Monday, May 18, 2020

Witnesses to the Ends of the Earth

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Lectionary Reading: Acts 1:6-14 (NRSV)

We have kind of a holdover for Acts from the day recognizing the Ascension of the Lord which is May 21st this year.  This is always recognized on the fortieth day of Easter.

It seems strange that it has been forty days since Easter because all of that time (and some prior to it) has been spent in social isolation from one another.

I was scheduled to go to General Conference as a delegate earlier this month but that has been pushed to an as-yet undetermined time in 2021.

While most Americans recognize this Sunday as part of Memorial Day weekend, clergy families in the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church recognize this as the Sunday before Annual Conference starts.  Last year we got to celebrate Trey's ordination at this event.  Now our Annual Conference has been pushed back to June 20th (which will probably be held online) with some additional days possibly coming in November.  At this point, Trey is glad that his ordination wasn't scheduled for 2020 since we're not sure when that service will occur.

Our Jurisdictional Conference was scheduled for July but was also canceled.  We're not sure when we will gather.  We elect bishops at this conference and we have three that would like to retire this summer.

Oh, and our local church also hasn't been meeting for worship in a physical location although the Holy Spirit joins us together as we share online with one another.  Some are wondering, when are we ever going to meet again in our sanctuary?  Others are thinking, even if they open up again, I'm not going to chance it yet.

Governor Stitt has allowed churches to begin meeting again for Sunday worship since May 3rd.  Some have asked the question, "Why are we waiting?  There are other churches that are already meeting."  Our Annual Conference has asked us to wait until June 7th to meet and only after a long list of guidelines are met.

It may be a while before we get to publicly engage in this manor.
But to be fair, some introverts may think "Passing of the Peace"
looks like this each Sunday!
We are having lots of conversations on how we can meet again safely.  We are fortunate that Oklahoma has not suffered the caseload of other states.  It's likely that our population's low density has been working in our favor.  Still, we have church members that have lost loved ones and we recognize that the danger is real.  Even though it is less likely to become sick in Oklahoma as it would be in New York, we are still cautious because of the possibilities.

As the Senior Pastor, I would hate to re-open our campus for worship too early and end up officiating at the funeral of a member we infected.  And yes, I recognize that people are capable of making their own decisions and taking their own risks but my pastoral care sensibilities tend to look for the maximum care of the congregation.  United Methodists have been taught to observe Wesley's General Rule, "Do No Harm."

At this point for Edmond, we are looking toward Father's Day on Sunday, June 21st to begin to worship in person again.  Conversations have led us to the Christian Activity Center and possibly Wesley Hall rather than the sanctuary for our initial gathering.  In-person gatherings such as Sunday school will probably be longer in coming.  Nursery and children's church will not be available at the beginning.  Hymn singing may also be suspended.  We may be able to offer a sooner timeline for Guthrie since there are less people and will communicate when we know.

Fortunately, we will continue to offer worship online.  This has been a blessing and we have reached people (including members who have moved away) across the United States and beyond.  It is encouraging to see the comments and reactions in our Facebook feed each week.  I've heard others tell me this helps them to feel connected.  The online portion of our reach truly allows us to engage in the command of Jesus to the disciples in this week's reading where he tells them "you will be my the ends of the earth."  So while we wait to meet in person, your connection to your church has allowed you to give courage and lift the spirits of many beyond our normal reach.

This Sunday, we will continue to consider this wonderful passage and the responsibility of being a witness to our faith.  Our ability to witness has changed and like all change, there are usually positives and negatives.  We tend to see the negatives first as with any change but I am reminded that the Easter season is all about resurrection.   And so in the midst of all this response to the pandemic, how is God doing a new thing with you?

In Christ,


Photo by Erling A via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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