Pastor Joseph's Blog

One month in: Trinity’s response to COVID 19

Happy Easter!

As March 15 was Trinity’s last in-person worship service, I want to offer four insights to the congregation and how we have adapted (and thrived) in the pandemic. 

First, we have found ways to stay connected with one another. Through cards and calls, we have rediscovered the foundational relationships as the church. I hear stories of how people have reached out to one another. In some cases, we did not know the person we called or who called us; nevertheless, the covenant of connection bloomed. In isolation, we have bridged the distance between us. 

Second, we have utilized technology for glorious purposes. Trinity’s worship service has been broadcast live on the radio for years. Recently, the local FTC channel started broadcasting our 11AM service a couple of times a week. Since March 22, we have used Facebook live as an online presence; we are now able to put the worship service on the new church website. We have had people from as far away as California and Illinois watching as well as local people who are not connected to Trinity. When this crisis is over, seekers can discover more about Trinity and feel comfortable when they walk through the door. Charles Haraway and Kyle Kelly have been instrumental in leading us in these changes.

Third, we have found other portals to make our offering to God through Trinity UMC. Historically, most of the weekly offering comes through the offering plate on Sunday. Checking account drafts and checks mailed directly have been favored by many church members over the years.  Since the church has not met for in-person worship on four Sundays, more members and friends have discovered our online, text, and phone app portals for giving. Although there are fees associated with these methods, they do make giving easier for some.  Regardless of how you give, thank you! Trinity is furthering our God-given ministry because of your gifts.

Fourth, the Trinity UMC staff, leadership and congregation have stepped up and shined this spring.  Gwen, Kristi, Amanda, Charlie, Earl, Beth and Sherry have worked to make this chaotic time as smooth as possible for the church. Some staff have been “redeployed” to cover immediate concerns the crisis has brought; others worked on backlogged tasks more easily addressed in an empty building.  Church committees and officers are attempting to contact active and local church members on a regular basis to stay connected in this crisis. But the people who have thrived best in these trying days are you, the members and friends of Trinity. Your resilient spirit anchored in your faith has been a living testimony; I experience that in the phone calls and emails I have shared with many of you.  You are quick to offer help to others in need and to pray for one another in this crisis. Your prayerful support buoys the work of the worship leadership as we work each week in an empty sanctuary. By God’s grace and your loving and abundant response, I believe we will emerge as a stronger congregation on the other side of this tragedy.

I am honored to be your Pastor.

Grace and Peace,

Joseph

April 12, 2020 – Easter Sunday

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 28:1-2
“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. ​2​And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

The details of the Gospels are fascinating. Whereas Mark’s Gospel is sparse, Matthew’s Gospel offers intriguing and extended narration. In Matthew, the women go to the tomb of Jesus and face formidable barriers in the guards patrolling the tomb’s perimeter as well as the heavy stone sealing the tomb’s entrance. The obstacles would be too powerful for the women. Suddenly, there was a great earthquake and an angel, who looked like lightning, rolled back the heavy stone. The angel then leisurely sits on the stone, thereby drawing our eyes to that angelic resting place. The Guards faint in fear at the appearance of the angel.

Can you imagine? This awesome display of light and power, and the angel finishes it with a relaxed demeanor atop the stone that had formerly sealed the tomb. Whether the rock of the stone was igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary, now it had holy purpose serving as a place of angelic proclamation. That stone had once been a sturdy barrier; now, it was a living pulpit where the Good News was proclaimed. That stone had once sealed in the dead; now, it served as a springboard to eternal life. From that perch, the angel tells the women that Jesus is no longer in the tomb; they are told to go tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he will meet them in Galilee. The seated angel drains the dreaded rock of its dark symbolism.

In our lives, we will face our share of daunting impediments to joy and the fullness of life. We confront stones blocking us from a holy way forward; we encounter stones that seal us away in the dead places of our own making, depriving us of Light and Life, hope and love. Like the women on their way to the tomb of Jesus, we wonder who will remove the obstacles, lest we have to turn around and live in strife and misery.

Today is Easter Sunday. Today is the day when what was an obstacle – a cross, a stone, a bad habit, a hidden sin, a deep fear, or an empty life can be transformed by the power of the Risen Lord, who conquered the greatest obstacle of all– death. We worship the Risen Lord who moves stones and transforms lives, and who makes our stumbling blocks become stepping stones. On this Easter Sunday, may God roll away the obstacles of your life and transform them into holy vantage points, showing you the way to life– abundant and eternal.

Have a blessed and Happy Easter Season!

Rev. Joseph James, Jr.

Senior Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church

A Prayer For A New Season

Infinite God of Time, 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” We have claimed those wise words in more finite days. Times when we were able to look back at the eras and epochs of human life. We asserted them at the transitions of our lives, funerals and graduations, baptisms and weddings.

Eternal God of past, present, and future: We are in a stuck season, a frozen moment when the days crawl and the weeks seem like months. We understand in very small measure when the Psalmist said, “a thousand years are like a day.”  We escape into a digital world, a place to flee the news and our neighbor. We connect virtually and safely to learn, worship, and make a living. But we were not created to live alone, without the challenging though comforting connection to one another, a connection that cannot thrive at a social distance.

