May 31 Reflection below
THIS WEEK (Twelve) of pandemic restrictions
MON June 1 Ministry & Oversight Zoom meeting, 7:00 PM
WED June 3 –Intercession Salad supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage
SUN June 7 –No gathering for worship or Sunday School
–M&O requests that you sit together with family in worship where you live, 10-11 AM;
if possible, join the 10:00 AM Zoom meeting for worship-sharing by computer or phone
BULLETIN BOARD for JUNE 2 (after Sunday May 31), 2020
CORONAVIRUS IMPACTS/RESPONSES: The Ministry & Oversight met by video-conference on June 1 to discuss the current status of the pandemic and to discern God’s leading for Winchester Friends’ ministries and services in the coming weeks. All agreed that we deeply miss the opportunity to be together in the same place for worship, music, instruction, and fellowship. They began by considering COVID statistical trends, reviewing the Indiana governor’s reopening guidelines, discussing our Meeting’s unique demographics (ages, health, etc.), and hearing how other area organizations and businesses are proceeding towards reopening.
They also spent significant time looking through health and insurance authorities’ checklists of recommended measures for preventing infection when in-person gatherings resume (facemasks, hand sanitizers, body temperature checks, symptom surveys, controlled entrances and exits, elimination of contact greetings, distanced seating, limited if any singing, sanitizing of all touched surfaces, elimination of refreshments, etc.). And they discussed the equipment and technical upgrades that would be needed to broadcast in-person services to the internet for Friends who feel they cannot attend.
At the end of that discussion, the sense of M&O’s meeting was that Winchester Friends should begin taking thoughtful steps to put many of those measures in place while, out of caution for our older Friends, continuing to hold online meetings for worship-sharing (utilizing Zoom video/phone conferencing) at 10:00 AM each Sunday. M&O will meet again on June 16 to reassess the situation and consider possible dates for resuming in-person services in the meetinghouse.
Friends are welcome to forward the Zoom invitation email to friends to invite them to join us in online worship.
EARLY-JUNE BIRTHDAYS/ANNIVERSARIES: 4- Val Pearson; 5- Ellen Craig, Michele Lilly, Rob Pearson; 9- Tom Knoll; 11- Judy & Keith Kendall; 12- Sharon & Terry Reynard; 14- Marsha & Tony Kritsch, Deborah Lilly
THE MAY AND JUNE FRIENDLY REMINDER newsletters will be combined into one issue, hopefully to be distributed soon. If you have announcements or news to share with Friends, please send it to the church office.
124 E Washington Winchester IN 47394 765-584-8276
May 31 Reflection
Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me…. I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let Your face shine on Your servant; save me in Your unfailing love.
Back to the Future
Tomorrow begins Week Twelve of America’s COVID-19 pandemic response. People’s patience is wearing increasingly thin for the “stay at home” restrictions needed to curb the virus’ spread. Business interests — painfully aware of the damage being done to our consumption-driven economy so long as people are not out living their “normal” lives (driving, shopping, dining, being entertained, vacationing, etc.) — have pressed for accelerated relaxation of pandemic restrictions to allow people to resume their usual economic activities. At the same time, public health and medical experts are cautioning against loosening restrictions prematurely because they have noted new infection outbreaks in places that reopened too quickly.
For the past few weeks, government agencies have been issuing reopening guidelines for schools, businesses, sports and other entertainment enterprises, houses of worship, and just about every other activity involving groups of people. They are finding that there is no one-size-fits-all protocol for this huge nation and its diverse economy. Indiana currently is in the third of its five stages of reopening and is set to proceed to stage four on June 14. Church gatherings were allowed to resume in stage two, but with three pages of strongly-recommended limitations. Many churches have chosen to continue meeting electronically throughout May to reduce the risk of infecting attenders, especially the older ones who seem to be the majority of many congregations.
Last week, Christianity Today magazine issued an article giving churches seven pages of reopening recommendations. The author’s bottom-line advice – don’t resume meeting until it is cleared by state and local authorities, then “follow the strictest guidelines” to keep everyone safe. Those guidelines include consultation with the church’s insurer; use only one entry door and one different exit door; discourage people over age 65 from attending; delay resumption of kids’ activities; check each attender’s body temperature at the entry door and ask a set of symptom-screening questions covering their past seven days; eliminate handshakes, hugs, and all other contact greetings; maintain a six-foot distance between people at all times; provide and wear facemasks; deploy hand sanitizer in multiple locations; eliminate or severely restrict singing; have attenders drop offerings into a stationary plate or box, rather than passing plates; eliminate coffee and refreshments; frequently sanitize everything that people touch; and on and on. It turns out “getting back to where we used to be” may be more than a matter of simply showing up.
All that got me to thinking about Back to the Future, a 1985 movie about a teenage guy and an eccentric scientist who stumble into a time machine that enables them to travel back in time 30 years to “repair history” and then return to 1985 with a new and improved reality. While revisiting 1955, they work to influence people to make different choices and decisions that eventuate in much better lives and social circumstances thirty years later. The movie imagines a “cosmic do-over,” something like being able to go back to mid-2019 and “repair history” by persuading the first human infected with COVID-19 not to do whatever s/he did that led to exposure, infection, spread, and global pandemic. Unfortunately, no one has ever figured out how to undo what has been done. The best we can do is learn from our (and humanity’s) missteps, determine not to repeat them, repair the damage that can be repaired, and rejoin the journey through time from that new (old) place.
