. . .Wil’s Weekly Update
Dear First Murphy,
It’s hard to believe it, but Thanksgiving is next week, and the Sunday after that is the first Sunday of Advent! Which means Christmas is right around the corner. Yesterday, our family was sitting around together, and someone said, “The weeks just keep coming and coming.”
That feels even truer these days when our sense of time and timing is constantly disrupted by another set of updated guidelines or cancellations. The weeks do just keep coming and coming. But rather than let them get lost, what if we stepped into each week with intentionality, with purpose?
You know, one of the ways we do that during the season of Advent is lighting the candles on the Advent wreath. Each of the candles represents Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. And the candle in the middle represents Christ, the light of the world. With each one, we remember that the weeks aren’t just coming and going, but that God’s kingdom is coming, and that in each moment we can live in God’s hope, love, joy, and peace.
This year, we know that we’ll be experiencing Advent and likely Christmas Eve from home. Church is moving from the Lord’s Table to our coffee table. That means, at home, you have the chance to more deeply and intentionally enter into this season.
The same as I did at the start of all this, I want to encourage you to set up a space that serves as a worship center. We’re “hanging the greens” after worship this Sunday. Maybe you can place a few pieces of greenery on a table. Add some purple for the season of Advent. If you’re really crafty, maybe you want to make a chrismon, like those that are on the tree at church, modeled after a symbol of our faith.
We have also had a few wood workers in our church create some advent candle holders, and we bought 50 sets of advent candles. We hope we can give every one of them away! And we hope you will light the candles with us in worship each week. If you want a candle holder and set of candles, reach out to the church office, and we’ll set one aside for you.
We are also preparing an Advent Devotional book, written by members of the congregation. We are printing those and will have those available too. This will let us stay connected to God and each other, every day of the season. I’m excited about these! We even have 4 devotionals that were written by members of our Alpha youth group! We’re going to try to make these downloadable too, so you can access them online.
We’re working on a more complete Advent calendar that shows all of the opportunities we’re working on for this season, but here’s a quick snapshot:
- Weekly worship online at 11am
- Working on plans for Covid-safe Christmas Caroling!
- (Covid-conscious) Breakfast with Santa on 12/12
- Sanctuary Drop In on 12/20 from 4-8pm
- Service of Hope on 12/21 at 5:30pm
- Christmas Eve Service(s) on 12/24
A few ways to give
Let me briefly remind you that we are still receiving donations for our Christmas gift drive for students in our schools. If you’re able to share a gift that will let us buy Christmas presents for students in our school, we’d be grateful!
This Thursday there is a community take-out Thanksgiving meal at Main Street, and REACH is helping put that on. We are going to collect socks for them to give away. They need all sizes of tall, warm socks that they can give away. If you want to purchase a package or two of socks, you can drop them off at the office between Sunday and Tuesday and we’ll get those to the folks who are coordinating the meal.
With our state and county’s situation, we have stepped back from having folks join us for in-person worship. We are disappointed by that. We want to keep one another safe, more than we want to be in the same room.
We are fortunate to have a church safety team that includes practicing physicians, experts, and folks who are right on top of the most current guidelines for community organizations. We make our decisions based on our state and conference guidelines, and with the new county-by-county map we’re able to make even better informed decisions based on our local situation.
Please join in with us every way you can—stay connected in worship, join me for Sunday school on Sunday mornings at 9:45am (Special Guest appearance by Noland Smith this Sunday!). If you have a child at home, we have children’s zoom Sunday school at 10am.
I am still looking to lead House Church gatherings. If you have a sunny spot in your yard, or a large deck, you can host a House Church. We’ve tried it out a couple of times, and now we’re going to try to get word out so that anyone interested can find and join in a House Church near you.
I understand some of us may be experiencing Covid fatigue. We’re tired of the virus, and all of the ways it’s complicated even the simplest things in life as well as annual traditions like gathering for Thanksgiving. My heart is with you. I know we’re tired, frustrated, mad, sad, even despairing at times. God is with us, even, and especially in those moments. And we can dare to hope because Christ is risen.
We may be tired of the virus, but it isn’t tired of us. We love our neighbors through simple acts like the 3 W’s—waiting 6ft apart, washing our hands, and wearing a mask.
I want to encourage you to continue to do the simple practices that help keep one another safe…Let me give you a quick theology of wearing a mask. Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). And again, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
If it is a cross to you, if it is not your preference, but you take it up anyway as a way of respecting and loving your neighbor and do it with a humble heart, I all but guarantee God’s grace will make you a holier person!
This Sunday is our last Sunday in a series on Famous Last Words. I’m really looking forward to it. I hope you’ll plan on joining us for worship—either online or on air.
