Congregational Update: May 15, 2020

Dear Friends,
Someone recently asked me, what do you say when praying for our congregation each day? That was easy as my prayer is one found in the Book of Ephesians.

  …I bow my knees before the Father,   from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.   I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,   and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)

You are in my prayers and I hope that you spend time, each day, in prayer. Prayer is our connect point to God, bringing peace, hope and wisdom during this radically challenging time. We will need those same gifts as we move forward, knowing that our striving with Covid-19 is not over.

The last onsite activities and worship at our church occurred 2 months ago, today. I don’t know about you, but it seems longer. It is hard to know what tomorrow will bring and what life will look like as we move forward, but this will end and we are not losing ground in this time. The ministry of our church may look different, but it is still very important and meaningful. Keeping that focus on God’s call to bear witness to His love and power is one reason the leadership of your church continues to meet and plan regularly (online).
Decisions are ongoing and fluid, seeking to make sure that what God has called us to do is supported and encouraged. It is also important that we make safe determinations which affect you, our church and our community. In this letter you will find updates about moving forward and the current thinking of our Executive Committee, pastors and staff. 

Peace and Grace,
Rev. David McEntire,
1 st United Methodist Church
Lakeland, Fl.
What Have We Accomplished?
Lives have been saved! Illness, suffering and stress on our health system has been reduced. Suspending onsite activities and worship was a hard decision, but it is also important to consider what we have accomplished.
Using some of the current modeling for Covid-19 transmission of and infection rates, we can surmise what might have been the impact if we continued to have onsite activities and worship at our church. We normally would have about 1200 in worship each Sunday. If we had continued as usual, failed to observe social distancing and safety protocols, this likely would have resulted in 200-400 infections of Covid-19 across these weeks. This, using a 3% fatality rate, would have meant that 6-12 of those attending our church would have died. It has been hard to “stay-at-home” but by doing this we have not caused a single infection or death by gathering at the church. Thank you for your understanding and patience. I hope you can see the importance of what our church has done by implementing this decision. This is an important application of the command of Jesus to love our neighbors.

Who is Making Decisions as We Move Forward?
The Executive Committee of our church is making important and timely decisions. In 2008 our church approved and formed an “Executive Committee”. This committee is comprised of the chairpersons of our Trustees, Finance, Staff Parish, Age-Level Ministries, Program Committees, along with the chair of the Church Council, Lay Leaders, Church Administrator and Pastors. The lay members have voice and vote, the clergy and staff have voice. 

The Executive Committee is authorized to meet and make decisions between the scheduled meetings of the Church Council, which gives them the flexibility of making interim decisions as needed. The Executive Committee was rarely called upon to meet until the pandemic struck. Now, this model of decision making has become vital, allowing us to make decisions based on collective input and wisdom, with a broad range of concerns and voices represented in our discussions and the ability to make timely decisions.

What Will Now Happen?
We realize that setting dates for return to onsite activities is both artificial and frustrating. The development of Covid-19 varies from community to community and each day we learn more about the risks and concerns. The virus does not care what date we set as the biology of Covid-19 has evolved to reproduce (infect people) and survive attempts to eradicate it. While we pray for effective treatments and a vaccine, these are not yet available. Until that time we must wait for a significant downturn in risk and infection. 

The Executive Committee is working on developing a list of conditions which need to exist before we resume onsite activities and worship. The conditions for worship might be different from the conditions which surround our preschool, small group activities or mission opportunities. We have benefitted from significant input from our medical community, national and local health officials, risk management and our own Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

The Executive Committee is considering warnings which surround air conditioning systems, singing, coping with the availability of cleaning and sanitizing supplies, as well as the time, cost and labor which would be necessitated by the resumption of onsite activities. While these and many other considerations can be overwhelming and complicated, we are immensely grateful that our Executive Committee is willing to work through this details, with a mind toward safety for all. And, we are grateful for our significant online presence.

At this time the Executive Committee is not recommending a date for the resumption of onsite activities and worship. Rather, they are working to develop clear standards for the resumption of onsite activities and eventually onsite worship.  
This is a heavy and important responsibility but we are blessed with faithful and wise leaders. We are grateful for their prayerful and reasoned discernment. Please be in prayer for them and for the responsibility they have undertaken. As these standards are clearly outlined they will be shared with you. Importantly, the Executive Committee is willing to consider a phased reopening which may begin with small group or essential ministries, as a way to begin the eventual return to normal.
Again, your prayers are important and thank you for your generous support of the ongoing work of your church.