May 23, 2020

Dear Friends,

In response to the covid-19 pandemic, our congregation made the difficult, but appropriate, decision to suspend in-person worship at First UMC. Worship did not cease, it simply moved into a new realm. Every Sunday morning we have offered an inspiring worship service in our sanctuary accessible to our congregation and community. We will continue to do this.

We have had conversations about what in-person worship will look like when we are able to return. These changes are aimed at providing the safest atmosphere for those who choose to worship in the sanctuary. When the time is right, we will implement these changes and welcome people back into worship. We will let you know what that will look like so you will know what to expect before you arrive.

It is unfortunate, however, that President Trump issued a strongly worded statement seeking to accelerate the re-opening of houses of worship. In conversations with some of my colleagues, they are already facing the impatience of congregations ignoring safety guidelines and threatening to meet in spite of the pastor. The President’s statement undermines their ability to lead.

The President was accurate when he said that “[Religious leaders] love their congregations. They love their people.” He is right. I do love our church and all our people. I miss you and I know you miss one another. But my love for you is the very reason I ask you to remain patient. My love for you wants everyone to be healthy and safe. My love for you leads me to make the difficult decision to continue to wait even though others are choosing to open. There are several accounts of churches that held in-person services in spite of suggestions to do otherwise. The results have been catastrophic. You have likely read some of these accounts.

Mini sermon alert: Jesus told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep (Luke 15.) Upon counting them the shepherd discovered one was missing. Jesus asked the question, “Which one of you wouldn’t leave the 99 to go find the one that is missing?” I have struggled with that story, thinking that it was safer to hold on to the 99 and hope that the missing one finds its way home. In my mind I hear myself whispering to Jesus, “Don’t risk the 99 for the sake of the one.” But today, I see this parable with fresh eyes. Caring for the 99 is found in the ability to care for the one. I don’t want to put one person at risk for the sake of re-opening too soon. If anything were to happen to even one person, I would be heartbroken. Seriously. That is my love for you. That love will be our guide in our decision making.

So, I ask you to be patient a little while longer. We are working on the possibility of a brief, in-person worship utilizing best practices perhaps as early as June 14.  It will look significantly different and some may choose to continue the online option. We will respect the choice you make. 

Our church is not closed. Our ministry continues. Worship continues. Prayer is still happening. We are still sharing the good news of God’s love. And our desire for the health and safety of our neighbors and community are the embodiment of that love. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Peace and love,

First United Methodist Church | 618 Eighth Street | Columbus, IN 47201| 812-372-2851