UPDATE FROM AUGUST 19, 2020
Are We in the Middle of a Great Awakening?
I went to a Disciples of Christ seminary called Brite Divinity School. In one of the classes, we were talking about The Great Awakenings, and the class pondered if we were about to experience another one across the country. That was fifteen years ago, and things have shifted significantly since then! I thought that there had only been two Great Awakenings, but my quick internet search to refresh my memory, it turns out we may have already had four of them across the United States. These are revivals that happen when a culture shift happens and people remember that they need to turn back to God. The First Great Awakening actually birthed the Methodist Movement. It was born during a time when social unrest was happening in the colonies, right before the American Revolution, and at a time when the church procedures had become stale. The push by Wesley to allow preaching where the people were, like the fields, really took off. The Second Great Awakening happened before the Civil War and probably contributed to it because there was a theme of abolition that ran throughout the movement.
We are in the middle of a culture shift and shifts are really uncomfortable! I think most of my adult life has been in the middle of this shift, but it has definitely changed dramatically in the past year. The thing about culture shifts or Great Awakenings to remember is that something new comes out of the shift. We find new ways to connect with each other and to God. Eventually, the shift ends and we have a new normal that we all grow into. I suspect we are going to find lots of new ways to help others connect to God as this pandemic goes on and our society adjusts to this new way of being.
I joined a Zoom call with other youth and family ministry directors to discuss the new ways we are all discovering to connect with our flock. It was great to have a little time together to share ideas and struggles with each other. I keep hearing how we are “all in this together” during the pandemic, and we truly are, so I appreciate every chance to connect with others and share ideas about how to be in contact with all of you.
Please know that we are praying for you, and I hope you are praying for your church and staff. None of this is easy, but we are here for you. Also, if you see a neat ministry opportunity out there, please feel free to share it with us. God makes all things new, and I am very curious to see what is birthed out of all of this change.
UPDATE FROM AUGUST 12, 2020
Back To School Time
We just finished the Tax Free Weekend, and by most reports, shopping looked different than in previous years. Since the start of the Tax Free Weekend, retailers have seen good crowds who are drawn in to save a little money on tax and take advantage of the sales on much needed items. This year, the reports from retailers are that it was a typical weekend in the middle of Covid. I know personally, on my end, there isn’t a huge rush for me to buy supplies since our school doesn’t start until September. I usually take this time to buy a little extra for whatever school we are supporting, but this year, the immediate need is our own weekday school. Grace Weekday is in need of supplies, and we can help them out. You can find their wish list here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0549aaa92ba2fb6-school1
Instead of doing our traditional blessing of the backpacks, we will have a Blessing of the Devices on Sunday, September 6. We will pray over students, teachers, and staff, and I hope you will join me in starting to pray for everyone to return to school safely.
I am happy to report that we had 22 children involved in Vacation Bible School during the live sessions and another five that participated by watching the videos and doing the craft kits on their own. Everyone had a great time, and I am working on a video that we can share in worship.
UPDATE FROM AUGUST 5, 2020
Virtual Vacation Bible School
Vacation Bible School is going well. We have 22 officially registered, and about five students who can’t participate this week but received a kit! (The neat thing about electronic things is that they can watch the videos later!) Instead of meeting in person, we have participants joining us from their living room in Ohio, San Antonio, Round Rock, Gonzales, and Houston. Each night, we have a live Zoom call with Captain Shield and Flame, the Red Panda, and enjoy singing the Vacation Bible School songs. You may have seen the VBS videos each day on Facebook, and you are encouraged to watch those so that you can see the participation of some of our families.
One of the stories for VBS is the story of Pentecost. God sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to enable people to speak and understand each other, even if they spoke different languages. The Holy Spirit continues to speak through scripture for each new generation. Have you ever read a passage or heard a sermon on a familiar piece of scripture that was said in a way that helped you learn something from it again? That’s the Holy Spirit at work. Scriptures have continued to be understood differently throughout generations, and what’s neat is that the Holy Spirit is working electronically now! God is using this new medium to help us share the Gospel in ways we only dreamed about a few years ago.
Pray for the kids and their families. Pray that God works through this electronic medium. Pray that they hear that God loves them no matter what. Pray that they learn that they can make a difference in the world now. Pray that they know they can be God’s heroes.
