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Greetings, church family!
We know this finds some of you reading the subject and sighing, “finally!” and others saying, “I won’t be around for quite a while.” First let us say, wherever you’re at we totally understand the need for each of us to make wise decisions for our families. We love and respect you and we’re so glad to share in this church family together, even as we have been physically apart from one another in an effort to love our most vulnerable neighbors. That is, after all, at the center of the gospel’s call.
In this time apart, we have tried to learn from all the resources available so as to make the wisest choices for our community, including resources made available through the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. We were so fortunate to have direct access to learning from Dr. Frederick Southwick, former Chief of Infectious Diseases for the University of Florida and a professor of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology. As a Christian, a scientist, and a United Methodist seeking to equip local churches in this difficult time, he provided two interactive webinars to give guidance around what provisions should be prioritized as churches consider when and how to reopen. We HIGHLY suggest everyone watch this webinar. You can access it here: https://www.flumc.org/reopening-churches-webinar-video
We’re writing to notify you of the leadership team’s decisions, as well as the process and timing for the resumption of church activities. As you likely have seen, Florida has quickly seen a rise in the number of cases of Coronavirus. Because churches have unintentionally been hot spots for the spread of the virus in a number of places, we have sought to be wise and to always be guided by our three Wesleyan rules: Do no harm. Do all the good you can. Stay in love with God. With those rules, Dr. Southwick’s advice, and the guidance and requirements from our Conference in mind, the leadership team has decided:
We will begin abbreviated in-person gatherings on Sunday, July 19th.
We will continue to broadcast the live-streamed service (a full service which will include music and last approximately one hour) at 10 am since we anticipate that this will be the primary mode for most of the congregation [& just as importantly, folks who have not previously been part of the congregation] for a while. In reading the congregational survey, we learned that there are many who are not yet comfortable with attending so we want to maintain the full-service live stream for those who will worship from home.
Small groups will be able to reconvene on a case by case basis as they wish and in consultation with Leadership. All small groups, if meeting indoors, will have to comply with the mask mandate and should take all the precautions necessary including no group singing and maintaining an appropriate distance. Now is also a great time to start new digital small groups for those folks who have wanted to connect but who might have restrictions about driving at night, being available during kiddos bedtimes, or dealing with work schedules. If you’d like to start a new small group, email us!
While there may be some of us who would prefer fewer stipulations for gatherings, we must remember that there may be folks who would like to attend groups or worship but will only do so if the space is safe. Our efforts to work together, take all precautions and consider those at highest risk are both a matter of hospitality and care for our neighbors. May we, in all we do, remember these words from Philippians:
In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of human beings.
Grace & Grits and Picnic Project will continue to collaborate on providing maximum food in the form of groceries to the community, likely for the remainder of the year. We are so grateful at how supportive all of the Sanford community has been. Folks who do not go to church, and other churches wishing to support, have reached out and provided assistance in these endeavors through PP and G&G. Folks can receive groceries on either Friday from 10a-12p or Sunday 1p-3p, every week at the alleyway entrance. We are currently seeing about 115 unduplicated families every week and because of PP’s partnership with Second Harvest, they are able to purchase 5-7 days worth of groceries for a family of 3 for less than $6. We also have had an incredible group of church folks who have stepped up to (safely) help sort groceries, glean fresh produce available from local farms, and drive all over the tri-county area to pick up available items when they are free, like milk and eggs. THANK YOU! We see about 10 new families each week, many of whom are folks who have never needed grocery assistance before. Please know to all of you who have helped, donated or just cheered on the work that this has been an incredible opportunity to share God’s love and abundance with our Sanford community. More information will be provided in a couple of weeks about a conference-wide initiative called Fill The Table to engage 100,000 Methodists and provide 3 million meals in Florida. This partnership between the UMC and the AME churches is an excellent opportunity for us Christians to live out God’s love in tangible ways together.
Friends, we know at this time that it feels like there is more uncertainty than firm ground to stand on. And yet there are a few things we can always count on: God has not abandoned us. We are wholly loved. We are called to love in all we are, say, and do, at all times and in all places. And, God will work all things for good, even when they aren’t quite good yet.
We love you and we are always grateful to be your pastors. We are also extraordinarily grateful for the work of the Leadership team in this time. If you think about it and know them, send a thank you the direction of Carole Pegram, Larry Kozak, Sue Eppard, and Dick Willink. They have worked at odd hours and on all sorts of platforms to try and find the best way forward for us as a congregation.
