning that working on issues of social justice will require empathetic dialogue to resolve the problems of racism and inequality. We are indeed being challenged to be the church we were intended to be – persons united in a common faith with a common cause to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ!
Yes, church and the way we view it might have changed, but then again some of the positive steps churches have employed will certainly continue when restrictions are no longer imposed. The reality is this: the church is the people! Our basic needs will not have changed nor will our mission. We will continue to need the connection of Christian community and communication in order to be the church at work in the world.
The Apostle Paul reminded the first century church that they were to be “the body of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) This continues to be our mission today! Let us respond boldly to the challenges with renewed hope and confidence as we seek t0 be the body of Christ at work in the world!
“We Are the Body of Christ” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y75ozYXGrM
Local Church featured in newspaper
Main Street UMC (Suffolk) was recently in the Suffolk News-Herald for Easter.
Ministry put on hold but relationship building, service going strong
by the Rev. Beth Given, Welborne UMC, RIchmond
The Welborne Community Food Pantry was scheduled to begin a new ministry, the Welborne Welcome Table, on March 23, just a week into the height of the pandemic. This ministry which would have brought neighbors from the pantry, worshipping congregation, and neighborhood together at table to build relationships, had to be postponed until the fall.
But relationship building did not wait! In the midst of the pandemic. Our food pantry has remained open with weekly drive up, pre-bagged service. We have a new partnership with Henrico County Public Schools which has allowed us to reach more of the most vulnerable children in our neighborhood, most of them children of immigrant and refugee families. We are cultivating new volunteers, because many of our volunteers were in a high risk category due to their age. Neighbors, a teacher in our nearby school, a Cub Scout pack leader and more are joining our hands on effort, which we are limiting to 5-6 volunteers at a time.
Clearly we are meeting a need in the community, as our service numbers have increased almost three-fold. The week of April 6, we served 75 cars, representing families with just over 225 family members. We heard stories of unemployment, food scarcity, and simply fear of being out in public at a grocery store. While we are disappointed that the Welcome Table ministry had to be pushed back to the fall, we are so grateful for the donations and volunteers that are allowing us to continue to be Christ’s hands and feet in the community.
Nature Teaches in Pandemic
By Benjamin Pratt
We enjoyed naming her—Patience, was the final selection. We considered other names: Unfluffable, Purrsisstent, Queen for the Month, Constance, Perseverant. Patience seemed the most accurate, stable, defining name for our Mallard Mama in these restless, unstable times. Every day for more than two weeks our walks took us by the pond to see Patience, who faithfully incubated her eleven eggs. We were not alone in cautiously keeping tabs on her, hoping that one day soon we would see her waddling along with ducklings trailing behind. Mamma Mallard, the model for persistent patience, embodying Love in the Time of Pandemic, gave us guidance, hope, comfort as she sheltered against the hours while remaining faithful to her loving task of bringing new life into a threatening world. We need teachers like Patience in these times when so many of us are confined and restrained from our hurry-scurry lives. Click here to read the rest of the story (pdf)
Ministry during Social Distancing at Courthouse Community UMC
In this Facebook video post, the Rev. Beth Spencer Anderson shares how her church, Courthouse COmmunity UMC in Virginia Beach, is dealing with social distancing and being in ministry.
Wesley United Methodist Church, Alexandria — Facing COVID-19 Pandemic with a spirit of faith, hope, unity and peace
From Lydia Rodriguez and Angel M. Martinez, pastors (Posted on 4/8/20)
1. With the assistance of Scott Moore, our Council Chair, a Spiritual Nurture Room (Conference Call System) was put in place for members and friends of Wesley UMC to gather at a weekly basis to pray and for Bible Study. Tomorrow, we will gather in our “Spiritual Nurture Room” to have a Maundy Thursday Service. The United Methodist Men also gathered through the conference call this past Saturday as well. Our Scouts Troops are gathering through zoom every week.
2. With the assistance of Anjana and Joseph Prewitt, our Mission Chairs, we’ve been able to go Facebook Live every Sunday since March 22 at 10:00 AM to bring a simple service with Music, Prayers and a Sermon. Our views which range from 386 to 615 exceeds our average worship attendance as we are a small church.
3. With the assistance of Natalie Naudus Bradner, our Music Director, we’ve been able to provide an audio recording of a Worship Service since March 22. That audio recording is available through our Web Page and through our weekly email to our beloved congregation.
4. With the assistance of Gwen Loftus, one of our Lay Leaders, we’ve been able to collect food supplies for Rising Hope UMC.