UPDATE FROM JULY 22, 2020
This weekend, we held Grace’s birthday party via zoom. I have to admit I was a little nervous. I am a perfectionist, so I kept wondering and worrying with many questions. “Did I do enough?” “Will they like the crafts and treats?” “How do I keep kids occupied for an hour when we aren’t in person?” And even during and after the event, that seemed enjoyed by many, I continued to wonder if I did enough or if they enjoyed it. You can usually tell in person by the way children interact with the activities, but the kids at the party seemed quietly engaged in the activities. I checked in with a few friends after and found out that the kids did enjoy them.
We are about to do something very new and host VBS online. It will be different. But, like I found out from the party, it is something to look forward to, some new craft and activity packs to put together, and a little bit of social interaction. A little bit goes a long way.
I hope you will encourage the children in your life to attend. If the children in your life are all grown, I encourage you to pray for the children that will attend VBS. I also encourage you to pick up a pack of plastic sandwich baggies. The children will be decorating lunch bags for Kids Meals, a local group that brings lunches to children in need who are not yet school age, and they use a lot of sandwich bags during the year. They are asking for donations of plastic sandwich bags, and we can contribute that. If you are able to pick up some plastic sandwich bags on a grocery run, please bring them to the church when you do our drive through communion on August 2nd.
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed right now with how odd everything is, but taking the time to check in with a friend or neighbor will help both of you feel better. Little things like caring for others through letter writing, mission projects, and prayer will go a long way to show others how much we care.
UPDATE FROM JULY 8, 2020
They are easy to plant, harder to keep alive. (Maybe that’s just me.) You have to make sure they are in the right soil, have enough, but not too much sun. Enough, but not too much water. You also have to make sure that they are safe from predators if you actually want to harvest some of what you sow.
This Sunday, we will look at the Parable of the Sower, especially in light of the changes that Covid-19 has brought. Without people around, nature is filling the void, and there have been reports of wild boars roaming streets, goats eating trees at schools, and even adorable tours of the aquarium by a rookery of penguins. Humans, confined at home and looking for something to do, have taken to gardening with their free time.
Without our normal means of worship and gathering, how are seeds of faith being planted, cultivated, and harvested? Intentionality has to be applied right now to maintain contacts, relationships, and time with God. Yes, we can still worship God, but things are different.
Remember that if you want to encounter members of our community on Sunday, you can join us for a few minutes of fellowship during our Coffee Hour before the service.
Calling all Heroes!
We are having Virtual Vacation Bible School, August 2-6. VBS will include live Zoom chats starting at 6pm, a craft box, and videos that demonstrate science and craft lessons. We are asking each family to contribute $25 to cover the cost of the supplies. You can register your family for VBS here: https://forms.gle/3XPF7us7s4DhwEtb7
We also need volunteers! Volunteers are needed to record videos, at their house or at the church, of the science experiments, craft lessons, and Bible stories. If you would like to record one or more lessons, please contact Mary Gossett to volunteer.
We are making some special t-shirts for Vacation Bible School, but since everyone can be a Grace Hero, you don't have to participate in VBS to get a shirt. Shirts are $15 each, but we need your help reaching the minimum order so that we can keep costs affordable. Just imagine if everyone who volunteered at the food pantry, for in person events, when bringing help to a person in need, or on mission projects wore a Grace Hero shirt and were able to explain how they represented their church proudly. You can order a shirt here: https://forms.gle/Gr8SLFtnwEHqHheDA
I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!
UPDATE FROM MAY 6, 2020
I’ve said it before, but Grace in the Heights really has a great volunteer group. I messaged Christina Memmer on Saturday afternoon with a last minute request… could she lead children’s storytime since I had just had a baby that morning. She said yes, and she went out and picked out a book to read to the children. I surprised everyone with a special guest that morning, Eliana Faith (Ellie for short.)
The extra awesome part about Christina picking out a story was that she found a Berenstain Bears book and read a story about prayer from it. The story was about how it was good to pray for things, and that God didn’t always answer prayer in the ways we expect. The character that was the example of how to pray well said he prayed for God to give him courage, rather than to strike out the player at their baseball game. His friend’s more selfish prayer wasn’t answered in the same way, thus teaching children that God isn’t like Santa and doesn’t grant magic wishes. Answering prayer is much more complicated and sometimes takes a lot longer than you would have hoped.
Back when I was dreaming about possibly having a second child and what we would name said second child, I ran across a list of Hebrew names and found Eliana. It means “My God Answered.” It stuck with me, and it eventually won out on the name debate. I may not have shared this with everyone, but we are one in eight couples that experience fertility difficulties. It took two years for each child and seeing a fertility doctor to get pregnant each time. At times, it seemed that we would never have children, or never have a second, or that our miracle had already happened, so why did we want another. We kept praying even when it was hard or words failed.
