Greetings friends of Paxtonville UMC.
The local and national news is abuzz with a number of things. As of yesterday, May 22nd, Governor Wolf announced that our county, Snyder, will move to Green Phase on May 29th. President Donald Trump also stated to interviewers that places of worship were essential and ought to start opening up. In light of these happenings, let me share important information regarding PUMC’s plan to reopen.
Attached to this message is the formal and approved plan for PUMC to open up. This was written two weeks ago, approved at the beginning of this week, and many copies are currently in the mail to members of the church. Based on the governor’s announcement, a few pieces may feel “out of date;” however, all of the primary guidelines will still be the steps we use to move toward worshiping together again. The primary thing I’d like to emphasize is that, even in light of these newest announcements, our first worship gathering at PUMC in-person is scheduled for Sunday, June 7th, 2020. Let me address one question for the time being. Q: If we are allowed to open sooner, why wait?
I have been reminded by looking at many scriptures that there is holiness to be found by not rushing. It is OK to pause, step back, take a breath, and take your time. Consider the story of Jesus when one of his best friends Lazarus died (John 11). For you and me, we would probably rush out immediately, want to be with family and grieve, or…if we could do miracles like Jesus…run over ASAP to bring Lazarus back from death. But, very strangely, Jesus doesn’t rush. Verse 6 specifically says that Jesus “stayed where he was for two more days,” and by the time he arrived at Lazarus’ tomb, Lazarus had been buried for four days (11:39). What does this mean? Among other things, God was still ready and capable of performing one of the most powerful miracles in all of the New Testament even half a week later. Jesus didn’t need to rush the miracle to follow God’s will. In the same way, I think there is holiness in not opening the church doors immediately when Snyder County goes “green,” using the time to make sure we are safely prepared, and I’m excited to see that the miracles God will do will not be any less for waiting another week. Maybe, the miracle will be even greater as a result.
Likewise I’m reminded of the books Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament, both books which talk about God’s people returning to Jerusalem after living in Babylonian Exile. I won’t spoil these books too much, since I plan to preach on them over the summer when we return together. Yet, what sticks with me is the fact that, even after given permission to return to God’s City in Jerusalem, the exiles do so slowly, over time. There are actually three waves of people returning over the course of decades: wave one helps rebuild the temple (Ezra 1-6), another wave to help the people reclaim devotion to God (Ezra 7-10), and another wave to begin rebuilding the city walls (Nehemiah 1-6).
So much to say, I am confident in the power of God to work through the crazy and challenging times we’ve faced over the last two months. I’m confident in the power of God to work through church buildings that are opening sooner. I’m confident in the power of God to work through congregations who choose to walk at a slower pace. I’m confident in the power of God to work in churches with thorough plans or light plans. I’m confident in the power of God to work miracles and faith no matter what the situation is. Because, at the end of the day, God’s power, in Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, is what will be accomplishing the great things. So, no matter where you find yourself, wanting to move quickly or slowly, part of a church returning now or later, excited, disappointed, worried, or anywhere in between, I encourage all of us to take a breath and trust in the power of God to work in all of those situations.
If you have any questions about PUMC’s guidelines, please don’t hesitate to reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Blessings, Pastor Ryan