Do you know what the three most important words are in life? Any guesses? Maybe “I love you”? Others might be “I forgive you,” “I am sorry,” “I miss you,” “See you soon.” Or maybe: from the Health Department, “Wash your hands!”; or from the streets, “Black lives matter”; or from parents to kids, “Go to sleep.”
Those are all good words, but they are not the most important. Maybe you’ve turned in your mind to more churchy things. Something like “God is love” or “Christ is risen.” You’re getting warmer!
There is this idea of the “power of three.” Two is not enough, and four is too many. We remember groupings of three, including words. In fact, our state health department has recently been encouraging us to “Wash. Wear. Wait.” as a way of remaining vigilant against COVID-19. Just three words can have staying power, and give solid, meaningful direction.
The three most important words in life are “Jesus is Lord!” Everything we say as a church says this. Everything we do as a church points here. Jesus is Lord…of our lives, the Church, and of the entire creation. That’s a big claim! And if we mean it, it changes everything.
It means all of our life is under Jesus’ direction and discretion. And it means we recognize we don’t have the power to change the things in this world (and in our hearts) that need changing most. Jesus is Lord! He can do it! Of course, Jesus brings about change in us, and, since he is our Lord, sends us out in his name to bear witness to God’s ways even when they seem out of sync with the rest of the world.
Those three words—“Jesus is Lord!”—have disrupted towns, political systems, and the ways we think since, well, as long as we’ve been saying. And the disciples and Paul started saying it about 2000 yrs ago. But through the disruption there is always salvation.
Friends, in the tumultuous season we are in as a country, there are many good words to say, and good reason to say them (and many not-so-good words, and good reason not to say them). The most important words we can say (and live!) are “Jesus is Lord!”
I celebrate how Jesus’ Lordship in our lives (and in this church’s life) is making a difference. And, I also know Jesus is still working on all of us, that we all still have territory in our souls that we’ve yet to surrender to Jesus.
Worship in June
In June, we are still in Phase 2 of the Western NC Conference of the UMC’s re-opening plan, which includes no in-person worship. We will continue holding worship online and on air only. No groups are meeting at the church until we have enough cleaning supplies and have communicated cleaning protocols to volunteers.
If you want to serve by being someone who helps clean before/during/after on Sunday mornings, please reach out to the church office. We are making that list now, and we need your help.
Typically, when it comes to preaching and worship planning, we are a “lectionary church.” That means we follow the assigned readings for each Sunday that come from the Revised Common Lectionary—one OT reading, an epistle, and a gospel lesson…and we sneak in the Psalm from time to time.
During June, we’re departing from the lectionary in order to talk about the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). For the last little while, I’ve been talking about Sowing Hope, and how the most important seed that gets sown is the seed of faith in Christ that the Spirit implants in our hearts.
Part of the joy of planting seeds is watching them grow! Have any of your wildflower seeds started growing yet? And then after they grow, they flower. And if you have fruit bushes or trees, then the flower gives way to fruit.
In Matthew 7 Jesus says we will be known by our fruit. Each week in June we’ll take a look at one part of the fruit of the Spirit. And in the days in between each Sunday, I’ll be leading morning devotions in our Facebook group on some of the others that we don’t get to on Sunday mornings.
As we dive into the fruit of the Spirit, when you look at that list—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—which one(s) do you hope the Spirit will bring more of in your life? For which one(s) do you give thanks for already seeing in your life?
I look forward to exploring all of this with you.
Thomas Stubbs, our pastoral intern from Duke Divinity School, has been with us for a little less than a week, and has eagerly jumped in…from a distance. We were able to introduce Thomas in worship last Sunday, and he’ll begin helping in worship leadership this Sunday.
I hope you’ll find some creative ways to welcome Thomas into your lives and our community this summer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I know he’d be glad to hear from you. And throughout the summer, many of you will hear from him.
I mentioned in my sermon Sunday that what started as a sprint turned into a marathon and then an ironman triathlon, and now we’re somewhere between Springer and Katahdin on the Appalachian Trail. Thank you for your continued patience, flexibility, and generosity. We’re working hard to stay creative in ministry, to be thoroughly prepared for re-opening, and to stay in touch. Let’s keep seeking the kingdom.
Peace to you,
Dear brothers and sisters,
(*This got long. Sorry. I hope it’s all helpful!)
On Thursday, I went on Facebook Live with Kathryn Jenkins, our Administrative Council Chairperson, to share some updates on what’s been going on in the life and ministry of the church.
Typically, on the third Monday of every other month, we have an Admin Council meeting, where committees share reports on what God has been up to through their ministries. We talk about how we can serve our community. And we spend some time learning and discussing a topic that will help us grow as leaders.
