“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24

My Beloved Ones,

Yesterday the President made a statement in which he deemed churches essential and expressed his desire for faith communities to reopen and congregations to begin worshipping as soon as this weekend. Since that time, I have received inquires from several people within our congregation anxious to hear that the campus of Martin UMC will not be reopening in the foreseeable future. During my years in ministry, I have learned that what is of concern to some in a congregation is often a question in the minds of many. Therefore, it seems prudent to offer a pastoral word to the whole of our Martin community as we mark our 11th week Together Apart this Sunday.

Let me begin by saying I do not believe that Martin United Methodist Church is, or has been, closed. We have continued to worship faithfully, gathering every Sunday morning by the most appropriate means available to us to praise God and give thanks, and to witness to our faith as we proclaim the gospel message of God's love for humanity embodied in Jesus Christ. In reality, the numbers tell us that we are consistently gathering with increased faithfulness, and we are reaching a mission field beyond the scope of our previous impact. I also realize that some of you may be feeling sadness or frustration because worship is different than we are accustomed to experiencing. I understand completely. I miss the sense of increasing energy as the building swells with life, as our eyes meet in worship and the rhythm of what worship leaders offer and you give back creates a unique expression I must imagine in my heart as I search for you through the lens of a camera. Perhaps most of all I miss the time honored tradition of the pastoral receiving line and the many hundred hugs and handshakes we share each week. I get it. Sunday school on Zoom is not the same experience as enfolding oneself into the confines of a familiar classroom sequestered with several dozen of your closest friends in the faith, sitting shoulder to shoulder, sharing heart to heart; it is most assuredly a type of shared communion, but with coffee. Yes, it is different; but our church is not closed and we are worshipping. The church has always been essential. For generation upon generation, people of faith have always adapted and innovated to meet the challenges of their time. Faith has always been essential; and so we have closed campuses, but the ministries continue. Attendance in small groups has increased across the board, giving remains faithful, and feedback seems to confirm that people are finding value in the experience of our shared worship, even if they are at home. The chance to sit with my own family in our living room to hear the word proclaimed has brought me into that shared experience; how blessed and holy it felt knowing you were there, our shared love for one another and for God transcending distance and circumstance.

John Wesley, the founder of our own Methodist tradition, once shared a statement he had heard, "The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion." As my friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Mary Spradlin observed, "It serves as a reminder that we have no biblical example of people who sustained their Christian faith without engaging with others on their spiritual walk. Today, this quote comes to my mind with a new twist: 'The Bible knows nothing of churches that require a building.' Because it doesn't."

Acts of worship, fellowship, compassion, justice and evangelism have not stopped because we are not gathering in a building. In fact, the number of calls being made to shut-ins (aren't we all), expressions of care, groceries, casseroles, Helping Hands, ministries of prayer....these have increased in participation, in scope and in time spent in service. We miss gathering in our buildings, and we will return when it is safe; but this time of waiting has not limited or erased our ability, or responsibility, to be the church. That is always an essential.

So how and when might we return? Those are excellent questions. At this point, the how is easier to know than the when. How must be determined in conjunction with medical input, CDC guidelines, The Governor’s Report to Open Texas, Texas Department of State Health Services, Central Texas Conference Bishop Mike Lowry’s directives to churches, and various protocols that have been obtained from teleconferencing, clergy leadership articles, and our network of preachers and laity. These last many weeks have been a very busy time for the senior pastors of the Central Texas Conference churches as we invested ourselves developing knowledge and insight to attempt to lead competently in the midst of a pandemic. This is a once in a century event and I can assure you that this type of leadership is not something for which we ever thought to prepare. Yet where God calls, God equips and we are making strides to ensure we maintain the integrity of our faith communities while protecting those for whom we are charged to care.