Something like that happened near the end of the Old Testament period of history. After two hundred years of apostasy, idolatry, and ignoring of God’s warnings through his prophets, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC and dragged into captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah held out for another 130 years, but their unfaithfulness eventually led to their conquest in 586 BC by the Babylonians, the utter destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and the exile of much of the Hebrew population to Babylon. The stories of Daniel and Esther take place in Babylon and Persia during the next century or so of Judah’s exile. After Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC, their king Cyrus was led by God to allow groups of Hebrews to return to Jerusalem in 537 BC with instructions and provisions to rebuild the Temple. They managed to rebuild the altar in 537 and to begin work on the Temple in 536, but local non-Hebrew opposition arose and shut down work for the next 16 years. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah in 520 BC persuaded the exiles in Jerusalem to resume working, but local opposition again quickly stopped them. Only after a new king (Darius) came to power in Persia and reviewed the records did he determine that the Temple should have been completed long before. He ordered the project restarted in 520 BC, and it was completed in 516 BC. The returned exiles and resident Judeans joyfully dedicated the Temple and celebrated Passover there for the first time in a very long time.
Ezra’s record then skips forward 58 years to 458 BC during the reign of Artaxerxes in Persia. The king commissioned him to go as a priest and teacher with an entourage to Jerusalem to reconstitute the faith community and religious life of the new Temple. After their safe trek of four months, they arrived to find that the residents of Judea were repeating the sins, primarily intermarriage with idol-worshiping non-Hebrews, that led to the Exile 130 years earlier. Ezra immediately led them in repentance, reform, and renewal of their covenant with God. About 12 years later, Nehemiah (a Hebrew exile serving in Artaxerxes’ court in Persia) learned from a traveler that Jerusalem and the Temple were still extremely vulnerable to attack because the city wall had never been rebuilt after its destruction. Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s request to travel to Jerusalem to repair the wall, and he also provided building materials and other provisions for the job. Once there, Nehemiah experienced opposition similar to that the Temple builders had faced, but through wise leadership and God’s help, the wall was rebuilt in 52 days.
Both Ezra and Nehemiah are best known for their roles in leading Israelites back to Jerusalem after 100+ years of Babylonian/Persian exile to reconstitute and educate the faith community and rebuild structures necessary for the well-being and functioning of Jerusalem and the Temple. In a sense, they were returning to where the story got interrupted in order to make the necessary repairs and resume its movement towards God’s objective. One could think of reopening a church for in-person meetings for worship in those same terms. Ezra and Nehemiah can give us some pointers for that work that even the governor and health department haven’t listed.
Spiritual Motivation When Cyrus sent the first group to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the Temple, he invited “those whose heart God has moved” (Ezra 1:5). Nehemiah fasted and prayed before seeking Artaxerxes’ permission to go rebuild the wall (Neh.1:4-10). Our motivation for reopening church needs to be not nostalgia, not boredom with quarantine, not a new project, but a deep longing for experiencing the presence of God in the company of others. When that first group of returnees arrived in Jerusalem, the first thing they did was rebuild the altar, the place of seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness and blessing. The fellowship hall would come later.
Full Participation, Daily Gratitude When they built that altar, Ezra reports that “the people assembled as one man” (3:1). Everyone pitched in and did what they could. Ezra would not undertake the assignment alone; he knew he would need the help of many others (7:7; 8:15-20). Nehemiah likewise divided up the wall-building and put everyone to work who was willing. Reopening after this COVID disruption will require all of us. And after sacrifices were made on their new altar, they laid the foundation for the Temple, then had a celebration (3:10-13) long before the building was completed. They gave thanks to God with every step of progress. So should we.
Patience and Perseverance As soon as the Temple project began taking shape, opposition arose (Ezra 4). Over a period of twenty years, people who loved their own power more than God did everything they could to sabotage the work on the Temple. Half of Nehemiah’s workers had to stand guard while the others worked (Neh. 4) Both construction efforts were risky and discouraging, with numerous stops and starts. Recovery from this pandemic disruption will undoubtedly be the same. We must expect difficulties, and we will need patience and perseverance like that of the Temple builders to deal with the stops and starts, the uncertainties that lie ahead of us.
Teaching the New Covenant When Ezra arrived on the scene, the building was complete, but he found the people in spiritual disarray. Ezra led the people in mourning and confession over their disobedience to God regarding marriage. He taught them the truth about their covenant with God and helped them to renew it. He helped them figure out a difficult but compassionate way of righting their wrongs and living in a new way. Nehemiah went to build a wall, but he ended up relieving hunger and stopping economic injustice against the poor (Neh 5), leading a renewal of God’s covenant (Neh. 10), restoring sabbath, and removing pretenders from the Temple (Neh. 13). Returning to in-person meetings for worship should be an opportunity to teach and renew our covenant of grace and truth with Christ, to end compromises that dishonor God, and to restore the principle of sabbath to our souls.
We are not like Ezra going back 100 years to resume a way of worship – it’s more like 100 days. There sometimes is subtle pressure (regarding this question of returning to in-person meetings) to do whatever other churches are doing. In John 21, as Jesus was speaking to Peter about the way he would die, John walked by. Peter asked Jesus, “What about him?” In the King James Bible, Jesus’ answer is given as “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” We will do well if we can keep “be like Christ” as our guiding thought, not “be like us” or “be like them.” Like Ezra, we can trust that “the hand of the Lord will be upon us.”
Ron Ferguson, 30 May 2020
Queries for Reflection and Worship-Sharing
1) What have you missed most about meeting in-person for worship and for doing Christ’s work together?
2) What are your greatest hesitations or fears about returning to in-person worship services in the meetinghouse?
3) If God was instructing us to teach his law and renew his covenant when our building reopens for services, what specifically would you choose to begin teaching? What do you think God might want to change about us?
4) Do you think the principle of Sabbath and gathering regularly for worship with other Friends will have greater priority and importance after the COVID hiatus than it had before?
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” ….Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
Winchester Friends Church firstname.lastname@example.org
124 E Washington Winchester IN 47394 765-584-8276