On Monday, November 16th in a Coronavirus Townhall hosted by Bishop Julius Trimble and a team from IU Health, Bishop Trimble called on all Indiana United Methodist congregations to suspend in-person worship gatherings effective on Sunday, November 22nd.
With rising positivity rates and our healthcare networks being stressed to the point of maximum capacity, the Bishop is calling all Indiana United Methodist congregations to “do the hard thing in the short term for the greater good in the long term”.
Bishop Trimble addressed the fact that the State of Indiana coronavirus restrictions do not apply to churches. However, Bishop Trimble reminded us that, “While the law may allow us to gather, we need to do what’s best for the greater community.”
I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers, “Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Just because something is permitted by law does not mean it is the right thing to do, especially at this time.
The team of health experts shared that bars, restaurants, gyms and congregations are the places most often cited as sources of the spread. Bishop Trimble encouraged our congregations to “lead the way.” We were also reminded that this will not last forever. Therefore, we should not give up hope.
With a vaccine on the horizon, now is not the time to let up, but to press on and strongly finish the race.
With that, effective this Sunday, November 22nd, First Wayne Street will suspend in-person worship. You might think of it as a “return to virtual only worship.”
Suspending in-person worship is NOT closing the church. Ministry will not stop. It will just require adjustments and creativity. Our staff is already doing the brainstorming work for how to keep us connected and growing in our faith during this time.
Again, beginning this Sunday (November 22), our in-person gatherings are suspended until we are given the go ahead from our Bishop and Conference Superintendent.
I want to thank and applaud the amazing people of First Wayne Street UMC. Because of your cooperation, we were able to safely return to in-person worship. Not every church can say that. I believe First Wayne Street could be used as an example for safe gatherings in the midst of a pandemic!
I am proud of the way all of you responded and took the appropriate steps to gather together. This action is in no way a response to what’s been happening at First Wayne Street. I also know that, when the time comes, we will have yet another successful return to in-person worship.
Honestly, I wish I had better and more exciting news to share with you. I wish I could tell you that our church won an all expenses paid church-wide trip to Hawaii as soon as it’s safe to travel. But, that’s not happening. Sorry.
Again, the church is not closed. We aren’t going out of business. We aren’t taking down the signs. We are suspending in-person worship until we are given the go ahead by Bishop Trimble.
In the meantime, I would encourage you to be in contact with others in our congregation. Each week, call and check in with one or two other folks you are connected with at First Wayne Street. Pray for one another. Encourage one another.
I would also invite you to join us each Sunday on our YouTube channel as we livestream what I’m calling “congregation-less” worship. It’s been suggested that we do like the NFL and pipe in some crowd noise – or at least a laugh track when I make terrible pastor jokes!
I want to encourage you to look at this season as a season of digital evangelism. Invite your family and friends to join us online. Hit the share button and email or text the link – share the link to your social media platforms – share our church with your friends!
I would encourage you to continue the practice of faithful generosity that has allowed us to continue providing meaningful ministry throughout this pandemic and throughout the years. Your continued generosity will allow us not only to survive, but to thrive and be ready to hit the ground running when we are able to gather together in-person. I encourage you to utilize our safe and secure online giving through our website. You can also mail or drop off you gifts to the church office.
I invite you to pray each day for our church. Pray that God would use this time to strengthen our faith. Pray that God would help us to find new ways to connect with one another. Pray for our city, our state, our nation and our world. Pray that God would help us to not allow this to be a distraction – but that God would give us the resolve, determination and bold courage to be the church and the people God is calling us to be today, tomorrow and in days, weeks, months and years to come!
I encourage you to do a devotional study, participate in outdoor activities (like our upcoming family ice skating party), call/text/email/snail mail others, and participate in opportunities as they are offered via Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube.
Even though I am a rebel at heart, I know when it’s appropriate to submit to the leadership and authority of the Bishop. I will miss gathering in-person, but look forward to the day when we can do so safely.
Friends, we are going to make it through this together. So, again, we are suspending in-person gatherings, including worship, beginning this Sunday. Stay safe. Stay well. Have an awesome day.