Learning New Ways of Being the Church from Iowa Annual Conference on Vimeo.
Listen to Caring Connections Podcast for April 22, 2020
Grace and peace in the name of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our congregations in Iowa continue to amaze me by their creativity and determination to be the hands, feet, voice, and heart of Jesus in their communities and around the world. I know that we are all weary of staying home, being inside, and not being able to participate in our normal activities, like sports, concerts, shopping, and gathering with friends.
At the same time, we are learning new ways of being the church virtually. Not only is worship now online, but prayer groups, Bible studies, covenant groups, and youth groups are all meeting online. And many people have committed to calling individuals in their congregations, especially the elderly, just to keep in touch. In the past six weeks, thousands of people in our state have discovered The United Methodist Church through you.
I am sure many of you are wondering. When is this all going to be over, and when can we return to worshipping in our church buildings? The answer is that here in Iowa, our Governor Kim Reynolds is the person who is responsible for monitoring our state’s COVID-19 response. As soon as she determines that it is safe for public gatherings to take place, we will then be able to return to our churches. There will likely be other guidelines we need to follow, such as ensuring cleanliness and safety in our buildings. In the meantime, I encourage you to practice social distancing, keep connected with one another, and continue to find ways to make a difference.
I want to share three brief stories and then close with a very important request. Consider Palo UMC in the East Central District, a small church led by local pastor John Howerton. Like all of us, church members are staying in touch by email, text, social media, and phone calls. In addition, church members are working with the Palo Fire Department and other partners to provide free sack lunches to kids 18 and younger, so some folks are actually seeing each other in person. The program started with about forty lunches delivered on day one and grew to over a hundred in one week. The church also has several members who deliver food for Meals on Wheels.
Jordan Copple attends Maple Grove UMC in West Des Moines in the Central District. Jordan is an occupational therapist, and her husband attends DMU medical school. In Nebraska, where they moved from, churches are coming together around ringing their church bells at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. as a sign of unity and hope and a reminder to pray. Jordan invites other churches to also consider ringing their church bells at these times.
And third, Pastor Chris Ebbers from West Union United Methodist Church in the Northeast District, did a very creative Good Friday sermon. He dressed in a gray hoodie and videoed his portrayal of Peter, hiding on the night Jesus was betrayed. Darting from tree to shed, Peter retells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and his own painful denial. Pastor Chris’s monologue lasted only nine minutes, but it touched his congregation deeply. West Union has a membership of 372 and an average worship attendance of around 75. But over seven hundred people viewed the sermon online and on Facebook. Is God showing us a new way to reach people outside the walls of our churches?
I want to close with a prayerful request. For the past five weeks, our clergy and laity have been working tirelessly to provide vital worship, pastoral care, and hope for our local churches in the Iowa Annual Conference. I also know that many of you are utterly exhausted in mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, I am requiring all of our clergy, staff, and worship teams to find three days back to back between now and Pentecost Sunday, May 31, in order to experience rest, renewal, and sabbath. That means no work on those three days. To make it through the long haul, caring for your spirit is essential. We need you.
I am asking you to take three days to catch your breath. The cabinet is recording a complete worship service for your use. The worship service will be made available on April 30. You will have no responsibilities in that worship service, other than to be blessed.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.