5. Our Finance Team keeps the church up and running in terms of administration of our financial resources and are doing an amazing job. Our Trustees remain very active by taking care of our facilities.
6. Our Staff continues to be very dedicated.
7. The Church keeps connected on a daily basis through text messages, phone calls, emails, care packages in front doors, mailing of note cards, and prayer.
We the pastoral family of Lydia and Angel,are more than blessed with a congregation that is taking loving care of us and showing such love with cards, texts, phone calls, and food and groceries delivered directly to our house front door by precious people from the 10:00 AM Service and the 2:00 PM Service in Spanish. Angel and I are more than blessed to be the pastors of Wesley UMC, a small church that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue being disciples of Christ that are lifelong learners that influence others to serve.
Google Hangout Bible Study
By the Rev. Ned Alderman
Trinity UMC in King George has online Bible conversations that meet on Google Hangouts Wednesdays at 6:15 p.m. We use a lectionary text for the following Sunday. Wednesday, April 8, it’s John 20:1-18. Everyone is welcome to participate as long as they send the pastor an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so he knows to invite them.
Ding Dong Dash
By the Rev. Sara Keeling, pastor
On Thursday, March 26, two staff members from Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Dale City delivered special goody bags to children in the congregation. We are a “Church for All God’s Children,” a diverse, multi-cultural church that joyfully and creatively ministers to children of all ages. Janae Tschudi-Evatt, who is the Director of Christian Education, and Doreen Nkrumah, who is the Administrative Assistant, drove the church van around to 20 households to deliver bags with candy, colored pencils, notes of encouragement, activity sheets, and cards to send to loved ones.
The activity sheets were on The Lord’s Prayer which is what the kids had been studying in Sunday School. These deliveries occurred two days after schools had closed and provided a surprise of love from their church family in a time of uncertainty. They did a “ding dong dash,” honking the horn, leaving the bags on the doorstep, and waving to the children and families. On an otherwise quiet and overcast day, it was an unexpected treat!
Children’s Ministries Resources
By Shari Parsons, Director, Children’s Ministries, Ebenezer UMC, Stafford
I want to share some things we are doing at Ebenezer that may help someone else in Children’s Ministries at this time.
We have begun offering our Sunday School lessons online. There is a lesson video for each age group and a Parent Cue Guide that our curriculum company offers us for free to use during this time. They have waived their copyright laws to allow us and other churches who have a paid subscription with them to do this. We post the lessons each Sunday morning on our Ebenezer UMC Kidz Rock Facebook page and our web site.
We are offering a 3 – 4 minute children’s sermon during our church’s online worship services. The lesson goes along with our Sunday School lesson. It’s a brief overview of the theme and give families ideas of how to apply the Bible lesson to their lives.
We have also started a Daily Bible Challenge, Mondays – Fridays. We post the challenge on our FB page each day and families can do the challenge and then post pics or videos in the comments section of the post. The DBC is also posted on our web page under the Resources Tab and on our online worship service page for families. These are fun, quick things children and their families can do at home. Our goal was to not add to their already stressful lives of homeschooling, but to give them a fun alternative that could be part of their homeschool program or done just for fun.
Anyone is welcome to go and see what we are doing at http://ebenezerumc.org or on Facebook at Ebenezer UMC Kidz Rock.
I hope this helps some people as they navigate these waters. If I can be of help to anyone, please have them contact me at email@example.com.
That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief
The Rev. Jack Martin, retired, shared a link to a resource, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.”
From hbr.org: Some of the Harvard Business Review edit staff met virtually the other day — a screen full of faces in a scene becoming more common everywhere. We talked about the content we’re commissioning in this harrowing time of a pandemic and how we can help people. But we also talked about how we were feeling. One colleague mentioned that what she felt was grief. Heads nodded in all the panes.
If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We turned to David Kessler for ideas on how to do that. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. He co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler also has worked for a decade in a three-hospital system in Los Angeles. He served on their biohazards team. His volunteer work includes being an LAPD Specialist Reserve for traumatic events as well as having served on the Red Cross’s disaster services team. He is the founder of www.grief.com, which has over 5 million visits yearly from 167 countries.
Click here to read their findings.
Being Church during Social Distancing in the Staunton District
By Beth Christian
The Rev. David Vaughn at Calvary UMC is sending out weekly e-newsletters to keep people connected. A small team is equipping the church for livestreaming worship and bible study. In preparation for this week’s sermon Pastor David asked for input on 4 questions pertaining to the sermon and also mentioned that comments during worship on Facebook were encouraged.
