Every year during late August, our church always hosts an animal blessing service outdoors. This is an exciting service as it “changes things up,” allows us to connect with our surrounding community in a special way, and incorporates everyone’s furry and scaly family members! For many years, barring past occasional beach worship services, we have only worshiped outside for the animal blessing service.
Due to the pandemic, we now worship exclusively outside throughout the summer months barring inclement weather, in which case we’ll move inside for that particular Sunday. This transition to all outdoor worship has been an interesting one for those coordinating efforts behind-the-scenes. I believe that this unique challenge demonstrates beautifully our congregation’s ability to adapt and persevere through complex circumstances in order to continue realizing our mission: to reveal the love of God for all to see.
When worshiping outside, there are a plethora of items needed to make such an experience possible: chairs, tents, tables, altar items, tripod and equipment for video broadcast, little tables for ushers and the offering, offering plates, musical equipment, PPE supplies, and more! We now have all of these items organized and also reflected on a checklist, but it was quite a job trying to put all of our heads together and ensure that we weren’t missing anything for our first Sunday worshiping outside on June 21st (Father’s Day).
Then there are the many questions one has to consider: Who will setup the chairs, tables, and tents? How does the building need to be prepared if we have to move inside due to inclement weather? What do we need to consider to ensure we offer a quality virtual experience for those joining us by video? And more!
Systematically, the members of our Reopen Team (David Langenbach, Barb & Scott Javore, Bev Fetzer, and myself) have solved each of these problems in conjunction with others such as Rich Short, our janitor, Marjorie Kemp, and the members of Church Council. The beauty of challenges is that they have the opportunity to really pull everyone together in order to realize something new. The spirit of teamwork and joy of accomplishing what was originally envisioned is what I find I remember the most when looking back on experiences such as this one.
Next time you see Rich Short, our janitor for 12 years, please say a special word of thanks to him. He’s truly going above-and-beyond to arrive early every Sunday morning to setup our chairs, tables, and tents outside. Additionally, he returns after worship to tear down all of the heavy equipment (others help him put things away after worship as well). Outdoor worship would be much more difficult without his great support!
Turning to the other two stated problems: we have the sanctuary all ready to go if we need to worship inside during a bad weather day. All the pews are marked in terms of which ones should be left open and which ones empty in order to maintain social distancing. We’ll be ready to open the windows and increase the fans to facilitate higher air flow, and proper PPE supplies will be available.
While we have tried using ZOOM for the first few Sundays while worshiping outside, we’ve found that it’s not offering the quality experience that we would like. Consequently, we’ll be transitioning to using Facebook Live to broadcast our worship services beginning Sunday, July 5th and onward. A big benefit of using Facebook Live is that no one needs to be present to “manage” the call in terms of muting someone if they forget to silence their mics during worship.
One huge benefit of worshiping outside each week is that those passing by on their bikes, in their cars, and on foot take notice of us. I’ve seen people standing on the fringe of our gathering listening in. Perhaps a few visitors may emerge out of this experience—even several months down the line! You never know how a seed planted will be watered by the steady streams of grace of God.
I hope that years from now we can look back on these months of worshiping outside and recall them with a degree of fondness. I hope that we can remember how we as a congregation rose to the challenge before us to remain connected as a community of faith. Perhaps on the other side of the pandemic we will all emerge with a deeper appreciation for how needed are the bonds of Christian love which unite us. God’s abundant peace and grace to you all!
Grace & peace,
Pastor Scott S. Himel
Dear North Shore United Methodist Church,
The death of George Floyd last week shook our nation and broke our hearts as a people of faith who both work toward and dream of a day when all sisters and brothers may live in true equality with one another. Such is the Kingdom of God that Jesus prophesied and gave his life on the cross to better realize in our broken world.
Last week reminded us that we remain a far ways off from that reality. George Floyd's death must not be in vain. Will we as a nation finally be roused by this horrible form of violence to work toward a more authentically inclusive society? Friends, the death of George Floyd is not a one-off event or a "statistical anomaly" as some on the news have egregiously claimed. It is a symptom of a much deeper illness present in our nation--one that is ancient in origin and insidious in nature: the sin of racism.
What also broke our hearts were the outbreaks of widespread violence throughout several U.S. cities. These acts of violence are terrible and must be condemned. Jesus modeled for us that resistance/protest to the injustices of our world is appropriate and indeed required of people of faith who are called not to sit by and allow injustice to go unanswered. And, Jesus taught us that we must not cross into the realm of violence to offer resistance/protest. "Put your sword in its place, Peter," Jesus says when he is being arrested (Matthew 26:52). Indeed. the crucifixion itself is Jesus' refusal to respond to the evil of his day with violence, and also his refusal to "do nothing." It is the tough, middle road that calls people's attention to witness the injustices of our world without causing additional harm to others in the process.
This coming Sunday (June 7th), we begin a sermon series focused on claiming the promises of God based on the book "Unshakable Hope" by Max Lucado. My prayer is that this sermon series will help all of us to strengthen our faith by better recognizing how God has, is, and will continue to move powerfully in our everyday lives--just as God has promised to do countless times throughout the Scriptures! Given what has occurred in our nation, I'd like to begin the sermon series with God's promise of "overcoming evil." Please consider joining us this Sunday for a sermon particularly focused our nation's present events and how this connects to our Biblically-grounded hope that the Spirit of God is leading us toward a reality of true, lasting justice and peace--both in the present, and in the days to come.
In the meantime, I'd like to commend to you all the remarkably powerful message our Bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference, Sally Dyck, offered via video (found below this note) just yesterday morning. She explains how the many present issues at play in our nation can be understood from a Biblical perspective to be that an "apocalypse" which reveals a truth to us that we may otherwise not see clearly. I'm confident that you will be blessed by her words.
Scott S. Himel, Senior Pastor
North Shore United Methodist Church
The Church Chimes for August, 2018 is now live! You can read it by clicking here.