From the Pastor’s Pen
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. Although paraphrased a bit, the idea put down on paper by Charles Dickens is as true within our country today as it was several centuries ago when he wrote them in England. On the positive side, we have wonderful access to information that is instantaneous. Our technology keeps us connected during times of separation and is useful in many fields. We have dedicated servants in the health care field, the military, our schools, and law enforcement. We can share our faith with others, and worship whatever religion we follow. But, it is also the worst of times in that we are living through a pandemic as a country racially divided and in turmoil. Fear and negativity are rampant. And onto this turbulent stage steps the church as a point of stability and a voice of calm. We are to be the peacemakers, the ones to reconcile our country’s differences and to demonstrate the love of Christ to all. It’s a tall order.
The United Methodist Church has denounced the sin of racism in all of its forms and the pain it has caused for centuries to many different nationalities and races. Several years ago, we embarked on the journey of “Imagine No Racism” through training and course work for all pastors within the Upper New York Conference. Pastors were then to begin the process of education and reflection with each individual church. Here at Christ First we are behind the curve on instituting INR for the church body. Our leadership began the initial discussion on how best to do this when Covid became a concern and stopped most things in their tracks. The need to explore this topic in detail is urgent when faced with the climate in which we now find ourselves. It is a topic that I feel strongly must be developed in person. In order to start preparation for these delicate discussions, we will have suggestions for readings in our newsletter that are helpful in understanding systemic racism, its effects on ourselves and those around us, and ways to recognize it and stop it’s spread in the future. We can be prepared for the time when we can meet face-to-face.
The 6 Step Process of Reconciliation
The first suggested reading is an article entitled Recognizing White Privilege by Rev. Brian A. Tillman in which he explains the six-step process of reconciliation found within a series of articles. These include :
The article ends with, “The truth ruins a lot of our plans. We often must choose between accepting the ugly truth or the gorgeous lie. The racial atmosphere in America is offering us two pills. One is white and filled with lies that want to convince us that we can be colorblind. The other is a pill that is multicolored and takes us down a journey towards truth and recognition that what we have been living is not reality. This pill leads to a life lived in truth. The journey is not carved out for us, but is our hope for racial reconciliation.”
It is up to us to educate ourselves and others. Let’s begin the process now and follow Romans 12:2 - “ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” May we walk towards what will be the best of times for all of God’s people.
In Grace and Peace,
It’s in There!
Several years ago, there was a commercial for a spaghetti sauce with the tag line “it’s in there.” The meaning behind the slogan was that what was added to the tomato base created a taste sensation. Everything needed was “in there” and the cook didn’t have to do anything other than fight with the jar lid to open it, warm it up on the stove, and viola - a great meal. Our church is somewhat like that sauce. We each are different spices, different flavors, different ingredients, but when you put us all together we add up to something amazing! It’s all about working together as we add our personal gifts. We add a pinch of humor, a dash of wisdom, and even some self-sacrificing to make the whole special.
Now you may be asking yourself, where is she going with this? Well, we are all in this time of uncertainty together. Esther 4:14 explains “And who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this.” For such a time as this, it is a phrase that speaks to us of courage and hope among believers as we hold to our faith in God and move forward, even though we struggle to discern our course in rough waters. As your pastor, I encourage you to be aware of our connectional relationship to one another and to the church. We each have a gift to offer that makes church complete and benefits the whole. We are to be salt and light to the world and to reflect the heart of God for others to see.
I believe I saw the heart of God in others at Christ First this past week right when I needed help the most and here is why – last Wednesday we were blessed with 144 gallons of milk to be shared with the community. We were to bless others, no strings attached, no guidelines to ponder, and no limits on amounts given out. It was a wonderful gift by the Borden Milk Company as they strived to help dairy farmers. Since schools are not in session and restaurants are only partly opened, there is a reduced market for milk. Rather than pouring thousands of gallons of milk into the sewer systems, Borden bottled it and has given away semi-truck loads of thousands of gallons of milk to hurting communities all over the United States. It is a gift of true philanthropy.