We are all going through hard times right now, but God is with us, and we will make it through to the other side. A prayer by Thomas Merton came to mind, and I close with that.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I look forward to seeing you all again after my maternity leave is done, and for you getting to meet little Ellie. Our hearts are full with our new little answered prayer, and I want to hear all the ways that you saw God at work in the midst of this pandemic.
UPDATE FROM APRIL 29, 2020
Not So Patiently Waiting
I have forgotten what week it is of social distancing, but glancing at my calendar, I see it is week 7, and for me, it is actually week 8 because Grace had spring break the week before everything ground to a halt. It is a little bit hard to remember what it was like before or imagine what it will be like later.
We are in what is called a liminal state. A time in between. We are not going to be able to go back to what was before, but we don’t know what is coming.
This can be a really hard place to be in. You may remember when Moses went to Pharaoh and told him to let my people go. It was not an easy task for him to convince Pharaoh. First, there were plagues and Pharaoh finally let them go. Then they had to escape across the sea. Even after they had done all of those things, they were still not in the promised land. In fact, they wandered around the desert for 40 years. My Hebrew Bible professor described this time as the whining in the wilderness. They would complain about something that they needed, then Moses would pray, God would deliver (like Manna), the people would be happy, and then they would start to whine and grumble again as they forgot about how God had taken care of them. And the cycle would repeat. Eventually, they did make it to the promised land, but it took a lot longer than anyone ever imagined.
Jesus had another wilderness moment, but he took his much better than the Israelites did in the desert. He spent his time praying and getting ready for the ministry that he was about to undertake.
Our time in the wilderness can be filled with grumbling. We can bemoan wearing a mask in public, or how we have to do without hair cuts, or that our favorite bread is still out of stock at the grocery store. Or we can look for the good and patiently wait this out because we will eventually come out of it. Even the Israelites came out after 40 years of wandering, but they DID come out. It is very hard to wait, though. I am not so patiently waiting for our second baby to come, and I am trying to remind myself not to grumble so much and to enjoy the parts of pregnancy that I like rather than focus on all the aches and pains.
God is birthing something new during this time, and I can’t wait to see what it will look like on the other side.
UPDATE FROM APRIL 22, 2020
On Friday night, we celebrated our eldest nephew’s 10th birthday with a party on video chat. We joined with several family members from across the United States, and because it was a party, Grace made herself a hat, we ordered pizza for dinner, and we even made cake in a cup. Our nephew told us how he had a parade of cars drive by and wish him a happy birthday earlier that day, and he even opened his presents in front of us. He told his mom it was a perfect day and that he wouldn’t change a thing about his birthday.
That’s the great thing about right now, it’s all about perspective. If you focus on what you don’t have anymore, you will certainly be sad and depressed about it, but if you try to look for the good in things, you might find yourself enjoying things even more than you would have otherwise.
I remember learning about change in my pastoral care classes. Change in life is normal and necessary. Some change we view as good, like births, graduations, marriages, and other changes we view negatively like breakups, deaths, and job loss. All of these changes throw our lives into chaos for a bit until we learn to adjust to this new normal.
We are all in the middle of a shift right now, and I think there will be another one when we are on the other side of this virus. Some of the changes will be uncomfortable, while others, perhaps like taking the time to spend with family and friends, even electronically, will be great changes. I have no idea what is coming next, but I know that God is always with us. God was with the Israelites as they wandered through the desert, the longest social distancing in large group form ever, and brought them into their new normal. God does this time and time again throughout the Bible, and God is making something new happen before our eyes.
Hang in there. Enjoy the little things and all of the creative ways that we relearn how to be a part of society together.
UPDATE FROM APRIL 15, 2020
Christ is Risen!
Despite the Corona Virus. Despite the social distancing. Despite us not being able to attend church as normal. Christ is Risen!
Easter was definitely different this year, but I was glad that I could be a little part of the Easter celebrations of some of our families. I received a few pictures and several messages about how our Messy Church Bags helped families celebrate Easter. Grace and I made the Resurrection Rolls as we celebrated Easter morning, and we were very happy with how they turned out.
One of the special moments of Holy Week was when we finished our service at Grace on Palm Sunday and then switched over to watch the service by Adam Hamilton’s church. It’s a special treat for me since I get to attend a church service that I don’t help lead. We tuned in before he did his social distancing communion, and as a family, we pulled down our wedding chalice, filled it with grape juice, and placed a roll on a plate. When the time came, we broke the bread together and served it to each other. Grace beamed as she took and gave communion to us. The ordinary juice box and roll became sacred in that moment.