Here is a link to a PDF document that outlines in detail the opening plan and protocols:
Grace and Peace,
Pastors Meghan and David
Dear Church Family,
As you likely know now, this week our country saw another killing of an unarmed black person, George Floyd. After a subsequent lack of swift institutional response, other responses came on social media and in the streets from people who are heartbroken, exhausted, and rightfully angered at these continued injustices year after year. When we look at the long history of our country, we know that the violent and unjust treatment of black folks is the norm, not the exception.
Our own Christian history is an illustration of this. When enslaved persons were brought to church in the earliest days of our country, that became the primary place for a reminder that, “slaves should obey their masters.” No talk of Exodus. No talk of Paul’s word that in Christ there is no slave or free, Jew or Greek. No mention of the Holy Spirits radical inclusiveness at Pentecost. Instead, historical records show that the church often became a place that co-signed on the evils of the day and was even the arbiter of selling enslaved people sometimes. Likewise, historical baptismal records show a different catechism for enslaved people and whites. Black folks were forced at their baptism to confess that God had preordained their enslavement and that becoming a Christian meant being a good slave.1
Our own Methodist history is an illustration of this injustice. When Richard Allen was ordained in St George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in 1786, he and other black Methodists were pulled off their knees while praying and thrown out for violating segregation in worship.2 He eventually founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church because of persistent unequal treatment. And when Methodists decided you could not be Methodist and own people, many churches in the south decided to leave and form the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Our own church was formed in those ranks, as evidenced by our own historical documents. We did not all reunite until 1939 when black Methodists were subsequently placed in their own ‘Central Conference’ to limit voting power in General Conference matters. When we finally repented as a denomination in 2000, amidst the AME, AMEZ, and CME churches, Bishop Carr of the AMEZ church shared, “We were compelled to leave not… with what you said, but what you did. Not with symbolism, but with substance. And my hope is tonight that you would move from symbolism to substance.”3
See, our problem has not only been unequal treatment under the law, but a gross portrayal of unequal treatment under God. The church is liable here too. Racial injustice is not a problem that exists ‘out there’, it is sadly in here. It is in us. And as people who believe in the power of sin and repentance, we must have courage to see the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
We are heartbroken for our country and our world, but mostly for our black brothers and sisters who have been trying to speak but who have often been unheard, or who have seen a lack of concrete change. We all know already that this world is not as it should be. And often, when we look around and ask God what to do, God says to his followers, “What’s in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). In other words, God says to us, ‘Where are you right now? What do you have? Let’s use that.’
We have learned in our own community that when responses came after Trayvon Martin’s killing, people were not simply heartbroken and outraged about his death but the appearance of a system that protects unequally. People were exasperated by a long history of racial injustice that has never been fully uncovered or openly repented of. This inequality travels deeply and across time frames. Many of the families in Goldsboro had their land taken and their streets renamed when the city of Sanford revoked Goldsboro’s charter in 1911, after Goldsboro was the nation’s second black incorporated town.4 While that is simply one story, memories like that may help us better understand why some feel that our institutions have served to cause more harm than help or protect them. We know that not all police seek to do harm, in fact at some protests around the country, police have joined in. We know not all institutions are corrupt and not all stories are those of heartbreak, but when the heartbreak hasn’t been healed, wounds persist. We may not be the same people who created broken systems, but that does not negate our call in rectifying them.
What’s in our hand is the question for us today. How might we bend our ear toward God and our neighbor? How might we make an impact on this world for the sake of the gospel declared by Jesus in Luke 4, who said, “I have been anointed to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Our question is: how do we join Jesus in his work in this time and place?
Certainly, there are many folks concerned about the violence that has erupted at some protests around the country. And rightfully, there have been calls for people to organize and make long-lasting change rather than simply to be a fiery flash in the pan that leaves destruction but not much else different. At the same time, we must not forget Martin Luther King, Jr’s helpful illumination,
Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”5
In some listening we’ve done, we’ve learned that many people of color in this country feel like generations of peaceful efforts have still not fully resolved the injustices they know so intimately. Many people of color are exhausted from the decades of trauma which continue to pile up. Many marginalized people in our world are looking for a way to express their voice and to see real social change. We must ensure that such avenues fairly exist or in the words of Howard Thurman, people who “have their backs against the wall”, will continue to feel without voice or fair treatment.6
Imagine the pain of years being abused, mistreated, and fearful, and then there never being a time of public repentance for the things you’ve experienced. Readers of scripture are not unfamiliar with the need for repentance before forgiveness, with the need for the whole story to be remembered and told truthfully. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us (1 John 1:9-10).” Now certainly there is personal sin and there is corporate sin: and in our communal confession we confess both. We confess the personal and individual ways we have done harm or left undone the good which God has called us to do. That is to say that personally doing no harm against black folks does not negate our possibility of failing to do some good to work for righteousness and justice. But we also confess the corporate sin that plagues us and our world, beyond our individual consciousness and personal desires. Yes, we may not have personally used hateful terms, but have we failed to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters helping us to see injustice in our systems? Have we rolled our eyes and asked ourselves why ‘they’re still complaining about…”? Have we maintained our distance from neighbors who are racially or culturally different from us because the stories we hear are too painful?