Any decision to phase in a soft reopening of our buildings will be made in conjunction with the faithful administrative leadership team of Martin, the staff, the Trustees, our insurance company, and our District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Randy Wild. Ultimately, as the person appointed to serve as the Pastor in Charge of the legal corporation of Wm. C. Martin United Methodist Church, I will have to answer legally, ethically, and morally for our decisions and so no decision will be made until we have met the minimum threshold of at least two weeks following two consecutive weeks of decreasing numbers of new cases and deaths in our immediate area. As you know, we sit very near the boundary between Tarrant and Dallas Counties, and so the data from both must inform our actions. That begins to help you understand why the question of when is so difficult to answer; it all depends on how well our fellow citizens practice life in safe ways and how well controlled the spread of this indiscriminate virus is.

As for how, the larger congregations of our Conference are coalescing around a relatively standard set of Best Practices based on input from infectious disease professionals. They include:

  • returning initially only for one worship service
  • maintaining six feet to the left and right of each household group and using only every other row of pews
  • no singing in worship
  • no serving of communion or passing of the offering plate
  • no passing of the peace, hugging or shaking of hands
  • the removal of all hymnal and bibles from the pew racks
  • no paper bulletin
  • limited and escorted entry and exit by row
  • no small groups
  • no nursery
  • no children's ministry or open playgrounds
  • masks highly encouraged if not required
  • and everyone over 64, those with co-morbidities and families with children middle school aged and younger urged to refrain from coming to the campus.

As you can see, initially How will not return us to anything resembling what we have been accustomed to. I wish I could tell you this will all be different in a few more weeks. I do not know that it will be. There are some pastors and congregations who have chosen to proceed as if it is different or as if they will miraculously be protected from the consequences of this novel virus. No doubt you have read about some of these. However, in the the last week the Catholic diocese in Houston has had to close its campuses within weeks of opening them after one congregation became a hub of infection, their priest died of COVID-19 and dozens of other priests with whom he shared the rectory have become sick. Last week the CDC released a study of an Arkansas congregation which you can READ HERE. Since then, the COVID-19 virus, which was first contracted by the pastor and his wife from an unknown source has spread to 35 others who attended events at their rural Arkansas church and has resulted in three deaths. An additional 26 cases in the surrounding community have been diagnosed in others who were in contact with people who participated in the church events. Of those 26, one has also died. Restricting self for the sake of others if often the hardest loving we do, but having the right to do something does not make it the right think to do.

My brothers and sisters, I take very seriously my charge to be the one appointed to be responsible for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of our congregation. I can promise this: I want to return to the building and to in-person worship; I will continue to surround myself with people and resources to make the best possible decisions in unprecedented times; I will be transparent with you always, even when the best answer I have is "I do not know"; and I will always use the Great Commandment (in short, first Love God; second, Love Others) and Wesley's Three Rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God as my guiding principles.

I also know that if we all continue to be faithful in our charge to be the church, to be faithful in our worship, and faithful in our vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, Martin UMC will someday not only reopen its campus as if it was never closed, but we will emerge from this pandemic stronger, more self-aware and far more effective than we have ever been.

As always, I welcome your questions and concerns, covet your unceasing prayers for myself, the staff and lay leadership, and offer you my love and gratitude as your pastor.

May God bless you and keep you always,

Pastor Lara

Worship at home. Save lives.
Love God. Love your neighbor
...Today, Sandy received this email notice from the facility:

“We have received almost all of our results back for our residents and staff members. With that, we now have 39 positive residents on our COVID unit and 9 staff members. Three of our staff members have since been deemed recovered.”

Our Mom is one of the 39 residents with positive COVID-19 results. We were shocked. Talking to her two times this week left us assured she is well. We have learned her test result is positive, but she is asymptomatic. We thank God often that she is continuing to live normally and without pain or breathing issues.

We have asked ourselves the question, if it’s invisible in Mom, how many others are phantom carriers of this disease?... CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Wow, what a great response to this opportunity! To date, thirty six people have signed up to make 24 to 26 casseroles per week to feed people who are food insecure. On Thursday, May 28th we will begin serving families from among those we have regularly served through the Community Pantry and Beacon House, as well as others. If you haven't signed up to participate and would like to, please contact Doug. You decide how often you want to provide a meal. Any casserole or other one-pan meal is welcome, but it should be delivered frozen in an aluminum container which will be supplied to you.

