At annual conference this year, they posted my picture and announced my appointment for the next year. Our conference was online, and I didn’t see myself in the list. They posted the appointments around the dinner hour, and I had broken away from being online to make dinner and sit down with my family for a moment. Jean texted to say, “nice picture.” And my friend Leroy also texted me, to congratulate me. I have known Leroy for about 17 years. When I was still in my twenties, my wife and I did a year-long-urban mission where I lived in intentional Christian community in an at-risk Atlanta neighborhood, worked a volunteer job, attended a local church in the neighborhood, and got intentional about loving that community. Leroy was our program director in Atlanta and became something of a mentor. I was not connected to the Methodist world then. Neither was Leroy.
But all these years later, I have begun my second year as your pastor, and Leroy has been serving our denomination for the past several years. He is the director of Innovation and Disruption for our conference and has worked alongside new congregations, coaching church planters, and helping our conference dream new Kingdom possibilities in their community. Additionally, Leroy and his wife Donna, have been actively raising up leaders of color both in our denomination and beyond.
So, when Leroy texted me, I texted back and said “we can use some innovation and disruption down here.” I got a text back, “Invite me this summer and I will make a weekend of it.” We did some back and forth around preaching dates before settling on July 18th, as a weekend that worked for him. As luck would have it, this is the week that we are scheduled for church at Wiard Park. “Great, I will talk about community engagement,” Leroy texted me back. This is something that Leroy is uniquely gifted and qualified to speak about.
I was excited about Worship in the Park anyway. Food, fellowship, and fresh air are always a good combination. But as we have been dreaming together, with our Restart book discussion, what sort of church we want to be and what kind of mission we want to live into, Leroy’s coming makes this a great opportunity. Plus, that man can preach! This is not a service you will want to miss, and it is a service you will want to invite people to! You will not want to miss it!
June marks my twelve months, that I have served as your pastor. I started worshipping alongside you the first Sunday in July, and it has been quite a year! When I began my tenure, the worship committee and I were in discussion as to when and how we could gather for in-person worship. We had guidelines and restrictions in place as to how we gather and what we could do. We also wanted to make sure we cared for one another well. It was still months before we gathered-in-person as a church (October!) but with our infection rates in the basin, it was still a while before we could be together for regular worship. Pentecost Sunday was the first Sunday that we could sing again! And so, while we have journeyed together for a year, in many ways, with our return to weekly gathering, feels like we are just getting started!
It has been a difficult year for many of us. The Pandemic upended our routines and isolated us from one another. Still our online worship has provided a way for us to connect with people who had already been unable to be with us in person (because of health or distance from our community). We were not together but we were together in the experience of the pandemic. The gift of COVID-19 was that it gave us empathy for everyone who felt excluded, and we sought to navigate how to do church, we became a more inclusive community!
We find ourselves now at the threshold of post-pandemic-life with the promise of a return to normal. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9), and while that is true, the cessation of worship this past year has made us feel like “Everything old is new again!” We have had to readjust ourselves to Sunday, and in some cases transform how we have done things as we navigate our current reality. But how good it is to be together again!
This past year, we have been blest as church to be served by the gift of a few of our members. We have heard the preaching gifts of Jean Freeman and David Glidden. We have heard the music of Pat Harris, Carolyn Lewert-Hagan, Charles Charles, Deanne Inman and more! We have been served by the camera work and editing skill of Fred Freeman. But now that the whole church is gathered, I am excited to see and hear again the gifts of the whole church, just as I was excited on Pentecost to hear the voices of all who were gathered as we sang. Not just a few of us, but all of us, as we strive to be the church for one another!
In the coming year, may we sense the gift of one another’s presence each time we gather. And may we care for one another as we transition back to togetherness.
I HAD no time to hate, because The grave would hinder me, And life was not so ample I Could finish enmity.
Nor had I time to love; but since Some industry must be, The little toil of love, I thought, Was large enough for me.
In her own poetic style, Dickenson warns us about spending our one wild precious life on hate and encourages us to instead give our time and energy toward ‘a little toil of love.’ Christian Spirituality gives us a similar charge: Love, not hate. The author of 1 John puts it like this:
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sisterwhom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:20-21, NRSV)
We seldom think of love and hate in such stark terms. And yet many of the voices we listen to, exhort us to one or the other, and it is usually not love. Media pundits and personalities prey on fears of people different than us; our inability to hear the other side fuels our cynicism about the state of things in these divided states of America. The voices that call us toward love are drowned out by sensationalism as we hear of yet another act of senseless violence and we each take our sides.
