Good Friday Simpsonwood (on a Tuesday),
 
I hope everyone is well in the journey we are going on with God now…  
 
I am writing early this week to reflect with you on the reality of our state being among the first to open back up in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Last night, our state leadership affirmed guidance on opening Georgia in limited ways beginning Friday, April 24th, in business and recreation. You may or may not have heard that churches were also given guidance that they can open up too. I want to reflect with you on the joy of when we come back together for worship. To do that, let me step backward to go forward…
 
On Wednesday, March 11th, we began to see a dramatic shift in our country as many things changed virtually overnight. We all woke up on Thursday, March 12th, to a seismic shift and, by Friday the 13th, we had seen sporting events, schools, universities and churches closing in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. It seems like that was years ago now, but in reality, if you start with closings on Friday, March 13, it has been 40 days as of yesterday! That is the ancient definition of a 'quarantine', it originally meant 40 days…
 
From the beginning, I have believed what we were going through was a 'journey' rather than a 'quarantine'. In a spiritual journey, disciples exhibit willingness to learn, to go and grow with God as God leads. Journeys don't presuppose outcomes; they hold potential to transform participants along the way. This is always at the heart of the discipleship journey. Everyone from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Daniel and King David to Mary, the disciples, Stephen, and Paul (Saul) reveal to us how this is the way it is with God when we journey through adversity in faith.
 
God is present as guide, and God provides, leads, and loves along the way. A quarantine looks for dates on a calendar to prove health and resume inclusion and activity. Spiritual journeys through adversity look for how God is working to change us, and others, along the way. In a spiritual journey, disciples keep their eyes on God rather than the obstacles, something I believe as pastor, we are called to do now more than ever!
 
For those that ask, I believe the faith community is always called to hold a higher standard in decision making than the world. In the church, our leaders in the past have held to 3 'General Rules' for all decision making: 
 
1. Do no harm
2. Do Good
3. Stay in Love with God in all living along the way.
 
Our Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, with the cabinet leaders, came out late yesterday (Monday, April 20) to affirm that all United Methodist Churches in North Georgia, will remain closed, at a minimum, through Wednesday, May 13. The practice all along at Simpsonwood (and throughout the UMC) has been to make decisions based on all the evidence in collaborative effort with best practices from those living out their calling as vocational experts in the fields of epidemiology, medicine, ministry, health, and safety. 
 
Personally, I am mindful that half (or more) of our church will be at higher risk for serious complications from Covid-19 if they were to contract the virus. In addition, the largest 2 outbreaks in Georgia to date have their origins in church gatherings (funerals). High risk factors include age (50 years and older), heart disease, autoimmune diseases like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, lung diseases like asthma, COPD, and chronic bronchitis along with those who have compromised immune systems from cancer, organ transplants and past disease or struggle. That means, any decision we make to come back together must be made with ALL of these individuals in mind. 
 
Allow me to close with a thought on a Tuesday. In all of the spiritual journeys we go on as disciples, the one who journeys, changes. Yes, church will be different for a while to be sure. But, we are changing. God is at work in us now more than ever. In this journey, what we learn from God will prayerfully be a gift for us and others for the long haul in the future… 
 
I look forward to the delight of seeing everyone again when we exhibit joy, not anxiety, in coming together to worship. In the meantime, keep praising God in embrace of work and worship that is distinct for a time grounded in God's purpose. We are still the church!
You are beloved this day in Christ our Lord,
 
John