Specific guidelines have been established for delivering the casseroles to the church, and for handing out the casseroles to the recipients. When cooks bring casseroles to the church, they will not leave their cars. Their casseroles will be removed from the trunk of their vehicle in the church parking lot by a member of a 2 person team. Recipients will arrive a short time later and the process will be repeated as a casserole in placed in the trunk of each vehicle. We also need a few volunteers, on rotating basis, to assist with this process of receiving and distributing the frozen goodies. You would not need to assist every week, however volunteers must be between 18 and 64 years of age, have no significant health conditions, and prepared to wear both a mask and gloves while on site. We will need one such volunteer each week to assist Doug, Robin or one of the other staff members. If you are interested in participating or have additional questions, click here to email Doug at dougn@martinmethodist.org.
Apple Corps meets via Zoom at 9:30 every Sunday morning for casual fellowship. Class begins at 9:45.
The Zoom Meeting ID is 293-856-379 or click the link below to go directly to Zoom.
Branches meets via Zoom at 9:45 every Sunday morning. The Zoom Meeting ID is 213-928-173 or click the link below to go register and go to Zoom.
Genesis meets via Zoom at 9:30 every Sunday morning. The Zoom Meeting ID is 904-595-472 or click the link below to go register and go to Zoom.
"I CONNECT" meets via Zoom at 9:45 every Sunday morning.The Zoom Meeting ID is 963-430-720 or click the link below for Zoom.
Journey meets via Zoom at 9:30 every Sunday morning.The Zoom Meeting ID is 429-051-096 or click the link below for Zoom.
New Beginnings meets via Zoom at 9:45 every Sunday morning.The Zoom Meeting ID is 387-197-129 or click the link below for Zoom.
The Way meets via Zoom at NOON every Sunday morning.The Zoom Meeting ID is 450-965-323 or click the link below for Zoom.
Sunday School for preschool and elementary school meets via Zoom at 9:45. To maintain a secure site for our children, please email Ms. Robin for login information before Sunday.
Confirmation class continues via Zoom on Sundays at 9:45. The meeting ID is 241-775-056. To maintain a secure site, please email Pastor Gena for a password.
In order to maintain a safe space for our youth, Pastor Faiana is sending information directly to the kids regarding Zoom and Facebook Live opportunities. Email Pastor Faiana for more information or to be added to her contact list.
Prayer Concerns & Sympathy
Please continue to check the Facebook Prayer Page for daily updates of concerns. To be redirected to the Martin UMC Care Team Prayer Ministry page, click here:

Martin Community: Jim Adams, Jan Batjer, Virginia Browning, Michelle Chalk's grandson and his wife; Jeffrey & Bailee; also her grandson and his wife's 18 month old baby, C.J. Clark's grandmother, Nancy Cowain and family, Glen Dow, Barb Herbison, Jeannie King's daughter, Lisa, Vickie Kelley's Mom; Flossie Harris, Alilia Kongaika, Kyle Kunz, Sandy McIlvain's mother; Helen Johnson, Margaret Metts, Randy Morgan, Melissa Norton, Dottie Rust, Lee Swann, Pam Cook's daughter, Rhonda; Eric Gladstone, Michael Neal, Catherine Yoro

Family & Friends: Kenneth Almstedt, Skip Bradford, Lauren Brown, Ryan Campanaro, Donna & Taryn Cates, Gwen Caylor, Cory Chalk, Bob & Bonnie Davis, Emma Dills, Rose Foley, Barbara Gorden, Art Grimes, Pat Hern, Barbara Hertz, June Ivey, Emily Manning, Danielle Marie, Jan Nelson, Monica Miles, Jerry & Cressan Smith, Bill & Dorothy Standley, Kathy Walton, Gene Woodside

Names remain for two weeks unless otherwise requested.