May 12, 2020 Update:
A few days ago Bishop Ken Carter and the Leadership of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church distributed guidelines for churches to begin to prepare for in-person worship again. However, with these guidelines they recommended that churches do not open prior to June 15th and continue to offer worship online. The leadership of our church has chosen to comply with this recommendation.
As you know, our worship space is designed for maximum seating, and we recognize that keeping each of us safely separated from one another will likely prove difficult. These next weeks will allow us to develop our strategy for reopening as it relates to the issue of space, sanitation between services, and best practices for worship. These will not be easy decisions. I humbly ask for your prayers as we face these challenges.
If this news causes disappointment, I understand. I feel the same anxiousness to be together again in person that many of you do. However, remember Jesus tells us that the mark of our discipleship is love (John 13:35), teaching us that our love of God must be accompanied by our willingness to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). We cannot fully love God if we do not truly love our neighbor.
Right now that love means that we exercise patience and embrace new practices. We stay home when necessary and maintain distance from others as much as it possible. We wash our hands frequently, wear masks in spite of the inconvenience, and accept that our routines must be different. We support local businesses, find opportunities to express a kind and supportive word to those who are still working in our stores and other essential businesses, and pray for our health care professionals, those who are sick and those who care for them. In all things we put the well-being of others above ourselves. This is what loving God and loving others looks like.
I know you long to again feel some sense of normalcy. So do I. But if in our rush to return to that sense of normalcy we put others in danger in pursuit of our own preferences then, truly, who are we following? Whose disciple do we show ourselves to be? Have we not lost the heart of the gospel?
Remember this, our church has never closed! The doors of a building may not be open, but we’ve never stopped being the church. Our worship has changed, but not ceased. The outreach of the church has risen to new levels to meet the unprecedented needs of our community. We’ve had to use phone calls and Zoom meetings in place of hugs and handshakes. But we’ve never stopped being the church! So, we will continue to exercise patience. We will continue to pray. We will continue to worship and meet virtually. And out of love for our neighbor we will wait, for just a little while longer.
My prayer is that this update finds you safe and well and, most importantly, finding strength and peace in God’s presence in these challenging days.
We are continuing to adjust our practices here at the church to both serve our church family and community while also doing everything possible to be as safe and protective of one another. With that in mind, here are a few updates:
(1) As both government, health and denominational officials continue to ask us to maintain social distance, and not meet together in groups, in-person worship will be suspended for the immediate future. We will continue to offer online worship each Sunday morning (links will be on our website and Facebook page) and will let you know as soon as we receive the approval to begin worshipping together again in-person at the church facility.
(2) For the next few weeks the church offices will be closed and staff will be working remotely. If you need to contact us, please either call (941-776-1539) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will be regularly checking messages if no one is available when you call.
(3) We will continue to receive donations for our food pantry to distribute to those in need. We have a shopping cart outside our main office door and one outside the entry to the Gathering Place to receive non-perishable food items. These carts will be checked regularly so the items can be brought inside and stored.
Thank you for the continued support of our ministry as we discover new ways to be the church in these difficult days. Rest in the confidence that God is with us and will bring us through this challenge by His strength and presence. May each of you be blessed.