Church Ministry Update
This month, we couldn’t have our regularly scheduled meeting, so we took to the internet to share some highlights. I said early on, and will keep saying (because it’s true): the church isn’t closed; we’re just getting creative. Here are a few ways we’ve been getting creative and still making ministry happen:
- The parking signs the Welcoming Committee purchased in order to designate parking for families with young children have been repurposed and are placed at Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital to designate “Park and Pray” spaces, where people can park and let the staff and patients know someone is praying for them.
- Work on the playground has begun. Many thanks to Freddy Lochaby for preparing the ground so we can keep moving forward with getting the new playground installed, and having it ready for when kids can come play on it.
- The Missions Committee has made is possible to send books to BBBS Littles at Murphy Elementary School, purchasing bread and gift cards for high risk or home bound church members, and the Sowing Hope seed packets…all of which were purchased from various local, small businesses.
- Communications has been putting in overtime helping make sure we all stay connected (like making sure this gets to your inbox and posted online!).
We also talked about what Re-Opening the church will look like. While other churches may be opening in full or in part, you may be wondering what we are doing, or why we aren’t doing the same thing others are.
The Western NC Conference (WNCC) has given guidelines to every United Methodist Church in our conference for the work and ministry of the church. Their guidelines are based both on the CDC and Scripture. We are a people who love God with our head and heart, after all.
The full document is available on our church website (www.murphyfirstumc.org/news). One highlight is that we will continue to only hold worship online and on-air through the end of June. As we approach the end of June, I expect we will get further guidance on when and how we will be instructed to re-open for in-person, indoor worship.
We are blessed to have leaders and members in our church who have professional experience in preparing and executing safety and cleaning plans for large facilities and complex operations. They are applying CDC guidelines to our spaces and gatherings, so that we have a thorough cleaning and disinfecting plan in place for when we do return.
One part of that plan we are implementing now is to clean, disinfect unused rooms and then seal off those rooms with painter’s tape. Please do not go into those rooms. If you do, please contact the church office so we can know that it needs to be cleaned again.
That means ensuring that we have enough of the right supplies. And we will also need volunteers to help with our cleaning and disinfecting plan, as well as with other new logistics that will come with the necessary changes in how we do things.
Are you a person who is passionate about helping people feel welcome and safe, and have gifts for hospitality? Please call the office. We’re working on a list of volunteers who are eager to jump in and help serve.
If you read the WNCC guidelines (and those from the CDC), you will note that it IS permissible for groups of 10 or less to meet in-person, indoors so long as they follow CDC guidelines (stay home if sick, physical distancing of 6ft or more, etc.) and no food shared or served.
That said, before we open the building back up to use for any group (our committees included), we want to make sure we have enough of the right cleaning supplies on hand in order to disinfect any space before, during, and after a group’s use, and that cleaning staff and volunteers are trained in implementing those plans.
Believe me, we want to be able to get together! We just don’t want to be in such a hurry that we don’t have in place a good plan to help keep people healthy as much as possible.
One way we are trying to be creative and work within the boundaries of the CDC and WNCC is to encourage and facilitate Home Gatherings beginning in June. This would be where smaller groups of people gather outdoors—at a person’s yard, driveway, cul-de-sac, large deck, whatever. Tune into the worship service together, then afterwards talk about what you were hearing. Or meet later in the day or week, reflect on a few guided questions. Pray together. And get creative on how you can play together and share in fellowship even while practicing physical distancing—it’s possible; I promise!
If you want to host such a gathering, or participate in one, contact the church office.
Summer Pastoral Intern
On May 30, Thomas Stubbs, our summer Pastoral Intern from Duke Divinity School will be arriving! From day 1 here, I knew that this is a great place to learn about and be in ministry. I am excited for Thomas to get to experience that for 10 weeks this summer.
A family in our church has graciously agreed to let Thomas stay in their mountain home while they are away in their primary residence this summer. Thomas will be engaging in ministry to the same extent I am—a lot of video calls, notes, and online worship.
I can’t wait for you to get to know Thomas, and for him to get to know you. Please look out for opportunities to meet him—a combination of Zoom meetings, Facebook Live videos, and (I hope) outdoor home gatherings.
Please begin praying for Thomas and his summer with us now. And, I hope you will share with him the same hospitality you extended to me, Lea, and Nathanael—whenever possible/permissible, take him for a boat ride, go for a hike, and, one day, share a meal ☺
I know this was long. My fingers just might be as tired of typing as your eyes are of reading! Thank you for hanging in there with me.
