EMAIL SENT TO CONGREGATION ON JULY 17, 2020
Good Friday Simpsonwood,
First and foremost on a Friday, I hope you are well!
This week has felt in some ways much like the first week did back 4 months ago in March where the landscape changed seemingly overnight. In the last week alone, we have seen almost all of our metro Atlanta school districts commit to start the year with digital learning instead of in-person instruction. The last 2 days have seen our country’s first days where there have been 70,000+ Covid-19 cases. Hospitals across the Southeast and Southwest have reached near capacity in several states. In short, we are seeing the effects everywhere of an increased struggle with transmission that experts are now telling us reflect a ‘second strain’ of the COVID-19 virus, one that’s more transmissible than the first. The Church, of course, has been grappling with God’s right response as it relates to worship practice and fulfilling the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. I wanted to speak to both on a Friday…
First, the mission never changes. When the landscape changes, the Church reflects with God’s lead on how to carry out the mission. The staff at Simpsonwood are doing this and I invite you to join us. Instead of thinking about ‘what we can’t do like we used to’, let’s consider the unique ways God’s leading us right now to make disciples while serving our world in mission in a unique time in history. Let us not only be creative in our reflections, let us be joyful and hopeful, for this is who we are in Jesus! Our community and world need joy and hope in Jesus now more than ever! Beth and I, for example, have greatly missed having groups of 12 over for dinner (Notorious Nights), so we are working on just how we might do that virtually, perhaps sharing a recipe and conversation over a meal. Stay tuned, we look forward to having dinner with you in new ways in days ahead! We are so blessed in our day to have capacities to stay connected like never before. I hope you will do the same in the unique way God has enabled and is leading you!
Second, I need on a Friday to update us on a way our larger church in the conference and connection are reflecting on best worshiping practices in a time of pandemic. I think everyone’s hope, even weeks ago, was for a continual opening of the church that led us back to socially distanced practices of what we have been used to. Our Simpsonwood Health Team has met weekly through the Summer in faithfulness, anticipation and preparation for late Summer and Fall plans. Like schools, work and other group gatherings, we have surveyed to better understand our collective treasure of willingness, eagerness and appropriate possibility.
This week the North Georgia Conference gave to us pastors and churches a clear understanding of how to progress with in-person worship in a challenging time across differing realities and a changing landscape. One thing we are all learning in pandemic is how one size does not fit all. So going forward, we will together be using tools to help discern best practices within our specific reality. I want to relate this approach to you today.
The tool the North Georgia Conference of the UMC will be using to identify best practice can be found here: https://globalepidemics.org/key-metrics-for-covid-suppression/
On the left side of the tool, you will see the states listed where you can click on ‘Georgia’ to see our county and state realities, reflecting a 7 day moving average. In short, here is the simple metric our Conference has adopted for worship practices. The following was related to us on Tuesday this week:
“In an attempt to provide consistency for decision making within the district and conference, we urge you and your congregation to do the following depending on your county’s risk level (“in-person gatherings” include worship, small groups/bible studies, and youth and children’s programming):
Red – No in-person gatherings and staff working remotely.
Orange – In-person gatherings held outdoors and staff working onsite while meeting local, state, and CDC guidelines.
Yellow – In-person gatherings can return indoors while meeting local, state, and CDC guidelines.
Green – Resume full operations.”
Currently, Gwinnett is solidly at present in the Red and right now the trend is growing.
Accordingly, we will suspend the outdoor worship gathering until it is safer to do so. While I have truly loved the outdoor experience, I will look forward to the joy of when we can gather in that way again and will hope it is soon.
In the mean time, we are still the church by God’s grace. After talking extensively with our new District Superintendent, Dr. Rodrigo Cruz, and other pastors in our connection this week, we all recognize the need to take ‘appropriate risk’ in carrying out the mission of Jesus while not risking what isn’t necessary related to in-person gatherings for worship when alternate means (virtual worship) are available. So, missions like Smart Lunch, Smart Kid, SafeHouse, drive thru meals to our community on Wednesday and monthly collections for the Neighborhood Cooperative Ministry (next Sunday July 26 from 10AM – 6PM simpsonwoodumc.org/food-drive ) to name a few, are vital and will continue! Each will always be done with utmost care in faithful ways. Missions witness to Christ’s love that is needed now more than ever in our world! Let us continue to keep our eyes and heart open to God’s lead in mission today and tomorrow, this is what it means to be the church in faithfulness together.
I am always grateful for clarity. Clarity of best practices in an ever changing reality allow the church to best utilize resources while prioritizing safety. Going forward, our Health Team at Simpsonwood will use this resource to make determinations of the right time to begin in-person gathering again. As pastor, I promise to not do one thing one week, and then one the next going forward. We will look for trends and discern the right time to safely gather outdoors when the trend changes.
On this Friday, let us continue forward being the church, working for the transformation of the world in Jesus Christ together. I look forward this Sunday to seeing you virtually in worship at 10AM, in Grow Groups to follow at 10:45, and then next Sunday in mission as we help collect at least 10,000 pounds of food once again to help love and care for others around us in a critical time of need.
We are the church together! And you are beloved in Jesus our Lord,