Greetings to Our Sedona UMC Family & Friends,

If there was a class in seminary that taught us “How to be a Pastor During a Pandemic”, I must have missed that one. When it became very apparent that COVID-19 was a serious and dangerous threat to our communities and people, I tried to find all the research I could on how to best react and help keep this congregation safe and yet actively engaging in missions and ministries. I quickly found there were no “how to” books on the subject.

This was new ground for pastors, church leaders, and congregants throughout the entire country. There simply were no experts in dealing with something so totally unknown and disruptive to every-day life—look at the many differing opinions from the “experts”. Add to that, this disruption that came at what many would believe was the worst of all times in the church year, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. How could this be possible?

When we made the decision to close our buildings back in March, I could not have imagined we would be heading into June with the buildings still locked up tight. And many questions surface, “With churches closed, how can they minister in their communities when their communities need them the most?” It is important to remember, as I have said from the beginning of this outbreak—The building may be closed, but the church is certainly still open.

The church is a body of believers, and not a building. If the only mission of the church is to gather in a place, then I believe we miss the main point of being the church. Scripture certainly points to the importance of gathering together as community for times of worship, study, fellowship and growth opportunities, that’s how we grow and recharge—But Jesus most certainly and emphatically said to “go and make disciples,” and that happens out there, outside of our four walls!

Believe you me, we are all anticipating the day in which we will have the opportunity to gather together (at the right time) to worship, fellowship, and celebrate the ways in which God is working through all of us, and allowing for our growth in being the hands and feet of Jesus, even in, especially in this time. While I certainly do not believe God sent this virus upon us, I do believe that God has and will continue to take this terrible pandemic and glorify himself for good through our actions!

So many positives have come out of this time—We have improved our technological capabilities reaching so many of our church family in other towns, states, and even countries. Many who are una-ble to attend for a variety of reasons can now be a part of our worship and studies. Some who do not regularly attend or have a faith community they call home are now attending services every week. People are picking up the phone, writing emails, and letters contacting those who they have really meant to contact but have just been too busy. Pray time, scripture reading, and times of devotions have increased for many. I sense a renewed kindness, love and concern for neighbors returning to our communities. And many in the times of quiet, have discovered/rediscovered their relation-ship and dependence upon Jesus Christ.

Am I ready to reunite with this amazing church family and community? YES I AM! We are working fervently on plans for this to happen when the time is right! But my heartfelt prayer is that the lessons we have learned amid the chaos will remain with us long after the virus subsides. God reassures and gives us this promise in Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (or it), for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” God has certainly been very faithful in walking with us (at times carrying us) through this uncertainty and fear. And I have faith from the core of my very being that God will continue to lead, guide, protect, and keep us today—and all our days into the future.

I love you all, I am praying for you all, and look forward to seeing you all very soon!

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Fred