Update from Pastor David McEntire
March 20, 2020

Dear Friends,
A Lot has happened in the week since my last email was sent to you. While there is tremendous fast-paced change in the world markets, closings and growth of the virus, on thing remain constant, the presence, love and power of God. Praise God for these consistent, sustaining gifts.

As you might imagine, the church has made adjustments daily, often several times a day as conditions and directives change rapidly. As of today, based on warnings and directives from Public Health and Governmental Officials we are anticipating that our church will remain closed to all onsite activities through April 12. This is hard for us all, especially as that period includes Holy Week and Easter. While we anticipate having online worship, this does not preclude us having another 'Resurrection Celebration' once we are allowed to gather again.

I have assembled some very helpful and important information for you. If you know of a need or if someone is sick we ask that you call us and let us know. This is very important. Please take a moment to read through the following update about the ministry of your church.

  1. General considerations
  2. Online Viewing
  3. Giving
  4. Contacting Pastors and Staff
  5. Sunday school, Bible Study & Spiritual Resourced for Children, Youth and Adults.
  6. Continue to Pray and Remember
  7. Elijah and the Epidemic, A Devotional

General Considerations
1 Continue to practice safe protocols. Wash you hand, wash you hands, wash you hands and don't touch your face, eyes or mouth.
2 Maintain social distancing. Keep six feet between you and others. Observe the guidelines and directives for self-isolation
3 Stay home if you are sick. Call your health care provider or ER before you show up. They will give you appropriate instructions before you arrive.
4 Stay connected via phone, video chat, social media and other such virtual methods. Encourage one another, check on friends and family. A 30 second phone call can encourage. Pray for and with one another when talking. Share encouraging scriptures and positions on Social Media, you do not need to add to the fear.
5 Be careful of fixating on the news. Information is important   but the constant barrage of news can be overwhelming and cause fear and depression. While it is common to turn on the news as soon as you wake up, I would recommend that you pause. Have that cup of coffee, eat, open a window, listen to the birds, read scripture and pray. Then you will be ready for updates with a prepared heart.
6.  Be very careful of misleading and false news.  Already there have been malicious rumors created to worsen people’s fear of the pandemic.  Lies which blame and misdirect people often create panic and inappropriate, even harmful responses.
7. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.  Stay safe, stay healthy, stay compassionate, stay wise.

Online Worship and Bulletins:
This Sunday, and until further notice, we will Livestream our worship.  We also have put the weekly worship bulletin on the main page of the church web site,  www.firstumc.org or click here . It is not hard to tune in and watch the service live or to watch the service at a time more convenient to your schedule.  Please use https://www.firstumc.org/worship-now/ or  click here  or to access Livestream.  Once there, simply click on the Livestream icon.  Explore this page.  You will find current “live” services at the top of the page and archived services farther down the page.  We have many years of archived worship services which you can still access.  

This week we added a Facebook Live feature to our streaming.  This means that our worship service will appear in your Facebook feed. If you have a slow internet connection or are having trouble connecting to Livestream, try connecting through Facebook.  First, you need a Facebook account and please “like” our church Facebook page “First United Methodist Church of Lakeland (Florida)”.  Liking the page helps ensure that it is more likely to appear in your feed.  You will also see a “Watch” icon on the page.  This allows you to watch live events, such as our service.  You can also go to the church Facebook Page to watch the service live.  Let us know if you need help connecting. 

The Worship Now page also has links for worship podcasts. These can be listened to at any time or downloaded for later listening on your device. You will also find the times and stations for the radio broadcast of our services. These are local AM stations and offer rebroadcast of services from the previous week.

The virus has impacted each of us in similar ways.  But, the financial impact has hit some much, much harder.  I am grateful that our heart and intention has continuously been focused on serving and helping others in need and distress.  This is now much more important.  Some in our congregation are already out of work and might need our support.  Others are having to be more frugal, utilizing reserves to get through this time.  Some, while impacted, have deeper resources.  I have been humbled and thankful that many in our congregation have already asked, “How can I help.”  This includes some who are facing difficult challenges.  

This week one of our members asked me, “Would it help for me to prepay my pledge?”  My answer was given with a thankful heart, “Absolutely!”  What a wonderful idea.  Others have called or written, offering to give extra or give sooner.  These are exceptionally helpful ideas. Our staff, the staff of the preschool, our congregation and community will need that help as we move forward.  You can give easily by using any of the following methods. 
a.       Check: Mail in your check. 

b.       EFT/EBT: If you have online banking with bill pay, you can give using Electronic Fund/Bank Transfer.  Simply treat your giving to the church as you would any bill you are paying through EFT/EBT.  Your bank will address the check and supply the stamp.  There is no cost to the church when you use this service. 

c.        Give Online:  You can give through the church’s online, secure giving site by going to  https://www.firstumc.org/online-giving/ or click here you click the “Online Giving” heading and you will be taken to the online giving site. Follow the instructions on this site. The church does incur a small fee when you use this service. 

d.       Text to Give:  Text the amount you would like to give, beginning with the $ sign, to 863-617-7899.  Then follow the instructions which will be texted back to you.  For instance, you might text “$50” to 863-617-7899.  You will receive a reply in seconds with a link, “Go to https://... To complete your donation.”  Simply click on the link, fill out the information and you are set. This is a secure, safe link and easy to use.  The church does incur a small fee when you use this service. 