And thank you for your continued patience and flexibility, and the eagerness with which so many of you are reaching out and generously offering help to others in need. I’m humbled and proud to be serving in ministry with you.
Each week, I’m bringing you an update—by email, Facebook live, and One Call—to help keep us connected and in the loop. We know the One Call system has been a little glitchy for some. We’re sorry about that, and, while we’re not sure why, we’re trying to figure it out. If you know someone who might not be getting this information, would you please help us get it to them?
As you know, North Carolina is entering Phase 1 of Re-Opening plan. I encourage you, if you are not already, to stay tuned in to the guidelines that come from our Governor and State Health Department, as well as our county health department. While entering that means some changes for local businesses, what we are doing as a church will remain the same.
Worship will continue online and on-air on our church’s YouTube channel and WKRK on Sunday mornings at 11am. The church office remains closed except to those who are counting money on Tuesday. All groups are encouraged to stay connected through Zoom meetings, a phone tree, or whatever way your group and leader determine. The church is cleaned twice a week.
As our state progresses through Phases 2 and eventually 3, what we do as a church will also change. Your church leaders and I have been in conversation and are working on a phased re-opening plan that we will communicate with you as soon as we are able. I just got off a video call with other pastors in the Smokey Mountain District of our Western NC Conference that included guidelines from our conference officials for resuming in-person worship. We will process that information, and map out Murphy FUMC’s plan in accordance to those guidelines.
In all our plans, we aren’t winging it or making best guesses. We’re making decisions based on facts and guidelines from the governor’s office, health departments, and our conference leaders. We are going to do as much as we can; we’re going to be creative; and we’re going to make sure whatever we do, we keep loving God and our neighbors, and keep each other and our community healthy and safe. After all, the first rule of discipleship in The UMC is Do No Harm.
So, plan on joining us in worship this Sunday morning at 11am on YouTube. Invite a friend to tune in too. Send them the link. Now’s a great time to visit FUMC!
Now, I want to take some time to celebrate a few things. I want to celebrate a few ways your incredible generosity is continuing to make ministry happen in our community and around the world in the midst of this health pandemic:
- Provided meals for food-insecure Murphy High School students during spring break
- Financial gift to UMAR House in Hayesville for developmentally disabled adults
- Encouraging signs for employees at Erlanger Western Carolina
And here are three new ways we are working to bless our community:
- COVID-19 Relief Fund – this is available to church members and employees of church members who need a little financial help in this season
- Grace to Go – Buying gift cards and baked goods from downtown restaurants and delivering them to church members
- Books for Kids – Buying books for every Murphy Elementary Student in Big Brothers Big Sisters from the Curiosity Shop (that’s 31 students—3 books for K-3rd and 2 books for 4th-5th)
All of these are ways that you are helping sow hope during this season.
Some of you have already received a special mailing from the church, and for others, if you’re on the mailing list, you should have a surprise coming in the next day or so that connects to this idea of sowing hope. I’ll say a little more on that Sunday!
I want you to know you are helping sow hope every time you call someone just to check on them, or write a note, or share an offering with the church, or sew a mask.
How else might we sow hope together? How might we sow more hope?
2 last invitations:
- I still have a few more Zoom “home gatherings” scheduled and am adding 2 more: Tuesday 5/12 at 6pm and Sunday 5/17 at 3pm. I hope you’ll join me.
- The Friendship House, our homeless shelter, is in need of volunteers to be at the House each day from 4:30pm to 9:30pm. If you and a partner—a spouse or friend—can do that, please let me know. They could really use some help at this moment.
I’m proud to serve as your pastor. I’m grateful for your patience and flexibility. I’m thankful for your prayers and want you to know you are in mine as well. I miss you.
Romans 5:5 says, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” And the fruit of that seed is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I’ll see you Sunday. The Lord bless you and keep you.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I don’t know if everyone felt this way—some of you did, I know, because you let me know—but Easter was one I’ll never forget. Not because it was the first Easter service I led in a sanctuary almost all by myself, but because of the ways you stretched yourselves to make sure you were part of the celebration.
You all brought by so many flowers that on Easter morning, Marji filled the cross—front and back, all around, and then had more left over! Suzanne and others said that’s the fullest they’ve ever seen it!
And I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what a typical Easter attendance and offering looks like, but this Easter we’ve already had over 360 views (representing even more people) and you generously gave more than double a usual offering!
There is enough to go around and even more spilling over.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is when the 5000 people gather and it’s meal time but all anyone has is a boy with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. After he looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God, he had his disciples distribute it among the crowd, and there was enough left over to fill 12 baskets full!