Lord, forgive us for what we have taken for granted in seasons past. The times we could have gone to church but wouldn’t; the times we could have affirmed with a hug or handshake but didn’t. Forgive us for the times we took for granted full grocery shelves and a simple visit to someone in the hospital. 

We are thankful for the simplicity of this time, a time when we have discovered yet again, what is true and what is real. We have recognized what we can do without and what is indispensable.  We have learned again that little things matter. A microscopic being, a billion times smaller than us. can kill and wreck the world. A phone call, a letter, or chalk on the sidewalk mean more than we can say. 

Comfort us in these endless days of loneliness and unpredictability. May we find abundance of life in this season of uncertainty. God, in your mercy, grant us a new day, a new season, free of this plague. Amen.

Lord We Are Ready For Easter Now

Lent reminds us that we will never truly understand the depths of the love, grace, and sacrifice of the Cross of Cavalry. But this Lenten season, we have moved a modicum closer. World events have made this move painful and poignant. Pestilence is no longer an old testament problem, but a part of life in 2020.

Lord, we are ready for Easter now.

Fears of Deprivation, isolation, immunosuppression, and depression cloud our conversation and rob our peace of mind. The numbers flashing on the side of a screen of the infected and dead are so commonplace and anonymous that we lose sight of the worth of every single soul known intimately by You.

Lord, we are ready for Easter now.

The nagging questions of “how long?” and “how bad?” and “what’s next?” have no human answers.

Lord, we are ready for Easter now.

We lament that we will not gather as communities of faith as scores of generations past, kneeling next to strangers and friends around the Table, sharing the common cup and partaking of the fragmented and common loaf. We are saddened by the realization that we will not come together on Easter Sunday in the sanctuaries of our choosing. We will not hear the full church singing Alleluia on April 12 and see the arrangement of lilies.

Lord, we are ready for Easter now.

Console us in our fear and anxiety and hopelessness. Strengthen our hope and understanding that Easter is more than a date or a season that passes yearly. May we be your Easter people, raising our voices in times of fear and doubt, being the hands and feet of Jesus and filled with the Spirit in the places bereft of hope. In the depths of Lent and in the circumstances of life, Your ever-present love offers humanity new life and a new future from the brokenness of now.

Lord, we are Easter ready now. Amen.

A Prayer for Us In Between

God of the Wilderness Journey, Like so many of your people throughout time, we are in a season in between. We are a Holy Saturday people, stuck on the boundary of what was and what is yet to be. As the Israelites wandered, not knowing how long they would travel in the wilderness, so too do we wonder about how long the spectres of uncertainty, anxiety and the viral shadow of death will plague us.

In this place and time in between the comfort of the past and the resolution of the future, hear our prayers:

May our leaders have the wisdom and the servant heart of Moses, offering us wise and helpful words with a united voice.

Protect and strengthen your agents of healing in hospitals and private homes, drive-thru test sites and residential care facilities. Bless them despite the chaos and danger of these days.

Guard and guide those who manufacture medical supplies, those who produce and package food and the necessities of daily living, and those who transport these life protecting and life sustaining items.

Preserve and favor the front-line clerks, and cashiers, those who stock the shelves and those who cook and deliver our food; give them patience with us and strength for the task at hand. May we advocate for them a living wage in this time of crisis and beyond.

Be with those who are sick and dying as well as those who love them. We pray for the families of the dead in this tender time of grief.

This boundary in between is not the thin line of a map, O Lord. Nor do we move quickly through it. Sustain us, O Lord. Uphold us with the daily manna of hope realized in the tiny moments of our days. Connect us in our isolation, so that we do not falter but thrive together. Give us patience and persistence to make it through this time in between.

For thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever, amen.

Covid-19 Cancellations and Postponements

Dear TUMC Family,

The CDC has recommended that all gatherings of 50 or more people be cancelled or postponed. If at all possible, any events of ANY size should be modified into virtual formats to protect vulnerable populations. In light of these recommendations, and out of an abundance of caution for our community and members, we have decided to cancel all gatherings at church for the coming week.

We will not have:

  • Wednesday Communion
  • Wednesday Night Supper
  • Beyond Sunday Choir/ Bell Practice
  • Scout Meetings
  • Shepard Center
  • Bible Studies
  • Sunday Early Service
  • Sunday School
  • Sunday Lenten Supper & Service

For this coming Sunday (3/22/20), we will have our 11:00am Service, but only those crucial to the service should be in attendance. We ask that everyone else worship from home. The service will stream via Facebook Live as we did last week, and we will be on the radio as usual. The Sunday Bulletin will also be posted prior to Sunday morning. If you miss the live service, a full recording will be available on Facebook immediately after the service ends and the sermon recording will be on our YouTube channel by Sunday afternoon.

The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still -Exodus 14:14

By not gathering, we are doing our part to slow the spread of Covid-19, so that if our members and community are severely affected by this virus, our healthcare system will be able to accommodate them. This is why we must be church, even though we are not in the church.

Let each of you look not only into his own interests, but also into the interests of others – Philippians 2:4

During this time of isolation, quarantine and social distancing, we are reaching out to our older members to make sure they know we are here for them. We will be contacting them in the coming days to make sure they are well stocked with food and supplies and to offer them fellowship and connection even if we can not do so in person. Please call the church if you know of a member that may need us to reach out. We may not be together, but we are not alone