We all have many questions and “right” answers come in so many forms from so many places in our world today. It seems like many of those “right answers” conflict with other “right answers” that we see and hear.
Some days, it is hard to live in and through all the difficulty of our world daily. Church, maybe we are living in a time not even seen by the very early church. The world at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, might have been like our world?
This week, the update contains words from clergy of our conference, Rev. Shelly Petz, and words from Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr. that may provide you with words that might bring encouragement, healing, hope, healing., comfort to all of us.
Blessings to you, your family, friends and neighbors,
Today on my calendar, I, like many of you, would have been attending the opening day of Annual Conference of the Great Plains Conference. I have been attending Annual Conference since I was 14 years old. It is a part of me. It is family. It is home. It is where laity and clergy come together to worship, remember, dream, sing, do business, learn, and connect. I love that it is part revival, part continuing education, part business meeting. It is where I began to find my voice so many years ago. Seeing the beauty and the heartache of what can happen at an annual conference has helped me to explore my own call and passion for providing space for clergy in the conference to be their best selves, to flourish, to take care of their faith and well-being for the greater good of the ministry of the church. It has helped me see laity and clergy at their best and worst, and to give thanks to God for one another.
Annual Conference was one of the first places I began to understand the depth of the question that John Wesley asked at the beginning of every small group meeting, "How is it with your soul?" That is a deep question. A deep question that goes beyond ... how are you? how's the weather? what's up? That is the question I offer for each of us today, to be vulnerable enough to share it with one another and with God who knows before we can even speak.
How is it with my soul?
My soul grieves that we cannot join in person for Annual Conference to worship with dear friends and colleagues and be strengthened for the journey. My soul grieves for the lives lost, future stories changed forever, unemployment, and the unknown. My soul is weary. It is weary from worry, compassion, and decision fatigue. My soul is crying out in anger and injustice at the things that I see going on that do not match up with how I understand God's reign in heaven or on earth. My soul is tired of the fighting and finger pointing that happens every day in homes, in congregations, in communities, in the world. My soul is vulnerable, because I have realized how much I thought was in my control really isn't. My soul sings songs of lament.
Then I breathe.
Sometimes it takes two, or ten, or twenty breaths now.
I ask myself the question again. How is it with my soul?
My soul is humbled. My soul sings a song of praise. My soul begins to see beauty in the smallest thing around me and finds a moment of nourishment and refreshment. My soul can rest...it needs it. I let it find it. As I take my weekly sabbath, and daily moments of set apart time, my soul is well. I am reminded that in my soul being well, it doesn't mean that all things are well...but I know that I can draw water from the well of living water...and find life, and love, and hope for this moment. That is enough for today.
One of the books that has really been helpful to me lately is called "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry" by Ruth Haley Barton. I would like to share an excerpt from the book that she wrote, that is then followed by a prayer by Ted Loder. Hear these words:
Someone has said, "You'd be surprised at what your soul wants to say to God." For those of us who are in leadership, it is often hard to find space that is quiet enough and safe enough for the soul to be as honest as it needs to be. We don't often take the time to sit quietly by the base of the tree of our own lives and wait for the wild animal we seek to put in an appearance. Here is an invitation to sit quietly for a few moments for the sole purpose of allowing your soul to say what it needs to say to God. Don't try to force anything or work hard to make something happen. The soul runs from such attempts. Just sit quietly in God's presence and see what shows itself. This may take time but when your soul has finally said that thing that it has been waiting to say, you will know. If you sit long enough, you might also be surprised at what God wants to say to your soul.
there is something I wanted to tell you
but there have been errands to run,
bills to pay,
arrangements to make,
meetings to attend,
friends to entertain,
washing to do...
and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you,
and mostly I forget what I'm about,
don't forget me please,
for the sake of Jesus Christ...
O Father in Heaven,
perhaps you've already heard what I wanted to tell you.
What I wanted to ask is
increase my courage, please.
Renew in me a little of love and faith,
and a sense of confidence,
and a vision of what it might mean
to live as though you were real,
and I mattered,
and everyone was sister and brother.
What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is
don't give up on me,
don't become too sad about me,
but laugh with me,
and try again with me,
and I will with you, too.
So, I ask you, "How is it with your soul?"
-- Rev. Shelly Petz
Clergy Faith and Wellness
Great Plains Annual Conference
A Letter from Bishop Saenz
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has issued the following letter for churches sharing some of his thoughts about reopening church buildings as Kansas and Nebraska move into new phases of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference is urging caution in reopening to ensure, as best each congregation can, the health and safety of parishioners and the communities our churches serve.
Sisters and Brothers of the Great Plains Conference,
The peace of Christ be with your spirit in all ways and all times, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to address a topic all of our churches across Kansas and Nebraska are considering at this time: when to reopen our buildings for in-person gatherings.
I am purposeful in making a distinction between the church and a building. We closed our buildings out of an abundance of caution for our parishioners and for the mission fields we serve. The church — the body of believers in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior — never closed or stopped being the church.
Suspending face-to-face worship was a relatively easy decision. COVID-19 Infection rates soared, and the danger to vulnerable populations escalated quickly. Our two states have witnessed more than 20,000 people fall ill to the coronavirus, and we have mourned the deaths of more than 330 people. The pastoral and prudent action was to move worship online so people were not exposed to the virus, and I’m proud of how quickly our congregations addressed that concern.
We can’t quickly open our church buildings in the same manner. Many topics we rarely considered in quite this much detail must be thoroughly addressed: when our doors will be opened for in-person gatherings, whether the church will provide masks, sanitation procedures, and if entire portions of buildings will be closed off to limit where deep cleaning must take place. In meetings with some of our pastors in each district, I have found that some churches are already meeting in person again. Others plan to do so at some point and to some extent in June. Still others are looking to July or even August. One county-seat church with a meat-packing plant in the community is planning to start in September because of a recent COVID-19 outbreak.
The conference is providing a worksheet to help you think through the decisions that have to be made. The worksheet is meant to help you explore as many aspects of reopening your building as possible. You can download the worksheet here. Because coronavirus circumstances vary from area to area within our two states, you and your church leaders will have to decide for yourselves the definitions of phases of your opening strategy, which benchmarks must be met to move to the next phase, and what those phases mean for your context.
More guidance can be found on the conference website at www.greatplainsumc.org/coronavirus. Our conference staff is working diligently to keep this information updated so you have the most up-to-date information available related to gathering in church buildings.
Many of us have been working through the daily devotions associated with the church as recorded in Acts titled “Catch Fire in 50 Days.” During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, we are reading about how those earliest followers of Christ spread the good news about Jesus Christ throughout the known world in turbulent times.
We also live in turbulent and challenging times, as do all the people throughout the world. Our assurance and hope is in God’s forever and inseparable love for us:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
May God bless and keep you as you make these difficult decisions and as you begin to gather together again in the weeks and months ahead.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.
Sunday Morning Worship Bulletin
Those who wish to have a printed bulletin, please check your email and/or the church website. Bulletins will normally be available by Friday afternoon for Sunday morning worship.