But part of what Jesus is teaching us is that Christians don’t operate out of a theology or worldview of scarcity, but of abundance. That there is more than enough. Another great New Testament story in Acts says that when the disciples came together, each shared with the other, so that no one had need.
God takes what we offer and does more than we could imagine!
I’ve heard some people say that even though Easter was 2 days ago, we are still living in an extended Lent—doing without, living in imposed solitude and silence. I’ve seen other people jokingly say, “No we’re not living in the season of Lent; this is the new church season of ‘Coronatide’.”
Well, it might feel like it, but we are neither in Lent nor Coronatide. It is Easter season. Where God’s people have seen the risen Lord and begin lengthening their stride, and stretching their faith as they trust God more and more—with their heart, their words, their work, and their resources. Thank you, for being God’s Easter people!
All of the indicators, from health professionals and officials, show that we’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to the novel coronavirus. People are still getting sick and some are dying. People are still out of work. Students are still at home. And the economy is taking a hit. In a lot of ways, we are still in relief mode, anticipating recovery.
It feels like an emotional marathon that doesn’t seem to end. God knew that after Easter, even though all the rules changed and everything was becoming new—mercy / judgement; love / hate—there’s still a long row to hoe. That’s why God gave us Christ’s Spirit of steadfast faithfulness, patience, and hope.
Ok, you aren’t tuning in for another sermon…sorry.
What’s happening at FUMC. We are still under the guidelines of the Governor’s orders and Health Department directives, and will be until restrictions are lifted. So for the time being, worship will still be online and aired on WKRK, and groups will be in touch through Zoom or phone trees or whatever your leader works out.
For worship this Sunday, we have a guest preacher, Bishop Paul Leeland! Now, he won’t be with us in person. He and other conference leaders prepared a worship service that they shared with the Western NC Annual Conference. This Sunday, instead of streaming our service, that will be our worship service. It will be available on our website and broadcast over WKRK. At 11am this coming Sunday, I’ll be at the house, joining you online, and worshipping with my family.
Among other things, this will give a break to our worship leaders and helpers who’ve been working double and triple time especially this last week. Plus you’ll get to hear some good preaching!
Then we’ll be back into things after that.
We’re continuing to take a look at and re-evaluate spring and summer plans based on what we are able to do. So please keep hanging in with us.
If you need help in any way, please reach out to the church office—whether that’s with errands, or some financial relief, or just needing someone to talk with—please call.
And if from where you are in the community, you see a way we can serve and be the Church for our neighbors, we want to hear from you on that too.
I’m grateful to be serving alongside you!
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
. . .regarding the 2020 General Conference and the Protocol
Dear First Murphy,
You may have seen in the news yesterday headlines announcing that UMC leaders have formulated a plan for a split. Headlines don’t have the luxury of telling the whole story, only enough to get you to click and follow the link. The reality of yesterday’s announcement from the United Methodist Council of Bishops is more nuanced and hopeful than a click-bate headline would make you think.
As you know from our conversations and my blog posts around our denomination’s Special Session of General Conference in February 2019, the UMC has been stuck at an impasse when it comes to convictions around human sexuality. The adoption of the Traditional Plan at GC2019 only heightened the tension and unrest in the denomination.
Several plans have already been submitted to our next General Conference, meeting May 5-15, 2020. The one released yesterday is the only one with such broad and unanimous agreement from a remarkably diverse group.
To give more insight as to what the Protocol could mean (there are still steps that would have to happen for it to be reality), I am including a few links below, and encourage you to read them in the order listed. The FAQ page is especially helpful.
Before following the links below, please take a minute to read this message from our area Bishop, Rev. Paul Leeland.
I also encourage you to depend on news coming from UM News, our denominations official news source. Their reporting is in service to Christ and the Church, and will be more accurate than any other news outlet.
Here is one quick takeaway, from my perspective: Achieving unanimous consensus on such a significant proposal required much negotiation, sacrifice, and compromise, which only comes from humility, selflessness, and love for Christ and one’s sister/brother more than oneself (even when we disagree).
I have read and reread the Protocol and FAQ page, and my sense is that the work was undertaken with both grief and hope, and much prayer. Separation within the Body of Christ, no matter how amicable, is grievous to our Lord who continually prays that we might all be one (Jn. 17:21). Yet this suggested Protocol might be the most viable pathway forward for our beloved denomination.
As I’ve said at other times, whatever the future holds for the UMC, we have ministry to do here today and tomorrow and the next day. Who we are and our mission in Christ remains the same. We will continue this conversation as a congregation in the coming months. As Bishop Leeland urges, “Reflect rather than react. Be prayerful for the church.”
Links to Articles and Resources
Full Text for the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation