Friday, March 13, 2020

Covid-19 Letter to Manchester UMC

Dear Church,

Manchester UMC is a part of the St. Louis County community and the health and safety of all community members is deeply important to us. In this unusual time, we are thinking especially of those who are more vulnerable. Our concern is for our health care workers, who are overwhelmed. We act out of compassion for the elderly, who are at risk. We seek to offer grace for those with compromised immune systems, for whom this is a time of high anxiety.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, St. Louis County is banning gatherings of more than 250 people for the time being. By law, the government cannot prohibit a religious group from meeting. However, churches have been encouraged to follow the guidance of this ban.

Manchester UMC is going to do so. This weekend, there will be online worship at 9:30 and 11:00 via the congregation’s Facebook page. There will be no onsite worship. In addition, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning non-worship activities (including Sunday School) are cancelled. Other non-worship activities, groups, and classes are welcome to meet if they would like to, and will do so at the discretion of the group leader.

Here are some thoughts about how your smaller group might operate:
- Rule one: If you have symptoms, please stay home.
- Rule two: If you are concerned about getting sick, please stay home.
- Rule three: If your group meets, wash your hands before and after meeting and greet one another with a wave rather than a handshake.
- Rule four: Wash your hands … a lot. And then wash them again.

During this outbreak, things are moving very quickly. For a number of very complicated reasons, reaction to this particular outbreak has been widespread and frankly, a bit mind-blowing. It feels to me like a lot of decisions are being made based on fear and panic, rather than reasonable, prayerful, and level-headed consideration.

I am hopeful that we will continue to be the church in the midst of this chaos. The calm assurance of the Holy Spirit will ease our fears and guide our actions. We will pay attention to medical professionals and follow the guidance of sound science. We will neither overreact nor underreact to the circumstances around us. We will witness to the love and grace of God in all we say and do.

Friends, we are stronger together. And this is a time for us to especially look out for one another. Call your loved ones to check in. Invite family and friends to worship online with you this Sunday. Think about how school cancellations will affect families and offer support and care. Share your stockpile of toilet paper with your neighbors. Think about whom you could bring groceries to, if they are unable to shop themselves.

You know, stuff that people who follow Jesus would do!

And remember, in this time and always, 
But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Monday, March 09, 2020

A Reformation Season

There are some occasions, albeit rare, when one is aware that one is witnessing history. These are the times when we are able to step back from the events of the day and think, “Our children’s children will study this time.” Coming to that realization allows us to more deeply appreciate the moment as it happens.

What if the Church of Jesus Christ is experiencing such a season right now? What if the church is moving through a time of reformation on par with reformation moments of the past? What if the last few decades of the 20th and the first few decades of the 21st centuries are studied by future historians as a truly pivotal moment in the life of the Gospel?

There are scholars who believe as much, and have done the work to back it up. Several church historians have pointed out how the Church tends to cycle in 500 year periods of reformation, and the last one was (you guessed it) about 500 years ago. That was when Martin Luther famously mailed a letter with his “95 Theses” enclosed to his bishop, beginning what we now know as “The Reformation.”

Just think a minute - what if we are living through a similar season? What if we are witnessing a reformation period that our children’s children will study in their church history classes?

If we are willing to entertain that thought, the question then becomes one of response. How will we conduct ourselves in this season of reformation? Will we see changes as threats, or embrace them as opportunities?

Remember, reform doesn’t mean that everything old is worthless and needs to end immediately. Reform means that “everything old is new again!” Reform breathes new life into ancient traditions. Reform recreates meaning in ancient practices. Reform reminds us of the “why” of following Jesus in the first place.

I am hopeful that the church embraces this season of reform and allows the Holy Spirit to move us into a bright and vibrant future. By God’s grace, I know that we will not only make it through this season, but we will flourish for the sake of the Gospel as we do so!