Coronavirus Update

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 reflectionslet 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,

John

EMAIL SENT TO CONGREGATION ON APRIL 21, 2020

Good Friday Simpsonwood (on a Tuesday),

I hope everyone is well in the journey we are going on with God now…

I am writing early this week to reflect with you on the reality of our state being among the first to open back up in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Last night, our state leadership affirmed guidance on opening Georgia in limited ways beginning Friday, April 24th, in business and recreation. You may or may not have heard that churches were also given guidance that they can open up too. I want to reflect with you on the joy of when we come back together for worship. To do that, let me step backward to go forward…

On Wednesday, March 11th, we began to see a dramatic shift in our country as many things changed virtually overnight. We all woke up on Thursday, March 12th, to a seismic shift and, by Friday the 13th, we had seen sporting events, schools, universities and churches closing in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. It seems like that was years ago now, but in reality, if you start with closings on Friday, March 13, it has been 40 days as of yesterday! That is the ancient definition of a ‘quarantine’, it originally meant 40 days…

From the beginning, I have believed what we were going through was a ‘journey’ rather than a ‘quarantine’. In a spiritual journey, disciples exhibit willingness to learn, to go and grow with God as God leads. Journeys don’t presuppose outcomes; they hold potential to transform participants along the way. This is always at the heart of the discipleship journey. Everyone from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Daniel and King David to Mary, the disciples, Stephen, and Paul (Saul) reveal to us how this is the way it is with God when we journey through adversity in faith.

God is present as guide, and God provides, leads, and loves along the way. A quarantine looks for dates on a calendar to prove health and resume inclusion and activity. Spiritual journeys through adversity look for how God is working to change us, and others, along the way. In a spiritual journey, disciples keep their eyes on God rather than the obstacles, something I believe as pastor, we are called to do now more than ever!

For those that ask, I believe the faith community is always called to hold a higher standard in decision making than the world. In the church, our leaders in the past have held to 3 ‘General Rules’ for all decision making:

1. Do no harm

2. Do Good

3. Stay in Love with God in all living along the way.

Our Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, with the cabinet leaders, came out late yesterday (Monday, April 20) to affirm that all United Methodist Churches in North Georgia, will remain closed, at a minimum, through Wednesday, May 13. The practice all along at Simpsonwood (and throughout the UMC) has been to make decisions based on all the evidence in collaborative effort with best practices from those living out their calling as vocational experts in the fields of epidemiology, medicine, ministry, health, and safety.

Personally, I am mindful that half (or more) of our church will be at higher risk for serious complications from Covid-19 if they were to contract the virus. In addition, the largest 2 outbreaks in Georgia to date have their origins in church gatherings (funerals). High risk factors include age (50 years and older), heart disease, autoimmune diseases like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, lung diseases like asthma, COPD, and chronic bronchitis along with those who have compromised immune systems from cancer, organ transplants and past disease or struggle. That means, any decision we make to come back together must be made with ALL of these individuals in mind.

Allow me to close with a thought on a Tuesday. In all of the spiritual journeys we go on as disciples, the one who journeys, changes. Yes, church will be different for a while to be sure. But, we are changing. God is at work in us now more than ever. In this journey, what we learn from God will prayerfully be a gift for us and others for the long haul in the future…

I look forward to the delight of seeing everyone again when we exhibit joy, not anxiety, in coming together to worship. In the meantime, keep praising God in embrace of work and worship that is distinct for a time grounded in God’s purpose. We are still the church!

You are beloved this day in Christ our Lord,
John

EMAIL SENT TO CONGREGATION ON MARCH 17, 2020

Dear Simpsonwood Family,

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation continues to unfold in our area, we will do all that we can to protect and care for both our congregation and our community.

With this in mind, Simpsonwood has made the decision to suspend regular church business hours. Our staff will be working from home as much as possible, and will only be on Simpsonwood’s campus as necessary.

But while the office lights may be off, the Lord’s light continues to shine bright at Simpsonwood! We may temporarily be apart, but we are not alone. Here is how Simpsonwood will be shining our light in the upcoming weeks.

Virtual Sunday Worship Service
This past Sunday, March15, Simpsonwood had our inaugural virtual Sunday Worship Service! The experience was not without its bumps and bruises, but the important part is that we were with God, and with each other.

Simpsonwood is dedicated to our virtual service and equipment has been ordered to help make this service format a great experience! Please join us again next week for what will hopefully be a smoother worship experience, but most importantly, a worship experience together. Remember, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Our church is our community, not our building.