We have a lot of ordinary moments now. Most of us aren’t getting to leave the house except for groceries, food pick up, a drive just to get out, or a walk around the neighborhood. It’s a slower pace than we are used to but it doesn’t all have to be bad. Maybe some of your ordinary moments will turn sacred. Maybe you will look for and find God on your daily walk. Maybe you can connect bringing joy through chalk art with your favorite scripture. Maybe you can look up your favorite hymn on the computer and share it with your child.
These are difficult times, but I believe that God can use our situations for good.
UPDATE FROM APRIL 8, 2020
We Are An Easter People
I remember the first Easter sermon that I gave. I was in seminary, and it was for my preaching class. Preaching class really helps prepare you for preaching to a congregation of any size, because nothing is quite as scary as preaching for your judgy classmates. For them, I preached that “We Are Easter People.” We know the whole story when we go through Christmas, Lent, and Holy Week.
But that first Easter, they didn’t know the whole story. The women who approached the tomb did so solemnly. They carried spices and other things to dress the body. They carried with them the weight of grief at the loss of their friend and mentor, someone who valued them when the culture said they were second class. In some accounts, they worried at how they would move the stone
In their grief, they did not remember the words of Jesus, how he would die, and then three days later he would rise again. The angel that greeted them reminded them of those words, and their joy is visible. He is not here, for He has Risen, just as He said!
This Easter will be unlike any I have ever experienced before. Most years, I honestly dread packing and hiding and hoping that we have enough eggs for whoever shows up to the Easter Egg Hunt, but this year I miss it and all the fun that is had. Every year growing up, I would pick out a new Easter dress, and occasionally as an adult, I would get a new one. I remember those dresses, the new white shoes, and the Easter bonnets, and how sometimes I would keep it all on just so my grandparents could see me in my new outfit when we drove down to visit. This year, things will be different, but Christ is still risen.
This year, I passed out Messy Church To Go bags, to about 16 families. They have activities in them to remember Holy Week and celebrate Easter together at home. Since I don’t have to rush off to church early this year, I can see Grace hunt for eggs, and bake “Empty Tomb Rolls” with her. These rolls are crescent roll dough wrapped around marshmallows that are coated in cinnamon sugar. As they bake, the marshmallow gets absorbed into the roll, and it leaves an empty hole in the bread, just like the tomb.
Something new that you can try this year is to mark your house with a sign of Easter. You may have heard about “Bear Hunts” in neighborhoods, seen chalk murals that have popped up, or other things that people are sticking in their windows to make their neighbors smile. This year, you could try your hand at coloring an Alleluia! poster and hanging it in your window or on your door. Just like the women did at the tomb, you too can proclaim that Christ is still risen! This poster (https://www.illustratedministry.com/2020/alleluia-poster-easter/?fbclid=IwAR1L0KoCFLj_Sfe8aODRgndZrWicRp0M9f4nz98qiPoiypCs-HNeE_pI97k
) will print in four pieces, and you have to color it and piece it together before you hang it.
I told Pastor Collin that what really made Easter for me was to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today and to have a sermon, and I am excited that we still get to do both, even from our homes. Christ is still risen, even if we do not get to gather together.
UPDATE FROM APRIL 1, 2020
I got Grace’s schoolwork assignment last week. The science portion mentioned learning about the life cycle of plants, which resulted in me finding worksheets on the life cycle of plants and asking Nathan to get lima beans from the store so that we could grow them in the window as an experiment. The life cycle idea also reminded me of the life cycle of butterflies, so after a quick trip to Target and waiting patiently for a week, we are now the proud parents of five caterpillars who will soon turn into butterflies.
Butterflies are such a great metaphor for Easter. The caterpillar who just worked so hard to eat and grow becomes silent in the cocoon. All seems lost until a few days later, it emerges in a whole new form.
Easter is coming, but it will be very different this year. No grand Easter Egg hunts, but maybe there will be scavenger hunts around the neighborhood to look for colorful eggs in windows. Families can pick up Messy Easter To Go kits from me on Sunday, so I hope that helps them connect the holiday with Jesus. Family gatherings may be done by phone or video chat this year. But there will still be lots of things that remain the same. Flowers will still bloom. Butterflies will emerge. We will celebrate the risen Christ.
A lot of things are different right now but don’t lose hope. Just like the butterfly, we too will emerge from this time changed. I will leave you with part of Isaiah 43 because we know that God is with us, even when things are crazy around us.
43 But now, says the Lord—
the one who created you, Jacob,
the one who formed you, Israel:
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched
and flame won’t burn you.