Contacting Pastors and Staff:
We have arranged for the majority of our staff to receive your voice mails through their email accounts.  If you need to speak to one of the pastors or staff, call the main number, 863-686-3163.  If no one is at the church you will hear a recording with updates and how to contact staff voice mails.  Once the recording starts you can reach the voice mailboxes of the following by pressing (this is an intentionally limited list):
Rev. David McEntire - *215
Rev. Melissa Stump - *220
Rev. Andy Whitaker-Smith - *214
Rev. Lee Lallance, Minister of Fine Arts and Music - *239
Harriet Mayes, Church Administrator - *217
Fred Murphy, Director of Facilities - *261 
Nicole Wood, Assistant to the Pastors - *219
Cherry McClellan, Preschool Director - *355
Cristi Moore, Children’s Director - *226
Dave Jans, Youth Director - *253
Warren Pattison, Director of Adult Ministries - *227
Diana Russell, Director of Newcomer Ministries - *223
Forrest White, Director of Missions - *224
Sean Hults, Director of Neighborhood Ministries - *242

Once you leave a message on voice mail it will be sent as an email to that person.  We will check emails several times a day.  You can also press *653 and then leave a voice mail for the pastor on call, who will return your call once they are able.

1.   Sunday School, Bible Study & Spiritual Resources for Children, Youth and Adults
We have placed many resources for you and your family on our web site. To make it easy to find these resources we have created a new page,  https://www.firstumc.org/online-faith-formation/ or click here .  You will find this page to be very helpful.  It includes links to family friendly and faith based movies, downloadable activities, Bible Study guides, and ways to virtually connect your small group or Sunday School class.  This is a great resource for you, your family and your friends.  Please share the link with others.  We will update it frequently.

Continue to Pray for each other: Remember, I am praying for you, every day, throughout the day. I am praying for those who are finding ways to destroy, control and fight this virus. I am praying for those who care for those infected by the virus. I am praying for reason, patience, education, compassion and caring. Please join me in praying for God’s presence, strength and guidance. This challenging time will come to an end, we will adjust and become wiser. Stay safe, stay healthy, compassionate and wise.  Focus on giving thanks that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) and His promise remains - “... remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20). 
 Finally, I offer the following devotional. 
Peace and Grace,
David McEntire, Senior Pastor

Elijah and the Epidemic
We read in the book of I Kings that the prophet Elijah saw that a deadly sickness was spreading in Israel. The worship of a malevolent, pagan god known as Baal was spreading, unchecked. Elijah is alarmed, takes action and in a dramatic confrontation the priests of Baal are defeated.

While this helps, the disease is still spreading. King Ahab returns home, tells Jezebel what has happened and there is a immediate spike in her anger, “So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: ‘May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.’” With this, Elijah self quarantined, running into the wilderness and hiding in a cave.
Elijah found it hard to be shut up, away from others, fearful that the epidemic wrath of Jezebel would find him. It is here that God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

Elijah saw that the pestilence had spread everywhere, had done great harm. He rightly wondered, “Am I next?” We can surmise that Elijah prayed feverishly during that time of isolation. The reports of the spread of this awful evil were probably in his mind when he was awake and when he slept. The survival rates were dismal, and he might have wondered if even God had forgotten, abandoned him. Isolation can cause you to think all kinds of panicky thoughts. It was at this time that God spoke to Elijah.

I Kings 19: 11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Metaphorically speaking (and con-temporizing this text) I thought, Elijah did not hear the voice of God in the cacophony of the media reports, governmental conferences, global health bulletins. These were dramatic, powerful issuances, but it was when he listened in the quiet of his isolation that he heard that “still, small voice”, a whisper from God.

We don’t know what God said to Elijah, but we know, he emerged from the cave as a result. He strength was renewed and he went back to face the disease and take it on. It took time, it was not easy, but that evil was defeated.
The story of Elijah is still with us. It is far more than an old, heart-warming story. This story is meant to speak to us in the midst of a global pandemic. The powerful voices will continue to issue directives, protocols and warnings. Pay attention, stay safe, do the right thing.

But, don’t forget to listen for the voice of God. You will need to turn off social media, the TV and radio. For a moment, stop the noise and go into a quiet place and pray. Here you will find peace, hope and the voice of the Creator, who will say, “I am with you, always. My peace I give to you. You are loved more than you know.”