If you would like to view Sunday’s service you can do so via Facebook here, or via Youtube here.

Watch for more information coming later in the week about this week’s worship together.

Simpsonwood CareTeam
We have been so touched at the outpouring of Christian love from our congregation during these turbulent times. Many of you have reached out wanting to know any way you can help those in need. Leadership has decided to put together a CareTeam to organize those efforts, and requests for care, in the safest and most effective way.

For some of you, that may be calling to check in on a neighbor who is quarantined alone. For some of you, that may be picking up prescriptions for an elderly member of the congregation who can’t go to the drugstore. For some of you, that may be starting or joining a (virtual) prayer group.

The CareTeam is in its beginning stages, but we wanted to inform you that this new mission is on its way. Keep your eyes open for an email this Friday from the CareTeam with information about how to volunteer and how to request care services.

Prayer Cross
Equally important to phone calls and food deliveries is keeping our focus on the beauty and joy of God’s blessings. That’s where the Light & Life committee of of our CareTeam, comes in! For their very first project, they have erected our living cross at the church’s entrance.

Are you looking for a moment of calm in this storm? A quiet place to reflect in a house suddenly filled with long distance learning? Something beautiful to remember God’s blessings?

We invite you to visit our Prayer Cross. Located at the church entrance nearest the trailer, our Prayer Cross is available to any who may need a place outside of their home to connect with God. We encourage you to beautify this place with flowers and other items that bring you joy.

We do ask that you remember to practice social distancing at this special place. If another person or family is at the cross, please wait respectfully in your car or at a distance.

We will be in touch soon Simpsonwood, but for today I want to leave you with a quote that, for me, really put the precautions we are all taking into perspective.

The article, The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home, by Dr. Esau McCaulley, touches specifically on a moment with his daughter,

My daughter came to my office nearly in tears today because the piano concert that she had been preparing for the entire year had been canceled. To comfort her, I told her that her small sacrifice and many others like it might save the lives of people she will never meet. Through our diligence we could provide elderly couples with more years to enjoy together. It could mean more Christmases and Thanksgivings in which children get to know their grandparents and hear stories of what their parents were like when they were young. Our adjustments now will allow younger people with chronic illness a chance for a full life.

Being away from the physical church and being away from each other is no doubt a sacrifice. But let us remember that we are undertaking them not just for ourselves, but for each other, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us show up for each other by staying home.

You are loved in Christ our Lord,
Laura Apsey, Communications Director

EMAIL SENT TO CONGREGATION ON MARCH 13, 2020

Dear Simpsonwood Family,

Our leadership has been closely monitoring the ever-changing status of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in our area. We want to do all we can proactively to protect and care for our congregation and our community.

After much prayer and consideration, we have decided to temporarily suspend all activities at Simpsonwood United Methodist Church. This includes Sunday Worship Services, small groups and Bible studies, Wednesday Night Supper, all Student Ministries (Children’s & Youth), Simpsonwood affiliated group gatherings, and group gatherings on Simpsonwood’s campus. When health officials tell us it is responsible to resume normal activities we will do so.

This decision was made, not out of fear, but out of an abundance of caution. We want to act in a manner that shows love to our congregation and our community by taking measures to stop the spread of disease. A report from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said that “Even moderately effective population interventions to reduce transmission can have a profound impact on the scale of the epidemic.”

So, here is our plan moving forward:
Sunday Worship will be streamed live using Facebook Live on the Simpsonwood United Methodist Church Facebook page. If you do not already follow the Simpsonwood page you can connect with us here, or search for us at @simpsonwoodumc. The Simpsonwood page is public, you do not need a Facebook account to view it.

Our virtual service will begin this Sunday, March 15, at 10:00AM. There will only be one service. After service ends, it will be available to view at your convenience on our Facebook page. Our virtual service will also be uploaded to our website and sent out via email after the service has completed.

To recap, if you would like to stream this Sunday’s service live, you can do so at our Facebook page via Facebook Live. After that, the service will be available to view on our Facebook page, on our website, and via an email that will be sent after service.

For future updates regarding coronavirus and Simpsonwood’s response, be sure to keep a lookout for additional emails, check our website, and social media postings.

And lastly, let us continue to pray for those impacted by the virus as we seek to be a people who love each other and our community. Let us look to God as our true source of comfort and peace.

Leaning on Jesus,
Your Leadership Team

PS  – For Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson’s words on suspension of church activities, click here.