Monday Devotional
March 30, 2020
Dear Friend,

I spoke to my five-year old grandson this week. He is doing well. He asked when he can come down to Columbus to go to the park, ride his bicycle and play baseball at the ballfield. He is bored with the isolation and associates these fun things with a visit to Papa. I assured him that there would come a day when we could do these things, but for now we will have to wait.

I suspect that the children among us are only articulating what we all feel. Social isolation can be lonely. We miss the face to face interaction with others. We miss sitting with friends at the coffee shop and chatting. We miss the ability to invite friends over for dinner. The social activities have all been put on hold.

This also becomes evident as I think about how we can do Holy Week activities at First UMC. So much of the events are intentionally social. It begins with a parade for Palm Sunday. We can’t do parades right now. I remember one year where we had a donkey and the children waved palms and marched around the block and into the church for Palm Sunday. We can’t do that this year. Maundy Thursday is about friends gathering for a meal. Social distancing forbids this possibility. Someone pointed out that the original Easter included social distancing since Jesus told Mary not to hold him, this personal encounter at the tomb has become a grand celebration with churches filled to capacity. This will have to be postponed.

It is noteworthy how much of our Christian faith is predicated on social events. Our faith is designed to bring people together, to create new friendships, to enable people to love and serve one another. This makes things a bit challenging.

But I want to share a couple of ways you can maintain those connections during this time of social isolation.

Call the folks who share the pew with you on Sunday morning. Check on them. Let them know that you are thinking of them. These can be lonely times and anything we can do to help alleviate that loneliness can be a great benefit.
As the weather has turned warmer, more and more people are walking through the neighborhoods. I invite you to find some sidewalk chalk and write a message to your neighbors. Offer a blessing. Write, “Peace be with you.” If you don’t have sidewalk chalk, you might make a sign (those political signs would work.) Tape a message over the political sign and offer your neighbors a message that brightens their walk. If that doesn’t work, put an encouraging note in your front window or doorway for all to see. I plan to do this on the church sidewalk for our downtown neighbors as well as in front of our home to offer encouraging messages to all the walkers and joggers and bikers.
Join us for communion next Sunday. Yes, you read that correctly. Normally, communion is something that must be done face to face. Given these unique circumstances, churches have been granted the ability to share communion online. During next Sunday’s service, we will bless the bread in the church and invite you to have bread and juice (or wine if you prefer) and we will all take communion from our homes. It will not be the same as being together around the same table, eating from the same loaf, but the message will be the same.

I saw a message from a fellow pastor that read, “And just like that, we all became televangelists.” This is not something most of us learned in seminary. I never had a class on proper lighting for an online worship service or how to maximize the audio. We are all learning new things. One of the things I am learning is how to teach online. I am working on how to offer an online Bible study next week. I would like to offer this for each of the days of Holy Week (next week) and will let you know the details. I hope this will help us stay connected in these times.

Please understand that the precautions we are taking are important and vital. I am grateful for the stay-in-place requirements in spite of the challenges they present. I hope this will lead to greater health and safety for us all. In the meantime, we will have to be creative in our outreach and how we maintain a vibrant, caring community of faith. There will come a day when we can gather around the same table or offer a hand in peace or go out for lunch after church. Those days will come. And when they happen once again, we will appreciate and value them all the more.

As we mentioned in a previous email, we have cancelled in-person worship services through April 12. If we need to extend this we will. For the time being, worship services can be viewed on Facebook and the church webpage. In lieu of the usual ministries and events for which our congregational has been known, we offer some suggestions for how to fill these times with positivity. Here are a few possibilities:
Remain connected—while it is advisable to limit direct contact with others, you can substitute the face to face interaction with phone calls, emails and letters to friends and loved ones.
Read a good book—you might spend this time reading scripture, reading a daily devotion or just curling up with a meaningful book.
Watch a good movie or listen to a podcast—ask friends for recommendations, look for those shows you intended to watch or listen to but never got around to. Be intentional about what how you spend your time and fill it with the things that make you think or laugh or just take you mind away from the current circumstances for a bit.
Take a walk—whether it is just around the block or in your back yard, sometimes one of the healthiest things you can do is unplug from social media and news feeds and take a relaxing walk.
Be generous to yourself and those around you—it is easy to get frustrated with oneself and others in uncertain times. We sometimes assume that those who are less cautious are being insensitive and those who are being too cautious are panicking. Be gentle and kind in this time. People will cope in many different ways. Forgive where you need, help where you are able and be kind to all whom you meet.

Devote time to unfinished projects—have you been meaning to back up your hard drive, organize that messy closet, finish the scrap book or write the next great novel? This might be a time to focus some of your time and energy in these areas.

Engage in those things that bring you peace—pray; meditate; practice yoga; put on your favorite music and sing loudly; knit; enjoy a hobby or project; reminisce by looking through old photos; paint or draw or engage in some artistic endeavor; work a puzzle.

Maintain a sense of perspective and a sense of humor—worry about the things that need your worry and let go of the things you cannot control. Amid the stress and anxiety, little things can get on one’s nerves. Measure the situation and determine an appropriate response. And, above all, wherever possible find the ability to smile, laugh and be playful.