Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

I write to you today with some heavy news. The Administrative Council, with an eye toward good stewardship of our resources in the winter months, acknowledging that proper Covid-19 protocols include the opening of windows, has recommended that the church building not be used for non-worship purposes. We want to ensure that we steward resources as well as possible to continue doing the mission we’re called to. In addition, the Right Start Team, the team commissioned by the administrative council to promote the health and physical safety of our congregation during the pandemic, has decided to close the building for worship after this Sunday, November 8th, for three weeks. We will worship on November 8th and then take three weeks to pray and hope that the current trend of rising cases and deaths will turn around.

 

We do not take these actions lightly. We hear God’s reassurance that we should not be afraid. We pray that neither you nor any of our brothers and sisters are living in fear. We know also that we have a variety of approaches to understanding the pandemic, how serious it is, and whether the guidance is driven more by science or more by politics. Most of all, we know how important it is that we gather to worship our great God. Many of us have commented how good it is to return to the sanctuary, to see one another in worship, to again lightly sing, and to be surrounded by the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and covered the walls and chairs and the very fabric of our building with prayer and praise. It is good for our souls.

 

Yet we also acknowledge that some of our members live and work in red zones. Many of our members are, either because of age or pre-existing conditions, in a vulnerable population. The case counts are getting worse again, almost as they were in March and April. Regardless of what the governor has said, our bishop has implored churches in red zones or with a known outbreak in town to close all in-person activities.

 

I think of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapter 12, he wrote, “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor… Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer… If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Then in chapter 14 he says, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions… each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean… it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.” Though these words are directed specifically to kosher laws, they apply in this case. Who are we to judge, Paul says, those who may be weak in faith—our duty is instead to ensure we don’t place stumbling blocks in their way. The surrounding community, too, is looking at us to see if our professed love for others is true. We show them our love by proclaiming the good news of Christ, for the sake of their souls, but also by caring for their physical well-being, for it is not just our church members’ health at stake but everyone we come into contact with.

 

Friends, brothers and sisters, please do not lose hope. We have only closed worship for three weeks to promote that hope. If you are frustrated, angered, or anything else, by these decisions, I ask that you channel those emotions into creative means of worshiping and fellowshipping with one another. I had already planned on re-starting Wednesday night prayer meeting and we will also have an Advent Bible study. I’m now going to share a possible family activity to do for each week and would encourage you to share what you’ve done with others (you’ll see what I mean). Perhaps, whether we are able to live stream worship starting November 15th or not, we can have a Zoom fellowship time after worship. I’m sure there are other ways to remain in fellowship and worship with one another.

 

We are learning a lot about what sacrifice means, that’s for sure. As with Jesus’s sacrifice, though, sacrifice is never merely for the sake of sacrifice. There’s always a purpose. We sacrifice for the sake of others, for the sake of God. Again, let us use God’s grace to channel this sacrifice of not worshiping together for a few weeks into new ways of promoting hope and spreading the good news.

 

I also want to be clear that we want to keep church meetings going. Zoom or a large room in someone’s home, or a safe restaurant gathering, all are possible. We do still need to gather. God performed miracles and then, through Jesus Christ, promised that we’d have the Spirit to do the same and greater acts. Amazing! Let’s use that Spirit now to think of and implement creative ways to gather and worship without putting a stumbling block in anyone’s way. Since some of us don’t use Zoom or our computers well, we’ll definitely need to be creative! The building may be closed to most things, but the church remains open.

 

If you have questions or concerns, please let me know. If you are particularly stressed about the pandemic and rising cases, please especially let me know. I’m including some more important information about specific events and programs below. For now, I want to say what has been true since February, when even before Covid, news of Pastor Wanda’s re-appointment was made public: the way we will survive these times is through trusting God, trusting that God does his best work in caves (as we discussed in Bible study) when we seem surrounded by darkness, that we can embrace God in the uncertainty, and we will survive these times by trusting and loving one another through grace. Perhaps you can choose one or two members in church to have weekly prayer times with and sing a hymn together. Let us find ways to rejoice and rejoice and, again I say, rejoice.

 

Worcester Fellowship: We will still make and pack lunches on Saturday, February 14th, following the strictest guidelines.

 

Pledges and Stewardship: We still ask that you drop off or mail in your pledges for 2021 by November 15th so that we can appropriately plan our ministry for the year. You can continue giving to the church during this time, of course, either on-line at our website or by mailing checks. Remember, the church is not closed, and we are still called to mission.

 

Operation Christmas Shoe Boxes: Since we need to deliver our boxes the week of November 16th, we will be sure to have the church building open on Wednesday, November 11th, from 9-5 and on Saturday, November 14th, from 12-4. Someone will be there to help you.

 

Holiday Fair Drop-Off: November 12th from 10-11 and 6-7 will still be drop-off times. Since the fair is on-line this year, we’re continuing ahead with that.

 

Baby Gifts: If you plan on dropping off gifts for Corinne, our neighbor in the parsonage, who is expecting her first child any day now, you can also drop off items Wednesday, November 11th from 9-5 and Saturday, November 14th, from 12-4.

 

Other Planned Events: Church History Night will now only be on-line on Saturday, November 14th at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Eve prayer service also will now be on-line. Good news about that is it will give us the opportunity to hold the service ecumenically, as we have in years past, with the Charlton Federated Church.

 

Office Hours: I may only go into the office Wednesdays during the winter. This has nothing to with the recent decisions of our administrative teams and everything to do with the Covid protocols. I am less able to open the windows during the winter, I’d rather not turn on the heat just for me, and so I don’t want to be cold. As always, though, if you’d like to chat with me, I’m available except on Fridays—give me a call!

 

Forgive me if I have forgotten anything. Here is the link to my Zoom room, as we will be using it even more now than originally planned:

 

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/7322321819?pwd=T2JhK2JWcjcyZTNkSEZHdGZGZ3NKdz09

 

Thank you for your understanding, grace, and faithfulness.

 

Pastor John

On behalf of Right Start team

Charlton City United Methodist Church

74 Stafford Street - Charlton, MA 01507

508 248-7379

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