Unfortunately, on Wednesday the original truck coming from Cleveland Ohio broke down and the delivery was three hours overdue. The outside temperature that day was 91 degrees and many left without their milk. It was after 4pm when I finally arrived at the church and the idea of hauling 1,152 pounds of milk into the church for refrigeration was daunting. I was then overwhelmed by the faithfulness of our CFUMC staff. Each had stayed past quitting time just to help lug gallons of milk into the cooler and refrigerator. Rob Jock arrived and helped carry crates into the building and distribute gallons for us, and in no time at all Rob, Connie, Kim, and Charlie had everything squared away. Each reflected the heart of God in their willingness to serve demonstrating what is “good and acceptable and perfect”, Romans 12:2.
We are here together in this place for such a time as this, and I am so proud of who we are as Christians. Together we have everything needed to not only survive but to thrive… “it’s in there!” Working together, serving together, pulling together we will not only get through this time, we will rise above it to new heights. We are poised for revival, Lord let it be so!
In Gentleness and Peace,
From the Pastor’s Pen
During this time of sheltering in place, I am often amazed at the creativity and resiliency of the human spirit. God truly has created us and we are “fearfully and wonderfully made!” I believe this is especially true when it comes to ways to cope with adversity. Each of us deals with stress in different ways, and we look for methods that are healthy and fulfilling. For me personally, music is one good way to get through things and humor is another.
Like many of you, I have turned to technology to help stay connected with the world. In my searches for information on the condition of the country and the progress made on the Covid 19 front, I came across some wonderful videos put together by talented musicians – just ordinary folk having fun in creative ways. Rather than sitting and moping, they have used this down time to tap into their talents as a way to help others deal with the uncertainty of the future. These good folk reached out on social media and shared their musical creations - complete with positive messages and a healthy sense of humor. Parodies of classic songs with comic messages that poke fun at our narcissism, our ego-centric selves have made me laugh, and laughter is a great way to release anxiety and stress.
We are reminded that “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” in Proverbs 17:22. The Bible further instructs us that laughter is of God. The Lord “… will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy” Job 8:21. Keeping a sense of humor is imperative during these stressful times as decisions are made on how to re-open our country and our lives. Finding comedic release helps us to cope with life. There is a poster that I enjoy that says “What is important is not that the glass is half full or half empty. What is important to remember is that the glass is refillable.” Right now things seem rather bleak, but we will get through this with God’s help. We will refill our glasses as the curve continues to flatten and we learn a “new normal” way of life.
Please know that we hope to see you face to face in the new future, and that we are here for you. If there is a special need for prayer that you have, please call the church with what your needs are and I will add them to my prayer list. If we can help with food or running for prescriptions or medical needs, please let us know. In the meantime, use your masks, wash your hands, and keep your sense of humor and delight… it is a gift from God.
In gentleness and peace,
I was recently reminded of the Dr Seuss movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas as I was reading about Holy week and empty churches, and the sorrow on faces over the loss of the traditional joining of hearts and hands as we proclaim that Christ is alive. Friends, the Grinch didn’t stop Christmas from coming and the Coronavirus can’t stop Easter from coming either! The real reason we celebrate this coming Sunday remains - the tomb is empty and Christ is alive, He is risen… He is risen indeed!
During this time of sheltering in place, it is important to remember that self-denial is a Christian attribute. We are called to care for our neighbors and show Christian love by staying home. We miss our family and friends, we chafe at the loss of our freedom to go places, and for many of us this is indeed a form of self-denial. Here at Christ First we love our church family, we enjoy our gatherings, potlucks, studies, and our worship together as one body in Christ. Be assured that we will do all of those things again in the future! Our first Sunday together in worship will be a glorious homecoming and we will celebrate the resurrection with joy in our hearts! In the meantime, stay home and stay safe.