We know that since much of this congregation has been around longer than we have, and that some of you have been working toward equality and justice for longer than we’ve been alive. This is not to say that those efforts were useless or that all of us have always been on the wrong side of history. And yet as followers of Jesus, we know that sin (like the sin of racial injustice) takes a long time, and many generations to root out. Rarely does a sinner need repenting once. Rarely does a married couple go to counseling for a single session. Sometimes when they cut out the cancer, it takes another surgery to get it all.
We are no prophets and we do not know all the good that needs doing. We are simply young preachers in our first UMC appointment, looking shockingly at the same world you are. We pray our own prayers for wisdom and discernment in these uncertain times. And yet as we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the church when God gave new eyes and new language for each to understand one another;
When God poured out the Holy Spirit on all flesh;
When God commissioned all of us to be part of God’s work in the world
…it seems appropriate that we might ask ourselves, Lord, who are we all to be in this time and place?
So how do we in Bishop Carr’s words move from symbolism to substance? We believe these may be a few things that could start or continue our journey toward justice:
As our friend and pastor at Lakeside UMC, Dan Wunderlich says, maybe we can begin by admitting, “I know there are many things I don’t know. This may be one of those things.”
We love you. We consider it a privilege, always, to be your pastors. And, we know that the Lord isn’t finished with any of us. What have you read that has changed your heart or mind? How has God shaped you, that you might share with the rest of us? Thanks be to God, the creator, sustainer, liberator and redeemer who has promised that nothing in life nor death, no angels nor demons, no powers nor principalities, nothing in this life and nothing in the life to come will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38). May God’s love propel us all forward, onward toward perfection in all we are and all we do.
Grace & Peace,
Pastors David & Meghan
For some reading that has been helpful, check out:
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Living into God’s Dream by Catherine Meeks
I remember while growing up and I had a hard time with a problem, some well-meaning person—-pastor, parent, teacher, or friend would say,” Don’t forget to count your blessings.” Usually this annoyed me, but it did help if I stopped to praise God for the things that He was doing for me.
In this present time of staying at home, except for a trip to Publix once a week in the last two months, this seems like a good time to count blessings. I want to meditate on the benefits that God provides by using my favorite Psalm 103: 1-5. (I have some of the words underlined in my Bible.)
Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I try to ponder my day’s activities and bring my concerns to God. I often neglect to do an act of kindness, and sometimes I say or do something hurtful (I sin). When I confess my sins He forgives them all.
I pray for healing for myself and others, knowing that all things are possible with God. I thank him for the healings received and for the healings still to come.
I praise Him for redeeming my life from the pit. I consider John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Max Lucado wrote an “Inspiration thought” on Psalm 103:4. “He…loads me with love and mercy.”
“Picture a giant dump truck full of love. There you are behind it. God lifts the bed until the love starts to slide. Slowly at first, then down, down, down until you are hidden, buried, covered in his love.
’Hey, where are you?’ someone asks.
’In here, covered in love.’”
Praise the Lord, O my soul. Amen
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
This is such a simple yet powerful verse in the Bible and has been one of my favorites since I was a girl growing up in a Godly environment with parents who taught me how to love and follow God in all aspects of my life. This does not mean that following God and being saved by His Grace makes everything easy, but instead it is a reminder that He will always be there to give you the strength to face the difficulties that life brings if you accept it.
Last year my Mom met Jesus face to face on March 27th and my Dad joined her on July 15th. We moved to the Orlando area at the end of April for a job that I thought would be the next successful step in my career but abruptly ended in October. My closely knit large family suddenly divided after my Dad’s death and went from being together for all holidays and special events as well as many fun family camping trips and pool parties to not speaking to each other at all – and I was left alone, in a new place, with no job and parents that recently passed away. Now this may sound like a story to evoke sympathy, but it is not, because the Grace of God carried me through this dark time and blessed me with a Godly husband who is an amazing pillar of strength and our 5 kids who have stood by me with constant support and love. God is always faithful if you keep your focus on Him and lean on the people that He has put in your life to show you His strength.