In the wake of Lent and Easter we were reminded of how Jesus came to make visceral what the love of God for each of us looks like. There was enough hate to go around, even back then, but Jesus’ little toil of love was to move toward others with compassion—to suffer alongside those who were suffering—to make space for the ones that no one else had time and energy to deal with and to love them wholeheartedly.
What would it take for us to love like Jesus? Who are the people we find difficult to love? So much of walking the way of Jesus is learning to love others the way that he loved people. Yes, love takes time and who has time for that? Well hate takes time, too, so what do you want to make time for?
In the Northern hemisphere, our Easter coincides with Spring. Grass that laid dormant through winter starts to green. Bare deciduous trees begin to bud and blossom. The crocus and the tulips and the daffodils burst from their hard ground in all their glory and the wildflowers spring to life, painting the landscape brilliant reds and golds, violets and greens. The animals who have slept or hidden away through the winter season, venture forth on the warmer days. Everywhere we look, the world is teeming with life! Is it any wonder that for centuries poets and hymn writers looked this seasonal cycle of death and rebirth and saw it as a metaphor for resurrection?! Consider these lines from Christina Rossetti’s Easter Carol:
Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.
Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.
Or the hymn Now the Green Blade Riseth (hymn #311 in our hymnal), which announces:
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain,
Love lives again, that with the dead has been
Live is come again like wheat that springeth green.
There is something so evocative about the world bounding back to life that reminds us not only of Christ’s resurrection but also Christ’s promise of new life to us in Him!
This last year has been a hard one for all of us. We have not been able to meet in person as a church much. We have had our lives constricted by masks, social-distancing, and travel restrictions. Some of us have faced economic hardship, personal struggles, the loss of loved ones and friends, anxiety, and depression. It has been a difficult year.
But with the changing of the season—liturgically with Easter and with the coming of Spring—we are invited to look around us for signs of life! What have you seen poking through this cold hard ground? What are you hoping to grow as you begin to tend your garden beds? What are the ways that Christ is calling out of hibernation? What are the things that are bringing you hope right now?
The church has not been dead. The work of the church has never stopped, and we have been fortunate to bless the community with our PALM Dinners, with our food bank, with blankets and masks for Marta’s house (thank you United Methodist Women!) and people in crisis through our discretionary fund. But in this season of Resurrection, may we sense together the life that Christ is calling us to and calling forth in us.
As I write these reflections, my arm is throbbing from my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. It has been a year, since COVID-19 shifted the Church’s mission to online worship—a year of contending with masks, social-distancing, sheltering-in-place, and increased travel and business constrictions. A year ago, most of us never had our groceries delivered or brought out to our cars. With the roll-out of vaccines, which several of us have now received, there is the promise of life getting back to normal, albeit a new normal. Things are not quite the way they were.
As our County numbers for COVID-19 decline, we are busy making plans for in-person worship (Starting March 7). I am excited about the prospect of gathering once more with you all, even as I grieve the elements of the communal life that are still off limits to us— coffee hour, congregational singing, holding hands and hugging one another hello. Our Palm Dinners continue as to-go meals, meeting a need for those who need a meal, but without the robust hospitality and fellowship which happens when we gather around a table. These things will follow at some point, but for the moment I am happy for the opportunity to just be together.
Throughout this pandemic, the question I keep asking our Church Council and asking the church is this: What kind of Church do you want to go back to? It is an important question to consider. COVID-19 has put certain restrictions on how we gather, but we alone get to decide to be the kind of church we want to be. What does it mean for us to be the church in Klamath Falls in this season? How will we deepen our connection with one another? How can we promote healthy community and heal the deep wounds we carry? How will we stand for justice and the hurting and vulnerable in our neighborhoods and city? What are the practices we can do which will nourish faith in God in this season?
None of these questions are new. These are the sorts of things the church has always wrestled with as it has sought to live out the message and mission of Jesus Christ in every place and in every age. But perhaps the gift of the Corona-virus closures has been its interruption of business-as-usual. We get to decide whether we want to tenaciously cling to our misty watercolor memories of the way we were or to press on together toward becoming all we can be as a church. I for one, am excited about what God has in store for us together in the days ahead!
Leroy Barber, Conference Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church, was our guest preacher. Pastor James led the music. Jean Freeman read the scripture lesson.
Worship was followed by a barbecue. Below is a link to the service.
Click on the video thumbnail above to watch. To go to full screen, click on the square in the lower right corner of the video.
Previous worship services are available on our YouTube channel (click on the link below) and on our Online Worship Services page.
GOOD NEWS! The June 13 Worship Service is now available on our website! Pastor James was able to repair the sound using the CD recording from our sound equipment.