Lectionary Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)
It's been exciting to see people return to in-person worship.
Each week I hear another person tell me, "This is the first time I've been in the church in over a year." They are obviously moved and it is moving for me to be a part of this sacred moment.
Our church followed the guidelines from the Oklahoma Conference early on when all United Methodist churches suspended in-person worship.
We re-opened on Father's Day of 2020 in our Christian Activity Center and slowly moved back into the sanctuary. Mask-wearing and distancing have been key components to our safety measures for meeting in person. As Oklahoma cases began to really increase and our hospitals were at capacity late last fall, our local church suspended in-person services once more.
We re-opened this spring after seeing the case-levels and hospitalizations ease to more manageable levels.
It should not come as a shock that we've lost people to churches that have a more libertine policy on mask-wearing and meeting. Some have expressed their disappointment to me directly but more have slipped away without any communication.
Fortunately, we have seen the case levels in our state continue to drop. Within our own congregation, we haven't had an active case reported to us in months. I am also happy to report that we never had to alert anyone who has attended any of our in-person worship that they were unwittingly exposed to the coronavirus at one of our services.
Now the Centers for Disease Control have loosened the guidelines on mask-wearing for those who are fully vaccinated. In my conversations with those who have been attending in person, I would guess that our congregation has a much higher rate of vaccination than the state of Oklahoma right now.
Because we have been following CDC guidelines, some have felt more comfortable in attending worship in-person. For others, the church's mask policy kept them from attending for a variety of reasons. In fact, the church may be the only place where they still wear a mask.
|With the vaccine now available to ages 12-15,|
we now have a wider population accessible.
Amazingly, this Sunday, we will be celebrating Pentecost - which we think of as the birthday of the Church! The lectionary text I have chosen will be the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel. As Ezekiel finds himself amid all the signs of death and decay, God asks him, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel properly responds, "God, you know." In one sense, this gets Ezekiel off the hook but in another, it is a fundamental realization that it is out of his control. For some reason, I think this is an appropriate text for our times!
We will continue to worship together. Some will wear masks and other vaccinated people may forego them. As we know that outdoor activities are safer, we will continue to offer our outdoor service at 9:45 am backed by our Worship on Hurd band. The last two weeks we've had inclement weather that has moved us into Wesley Hall - to let people know in the future, we'll try to post on our Facebook page if we are going to be inside or not. Of course, we will continue to offer live stream on YouTube at 8:30 am and Facebook at 11 am for those that are not quite ready or able to return in person.
While this is a stressful time to be in leadership, I am still excited to lead in worship for our congregation. Sunday mornings have always been the highlight of my ministry and they continue to be so for me. There is a blessing in gathering together and I've missed seeing everyone!
Can these bones live?
God does know.
Photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.