It’s hard to believe that as I write this it has been 19 weeks since we have worshipped together in person in our building. It feels as if it has been longer than that. We’ve had some bumpy starts and stops with ZOOM meetings and gatherings, but we haven’t found the right mix of technology that everyone can adopt. So, I thought that I would provide a quick update on several things that we are doing during this time that our building has been closed. This “short” update ended up being a little longer than I anticipated.
The one thing that has continued throughout this time is worship. Each week a small team consisting of David Kammerdiener, Vicki & Deems Riddle, and I meet in the Sanctuary to create and record a brief worship service based upon the Morning Prayer liturgy found in our hymnal. There is music, scripture, a message, and prayer. We have even started including a Communion liturgy on the first Sunday of the month with instructions about how you can share in Communion in your home. The video of the entire service is placed on Facebook by 11:00 a.m. each Sunday (we record the video starting a few minutes after 10) and is made available on our website by mid-afternoon. The audio of our sermon is available on the website as well and is distributed as a podcast via Apple Podcast and Google Play. The sermon audio is also now available to anyone with a telephone and will be posted sometime Sunday afternoon or evening. To hear the sermon, dial 706-866-6577. It is a local call. This is just one way that we are trying to keep you informed and connected.
I had mentioned earlier in an email to the Crusader’s Class that we would be introducing an online group meeting for “Sunday School” beginning the week of July 26. We will be using the ZOOM platform for this meeting and we will use the FaithLink curriculum from Cokesbury that examines current events and situations in the light of our faith. I asked you to choose a day and time (from a list of days and times) for this meeting to occur. Of those who responded, the preference is overwhelmingly in favor of Monday mornings at 10:00 a.m. The FaithLink study for each week is emailed to the church on Tuesday morning when the office is closed. Darlene will retrieve that email on Wednesday morning, email the study to those who have email access or print and mail paper copies to those persons who don’t have email. Both the email and print communication will have the instructions on how to participate in the group meeting. This way everyone has a chance to read the material, review the scriptures that are referenced, and think about the discussion questions that are posed each week. Then when we meet on Monday morning, the facilitator for the week will guide us though the discussion questions. This Monday, July 27, will be a dry run to work on any technical issues that we need to address to help everyone connect. You will receive an email with instructions on Thursday.
In another communication, I noted that we are now fully migrated to our new Church Management System called Elvanto. Elvanto is an online system that helps us track attendance, giving, scheduling of resources, etc., along with providing the ability to communicate with you more efficiently. If you have given to the church this year, you have seen one of the ways that communication is streamlined as we can now email your quarterly giving statements to you within days after the end of each quarter. The online nature of this system also allows you to have your own account where you can view your giving record, volunteer, register for events or studies and view an online church directory. We will slowly be rolling out the user interface over the next couple of months. If you would be interested in participating, please email the office and we will let you know when this will be available.
I am happy to report that church giving has kept pace with our projections prior to the pandemic. Thank you for your continued support of our ministries as we investigate the best ways to resume what we can under the safety restrictions. I encourage you investigate giving online where possible. You can give an online gift to the church through your bank account or with a credit or debit card through our partnership with tithe.ly. Each online donation is charged a processing fee and you, as the giver, have the choice of paying that fee if you choose. The funds are deposited directly into the church bank account within 2-5 business days depending upon the type of transaction. If you would like to investigate online giving, click on the “Give Now” button on the webpage or visit mcfarlandumc.org/giving to see all of the options that are available.
We have established a committee to plan for the re-opening of our building following the protocols and requirements established by the Holston Conference re-opening task force. The group, led by Dr Marvin Mills, consists of Vicki Riddle (church council chair), Deems Riddle (trustees chair), Lamar Bankston (Lay Leader), Louise Hodges (worship/retired nurse), Linda Mills (retired nurse), and Tabica Vanderbundte (custodian) and me. We have met a couple of times to start working though the guidelines and review the congregational survey. Since the committee started meeting in-person worship has been suspended in Hamilton County United Methodist Churches through at least the end of July because of the virus activity in the community. Our location immediately adjacent to the “hot spot” in Hamilton County (East Lake, East Ridge, and East Brainerd) dims our hope of being able to safely re-open in the near future. But we are gathering the cleaning supplies and the materials that we will need when it is cleared for us to re-open the building.
Finally, thank you for being the church. You have stayed in contact with each other, prayed for one another, helped others where you could, and you have kept me informed of needs in the church community. In this time when we cannot be in our building, it is important to remember that the church is us and the church continues on. Thanks be to God.
Please keep me in your prayers as we seek to experience God’s presence in all of aspects of worship and communication. “The best of all, God is with us.”