The Rev. Andrew Baek of the Hot Springs Charge is sending a newsletter to the congregations by mail. The letter includes a note of encouragement, bulletin and message for family worship on Sunday at home, guidelines for prayer time, and announcements. He is also making a phone call to members in order to keep having a social closeness. A prayer partner ministry is in the works and will start soon.
The Rev. Chuck Cole at St. John’s-Staunton is livestreaming worship for a congregation that doesn’t participate in much social media. He writes: I have just learned that a member watched the livestream from St. John’s the first Sunday (March 15) and forwarded it to young unchurched relatives in Texas who watched it. They then watched the livestream for this week (the 22nd as well). That is exciting and I pray as you do that ultimately it might lead them to a connection with a local body of Christ at the appropriate time. It is exciting to see God working.
St. Paul’s-Staunton has a team ready to grocery shop and run errands for older members. James 5: 14 says, “If anyone is sick or weak, let them call on the elders of the church.”
The Rev. Joe Cailles at Trinity UMC is sending daily devotions via email and posting to Facebook that include daily prayer, Scripture, a short message, an anthem via YouTube, and a benediction.
The Rev. Bill Bearden from the Collierstown Charge offered excellent Zoom worship in a very rural setting.
The Rev. Jenelle Watson at Embrace Community Center has teams of two canvasing the neighborhood to see what people need. She then matches those needs up with her team that is ready to help by grocery shopping, picking up medications, doing laundry at the center, connecting these low-income neighbors with resources they may not know exist.
From the Rev. Nancy Palmer at Callaghan Charge: Many of my folks don’t have computers so I wrote letters copying what I put on the Callaghan Facebook page. Then I mixed up their names and teamed each person up with another person from their church. I am asking them to call the other person once a week. I also included five Bible trivia questions. This week from the gospel of John. Next week Psalms. For answers I just gave the chapter not verse.
From the Rev. Valerie Ritter at Fairfield UMC: Went on a Walmart run for snacks to give to children coming in for learning packets at Fairfield Elementary. Started calling through church directory. Volunteering at Food Bank in Lexington.
Desserts and Devotions
By the Rev. Justin Allen, D.Min., Associate VP for Student Life, Dean of Spiritual Life, Director of the Institute for Church Professions, Shenandoah University
Last night we held a Zoom Desserts and Devotions. Usually students come over to my house on Tuesday nights at 9pm for some time together and a quick Christian devotional with some desserts (cookies, cakes, brownies, ice cream, etc–something different each time). We extended it to current students or alums that had ever been to my house for a previous small group meeting (it was previously called Home Sweet Home). I published something about it on Facebook yesterday afternoon and was happy to see so many alums join the group. The alums seem to not be burned out by Zoom meetings and are looking for connection. A few mentioned that this was the high of their last week. I think our current students (mostly first-year students) that were on the call enjoyed hearing about our alums (the ones on the call were in Indiana, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia) (graduation years from 2012-2019). We talked about the fact that when Jesus walked the earth, it was perfect timing (safety of roads due to Pax Romana so that the message of Christianity could spread), but that the people of Israel were probably were not happy with being ruled by the Romans. Then we talked about the timing of this Great Connection (not wanting to call it an isolation, I am going positive). If this had happened 10 years ago, there would be no Zoom, no Facebook Live, and no FaceTime on our phones. We can handle this because we can be connected. Then we talked about Scriptures that we were leaning on during this time (Psalm 23, John 10:10, Psalm 30:5, Acts 2:43-47, etc).
Live phone conference call worship
By the Rev. Betty Jo Sims
McKendree UMC, Rappahannock River District, hosted live phone conference call worship using freeconferencecall.com Church members called in to a unique toll free number (set up for our church) at 9:40 a.m. March 22. I had 29 callers and @ 50 people on the call for about 35 minutes as we worshiped together. I read Scripture and had a short message. Then everyone was asked for new prayer requests or updates on existing ones. I prayed and we all prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. Then we chatted for a time. Some dropped off the call sooner than others. It was great to talk with one another. Spirits remain high!
We plan to do this again next Sunday. And I am working on other ways to use the conference call line as it was so successful. We do not have live streaming capabilities. My church is rural. 98 percent have email but internet service is not good. I have been sending regular email updates plus texting with some. We call the few people who do not have email to keep them informed.
We had conference call Bible Study this morning (Wed.) and I have a special call with the children tomorrow afternoon (Thurs.)