Now I could say that in 2020 everything has turned around and my loving family is back together and we aren’t facing a pandemic that no one can predict or understand its long-term impact, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. However, through God’s strength I have found ultimate peace by leaning on Him and following His plan for my life, which included working here at FUMC Sanford. The love and faithfulness that surrounds this church has given me blessings that I did not think I would experience again in my life. Through this ministry, which focuses on God’s grace, love and perseverance, I am reminded daily that I can conquer any difficulties that will come and experience the true joy of His blessings as long as I keep my focus on Him and not the storms around me. No matter what you are going through, God will always find ways to strengthen you! Just keep your eyes on Him and don’t focus on the negative because God has something so much better in store for you, and His strength (either directly or through others around you) will carry you through the dark times, I promise!
“But [Peter] became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat!’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’ Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.”
Acts 10:10 – 16 NASB
Peter thinks the voice of God is testing his personal righteousness. “Eat what is forbidden, eat what the law has called unclean.” The Lord is offering a test, but it is not of Peter’s own willingness to follow the law. It is his willingness to show love to folks that are different from him. This vision inspires Peter to reach to a population that was considered ‘unclean.’ To extend the love of Christ to people that were prevented from receiving it in a meaningful way.
Perhaps we don’t think of working-class folks as ‘unclean,’ but it would be a mistake to say that they are not treated as marginal. Maybe treating someone as marginal is the new way to call them unclean. I don’t usually think about how the cashier’s day has gone or who makes the products I buy. I never gave a thought as to why I should either; it feels natural – it’s there job.
I work at a craft store and today while cleaning up our T-shirt isle my manager made a comment. “By the way,” she said, “we don’t have as much shirt inventory because the factories have stopped production.” It touched me in a way I couldn’t anticipate. How many factory workers are now struggling with rent? Or food insecurity? Or applying for unemployment? How many are struggling? And how have I neglected their struggle?
I pray that in these turbulent and unpredictable times those of us in privileged positions do our part to extend compassion to those struggling.
Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies… Psalm 23:5
Growing up, before I learned how to cook, my part of preparing each meal was to set the table. Most days it was an ordinary task, but I would always take extra care when Grandma and Grandpa were coming, because they were so wonderful and I loved being with them. I’d set out the good dishes and lay out the silverware, making sure everything was in order and especially nice for when we’d all be together to enjoy a delicious meal and our time together.
Life was simple back then. But life got to be rather difficult as a result of making some really big mistakes, some really bad choices. I found myself in the midst of serious trouble and distress of my own making. Feeling pretty hopeless and alone, I was sure God didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore.
I was so wrong! All the while, God loved me, even when I couldn’t love myself. And all the while, He wanted fellowship with me. He was laying things out, He was setting things in order, He was preparing a table for me.
God’s table, I discovered, is one of abundance and everlasting love. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. He’s completely undeterred by any trouble you find yourself in. What amazing news! What incredible hope! He provided for me while I was in distress and felt hopeless.
I’m certain He wants this for all His children. As God’s people, we can feast at His table of love and grace and no enemy of any kind can ever take it away.
Holy God, You provide for us in amazing ways, even in the midst of our troubles. And although we do not deserve to be treated with such grace and mercy, You overwhelm us with Your love. Help us to be faithful servants and invite others to Your holy table that is open to all. In Jesus’ name, Amen
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8 (ESV)
Many of us are familiar with the image of a white dove in Christian artwork and symbolism used to represent the Holy Spirit. While beautiful and serene, I tend to gravitate towards another symbol for the Holy Spirit given to us by Celtic Christianity: the wild goose.
The Christian life is many things, but predictable is not one of them. God has this really profound track record of just when we think we have God figured out, we realize that there is more to God than we ever imagined. Our Christian journey feels less like a direct and well-worn path and more like a “wild goose chase” pursuing God (and often, God pursuing us!) into places that we never would have ventured otherwise, and into places that don’t tend to be anywhere on any map we can find.
It certainly feels like we are in the midst of a goose chase right now. We are being led (or pushed!) into new territory like online worship and trying to find new ways to maintain connection and relationship. Church looks and feels different, as does almost every part of our lives right now. The verse from John above reminds me that life in the Spirit can be a blustery one. Sometimes it feels as if we can’t tell if we are coming or going, and despite our wishes for a straight and direct route, our spiritual journey ends up looking like a map of Billy’s adventures from the comic strip “Family Circus.”
And yet, God is in the detours, the wind gusts, the goose chases. God is with us in the uncertainty, and God is right beside us when we feel like we’ve been blown completely off track and will never find our way home. In these “off the map” moments, I am comforted by another image from our feathered friend, Mr. Goose: the “V” formation. On the long journey back to “normal” (whatever that means), our shared life in the Spirit shows us the best way to travel home: together.
Lord, guide us on days when we feel lost and disoriented. Remind us of the gift of each other, and gift of new and astonishing in which the wild and wandering Spirit of God is at work all around us. Amen.