5 Don’t fear,
I am with you.
UPDATE FROM MARCH 25, 2020
Embracing the Messiness of Life
Greetings from week two of social distancing at home with a five year old. She is currently painting the windows with washable paint to make a stained glass window. Yes, she has permission.
Life under Corona is messy, except for all the extra cleaning. Parents are juggling how to work from home and maintain the health and well-being of their children, perhaps with a little education added in. Restaurants are pick up or drive through only. People are losing jobs or they are working extra hours at hospitals, grocery stores, and other essential businesses while fearing for their health. We all have a lot of fear and uncertainty about the future right now.
I saw an article that referenced the weird feeling that we are all having. The article explained that it is grief. I have grieved over mostly little things in the last few weeks: Grace’s first field trip, her daddy-daughter dance, going on random trips to Target, and how it seems like the baby we are expecting will be coming into a very different world. But there is also a larger grief knowing that things will not get back to normal for a while, and knowing that “normal” may be very different than we were used to.
So what do we do in this messy time of life? Take a deep breath. Turn off the news. Take a walk outside. Stick a teddy bear in your window for children to see. Listen to your favorite music or watch a favorite program. Do something that pulls you out of your grief and despair and reminds you that Easter is coming.
We are an Easter people. We know that death is not the end, that the Resurrection has happened. Peace will come again, and we will get through this. Please know that the church office is here for you. If you have any questions or want to talk, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org
) or call the church office and they can help you get a hold of me. On Sundays, we are having a Zoom storytime for children that you can tune into at 10 am. We have a group of children drawing cards to send out to seniors, and on Palm Sunday, we will have an option to come and pick up some activities related to Holy Week for children.
UPDATE FROM MARCH 19, 2020
I hope you too have survived this week intact. We have watched a lot of PBS Kids, played outside in the sandbox, and worked a little on academic things like engineering and reading.
On Sunday morning, I am going to try an experiment that I hope you will join me in. I have used the platform Zoom before, and I want to try to use it to connect our young families with each other. I will be reading a story at 10am via Zoom, so I encourage you to download the app and join in. We can have the story time in our pajamas even. If this goes well, we can schedule more of these and maybe even do a small Sunday School lesson.
Here is the information on how to join the conversation:
Topic: Children's Story Time with Ms. Mary
Time: Mar 22, 2020 10:00 AM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/264351791
Meeting ID: 264 351 791
One tap mobile: ,,264351791# US Toll
Dial by your location
Meeting ID: 264 351 791
Find your local number: https://us04web.zoom.us/u/fq8UuWljG
We have an opportunity to minister to our seniors even while we are stuck in social distancing. Your child can make a card for one of our seniors. From the information I read online, it doesn’t look like you can pass the virus along on paper, but remember to wash your hands before you draw anything, and maybe use tape to seal an envelope instead of licking it. You can email me if you want to participate in this program, and I can get you the name and address of one of our seniors to mail a card to.
Messy Church will have a different format this month. I will be putting together bags that you can pick up in April. These will have a few things in them like Resurrection Eggs, a cross to paint, and a recipe to make Empty Tomb Rolls.
Is there anything we can do for you? Do you have any needs or prayer concerns? Would you like to help the church/congregation members in other ways?
Please know I am praying for you during this time!
UPDATE FROM MARCH 18, 2020
Talking with Your Children About Corona Virus
“Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” Mr. Rogers.
I noticed on Sunday, after worshipping with Grace UMC AND Resurrection UMC online, that Grace had become extra clingy. My Spidey-sense started to tingle because she is not usually clingy, except when she is sick or scared. I commented on it a few times, trying to get it out of her to see if she wasn’t feeling well or if she was scared. Eventually, she admitted that she was worried about the Corona Virus.
I blame myself because I have listened to and watched way too much news about the Corona Virus, starting back in January. Little ears pick up on things pretty fast. It is really important to talk to children to see what they know about things that they are scared of so that you can correct any misconceptions that they may have. It can also make things seem a little less scary.
Ask what they know.
Explain age-appropriate facts and correct misinformation.
Reassure them that they are safe.
Emphasize how they can be germ busters. Having an action plan can help kids not feel helpless.
Another way to not feel helpless is to do something for others. Since we can’t get out right now, my suggestion is to draw pictures for seniors who are also stuck at home. If you would like to send one to a congregation member, please let me know, and conversely, if you know a senior who might enjoy some pictures from children, please let me know. You can email me at email@example.com
. This is a little way to continue to care for each other as we maintain social distancing.