June blessings! For the state of the church update this week, let me begin by sharing familiar and beloved words from the Book of Micah, chapter 6, verses 6 through 8. Though I share these words from the New Revised Standard Version, I am speaking them in the plural, instead of the singular tense.
“With what shall we come before the Lord,
and bow ourselves before God on high?
Shall we come before God with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall we give our firstborns for our transgressions,
the fruit of our bodies for the sins of our souls?”
8 God has told us, O mortals, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of us
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with our God?
How the end of verse 8 echoes, as it sounds into the events of our world today! Tensions and anger and fear and pain scream across news sources and in our streets. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery—their deaths have horrified so many, and woken many to the very real, very deadly sin of racism in our world, our nation, our communities, even our churches. One African American parent shared in panic and tears on a social media post that she didn’t know how to protect her beautiful black son. She had instructed him repeatedly in how to respond when he is one day stopped by police (and she was sure this would happen). She had reminded him again and again to be respectful, to follow instructions, to remain calm. George Floyd did everything right. Breonna Taylor was asleep in her bed. If these can be killed for doing everything right, for sleeping in their own bed, what can she do to protect her son?! Is it no wonder there is pain and fear and outrage?
As United Methodists we stand in a long line of justice workers. Now more than ever, we must listen to the stories of those experiencing injustice, learn about the deep and enduring nature of that injustice—in this case systemic racism and white privilege—and then act together, following the lead of those who are targeted by hatred and violence, to bring change. This is long, hard, painful work. It requires dedication and endurance. But it is the work of God, to live into God’s dream of Beloved Community.
United Methodists affirm the right to peacefully protest, and we denounce the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protestors. We abhor the violence visited upon these protestors, the clergy and congregations ministering to them, medical staff providing assistance, and reporters covering the events. As Rev. Tracy Blackmon stated in her sermon—which I will share with you Wednesday—we must keep those most in need at the center of our ministry. In this case, our black and brown family in God.
The St. Paul’s church family has entered phase 1 in our ‘finding a new normal’ for worship and ministry. This phase is centered on bringing more worship leaders into the service live on Sunday mornings. It was a joy to welcome Pastor Debbie in worship last Sunday! This Sunday she and I are joined by our organist, Caleb Bates, and lay reader, Cynthia Lunine. Because of the risk for infection that comes from singing, Emily Preston, our choir director, will continue to record hymns and anthems for the service from the safety of her home, and the homes of the guest musicians she recruits.
Our planning team is working with staff on what will be phase 2 of our ‘finding a new normal.’ This will entail small Holy Communion services for 10 people, held several times a week. The services will be very simple: prayer, scripture, communion liturgy, and the taking of Communion together. The Communion elements of juice and wafer are in sealed packets to prevent the spread of contaminants. Blessed elements with worship cards will be available for pick up or delivery for those who need to remain home at this time. And we encourage all our beloved church family to do what is best for them. Cynthia Lunine, our chairperson of Trustees, has been working diligently to create a plan for safely welcoming our beloved family into our church facility that also helps us find the sacred in this new and difficult world. She has a small team to assist her: Paul Jennette, Director of Biocontainment Operations for Cornell University; Tim Lillard, Registered Nurse with Cayuga Medical Center; and Michelle Eells, our Coordinator of Administrative Ministries, which includes our beautiful building. We will share more once we can safely put dates on the calendar as we watch the unfolding of phase 2 of our state’s restart plan.
As we seek a new normal for worship and ministry in this time of two pandemics, the invisible and frightening coronavirus and the plague of racism across our nation and world, we are creating new opportunities to seek to be God’s Beloved Community, to connect with and through the Spirit, to act with compassion and to work for justice. Check out our webpage for information about Pastor Debbie’s upcoming book study on Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ. Note in Friday’s email the announcement about starting the six week Imagine No Racism class, and book studies on Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility:Why It is so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism? and the novel by Zora Heale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
What does the Lord require of us? It is to do justice. It is to love kindness, to love mercy. It is to walk humbly—in all humility—with our God. Amen.