As a denomination we have listened to the CDC guidelines and I applaud the efforts of our Cabinet, Bishop and District Superintendents to keep our congregations safe by not gathering in any form and encouraging everyone to stay sheltering in place. To that end, WE WILL NOT HAVE DRIVE THROUGH COMMUNION EASTER SUNDAY.
We have learned that the next several weeks will be critical to the safety and well-being of our community, so please be careful and be safe. We will meet using Zoom and not in person for all leadership teams. Please check your email for your invitation to join. If you do not have a computer and are a member of a team, you can join by phone. We will be happy to walk you through the process and are only a phone call away!
I hope you have been able to access our “new and improved” Website and Facebook pages! The way we do business is changing at a rapid pace, and we are learning as we go, it is a work in progress and it is definitely a work of love. Please know that we have heard your suggestions for improving our sites to better serve you. We will be implementing as many new suggestions as possible.
We have been blessed during this time of self-imposed exile through the talents of our church family. Please give a shout-out to Connie and Tony for all of their IT support and creativity. Virtual church has become a reality through the wonders of technology and hopefully has been an exciting and rewarding way for you to connect with our church family during this difficult time. Our musicians have given of themselves to enhance our services and deserve a big “thank-you” for all they do for us. We are blessed with the commitment to do the work of our Lord and Savior by all of our staff – Kim, Charlie, Kenzie, Andy and Steve and also our trustees and laity who have been diligently working to be the hands, face and feet of Christ. All of you rock!
The Upper New York Conference has been diligent about sending out notices and helpful suggestions to the local churches as we face what may be a new normal. One resource sent is a prayer adapted from the Houston, Texas church - St Luke’s UMC that I would like to share with you now. It is entitled A Prayer for a World Facing the Coronavirus, and it speaks to many of the concerns we have:
It seems like lots of uncertainty around us.
So many people who need prayers.
Today, I pray…
For those whose health is compromised by the coronavirus or other health issues.
For those who suffer from the economic impact of the virus, in travel, manufacturing, hospitality, energy or so many other industries.
For healthcare workers and first responders, and other public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for us.
For our leaders of the world, our countries, states and cities, as they seek to help manage this challenge.
God, it can be overwhelming. But you tell us over and over again not to be afraid.
Show me how to trust in you. As I examine my heart this Lenten season, help me to turn away from my concern with self, and turn my heart, hands, and prayers toward the concerns for others.
In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray.
Friends, lean into the Lord and he will lift you up. Trust in the power of prayer and be at peace.
In Christian love,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The federal and state governments' recommendations, along with guidelines from the CDC, have been evolving as the spread of the Covid-19 virus and its effects have been felt throughout this country and the world. It has become increasingly necessary to limit contact in close proximity with one another so as to not overwhelm our health care facilities and to keep all of us as healthy as possible during this pandemic.
Christ First is doing its part to comply with expert guidelines and will be closed for worship and other church related activities until such time as we can again safely worship together in truth, love, and faith as one body.
We will need to adapt to a new reality and look at how we "do church" during this pandemic. I have been amazed at the creativity shown by our local church leadership and feel blessed by their faithfulness to God's children and Kingdom work. The following ways to stay connected are being put in place until such time as our doors are once again open and welcoming to all:
We will remain the hands and feet of our Lord and Savior. We have a coordinator who is developing a list of individuals who are available to run errands, pick-up prescriptions, provide groceries and help in whatever ways are needed. If you are in need of assistance, please call the church office. If you are willing to help with errands, also please call the office and let us know.
We can all help through our prayers for one another, for our community and for the world. Please continue to be prayer warriors and go to God with your concerns. We can keep in touch with neighbors, family and friends through phone calls, Facebook and email. This is a time when we, as Christians, can let the light of Christ shine in a world that is in darkness and fear. Always remember to respond with a spirit of faith, not a spirit of fear.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the fear of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6
Friends, remain calm, be at peace, and remember - God's got this!
In gentleness and love.