UMCL and COVID-19 – May 23, 2020

 
 

Dear UMCL Church Family and Friends:

 

In this challenging time, we have seen, once again, the God-packed spirit of UMCL!  As always, our helpers help. Within one day of the stay at home order, we had a virtual worship service up and running and it has been amazing!  At last count, we had over 3,200 people witness our Easter service both during our livestream and later through our website. Our members continue to check in with each other to provide support of all kinds and many help in our community. Congregation members are donating their stimulus checks to people in need, our congregation has stepped up to keep the church in a sound financial position. This is a terrific testament to our UMCL family. A special THANK YOU to all who make this possible.  Love WILL keep us together!  

 

For the past five weeks, the safety committee has been preparing the stages for reopening our church. We have studied and reached out to congregations across the country to understand how they are handling policies and processes for safely reopening their church facilities.  We are blessed to find support from so many churches wanting to share their approach to the different challenges. Given this learning, here are the basic tenets to our planning: 

 

  1. We are aligned with the State of Illinois’s Restore Illinois guidelines. We will ensure that policies or processes put in place will emphasize the need for the safety and well being of our church family and staff first. 

 

2.We will not advise anything that puts our staff or church members at unnecessary risk or rush this process.

 

3.We will continue the virtual format for our services indefinitely. We will not return to worship in the sanctuary prior to implementation of Phase 4 or Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Guidelines.  

 

4. The safety committee will provide the necessary guidance and coordination needed by our congregation, staff, committees and groups as we transition through the phases and into the building.

 

5. As we enter Phase 3 of the state plan, committee chairs and small group leaders should begin to put together detailed plans if they are requesting to use the building. The building will continue to be cleaned but on a limited schedule.

 

6. For now, the church building will remain closed except to staff and those assisting staff with specific ministry needs.

 

We will share more information as it becomes available.  We ask for your patience and support throughout this process.  This is a scenario for which there is no playbook.   While we all want to be together as a church family, we must respect the realities of the COVID-19 virus and take a very deliberate and cautious approach to show that each and every member of our congregation is the most important asset we have. 

Prayers and Blessing to all,

 

The Safety Committee

Mike Foley, Dave Aumuller, Herb Spooner, John Aten, Steve March, Tom Seibert, Jay Carr

 


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Sound the Alarm

If you are like me, whenever you return home from being on vacation, there is a small sense of relief when you pull up to your house and see that it is still standing.
 
A few years ago, Brenda and I came home from vacation to the sound of the smoke alarm screeching in our house. As we were pulling up the driveway and the garage door was opening, we started to hear a noise coming from the house, but we couldn’t really tell what it was. As we pulled into the garage the noise got more intense. We looked at each other and in unison said, “That’s the smoke detector!”
 
I ran to the door and felt the doorknob to see if it was hot. It was not. I slowly opened the door expecting smoke to pour out. There was no smoke. I quickly went through the house looking for a reason for the shrieking alarm. Everything looked OK – no smoke, no fire. We got a ladder and went from smoke detector to smoke detector to figure out which one had been triggered so we could silence the alarm.
 
We have no idea how long the alarm had been sounding. It was wired into the household electric current, so it was not dependent on battery power. It could have been going for days. Upon inspection, it was determined that “cobwebs” had triggered the mechanism, and all the smoke detectors got a thorough cleaning.
 
There is an urgency to the blaring of an alarm. Alarms are meant to get our attention, to wake us up, to cause us to act quickly. The image of an alarm is often part of the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. We often read from the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday, as he conveys this sense of urgency and calls upon the people to sound an alarm:
 
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
Sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
For the day of the LORD is coming, it is near. (Joel 2:1)
 
The season of Lent should carry with it a sense of urgency. It is meant to be a wake-up call for our spiritual lives. Quite honestly, it is spiritually dangerous for us to ignore the Lenten call of self-examination and repentance. Complacency within our spiritual lives breeds self-righteousness.
 
This year, our time together during Lent will focus on the book, “The God We Can Know,” by Rob Fuquay. Our Sunday morning sermons and our small groups will follow the book as we explore the “I Am” sayings of Jesus. Together, we will explore what it means about Jesus, and what it means for us, when Jesus said, “I Am…the Bread of Life, the Light of the World; the Good Shepherd; the True Vine; the Way, the Truth, and the life; and the Resurrection and the Life.
 
Join us as we heed the call of the prophet to draw nearer to God this Lenten season.
 
–Jay

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10 Fascinating Facts About the United Methodist Church

With the United Methodist General Conference coming up in May, and all the talk about division and splits, I thought you might be interested in some interesting, but little known, facts about the United Methodist Church. These facts help remind us where we came from.
 
1. John Wesley wrote one of the all-time bestselling medical texts.
Wesley was deeply convicted that God is concerned about our earthly life as well as our heavenly one. To that end, he wrote a medical text for the everyday person titled Primitive Physick. Many of Wesley’s tips on healthy living remain widely accepted, including, “drink lots of water” and “eat your biggest meal in the morning.” 
 
2. John Wesley coined the term “agree to disagree.”
Over the years, Wesley had serious theological differences with another popular pastor named George Whitefield. Though they both argued passionately, Wesley reflected on these differences in a memorial sermon for Whitefield by saying: “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature. … In these, we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’”
 
3. John Wesley rode far enough on horseback to circle the earth 10 times.
Wesley rode 250,000 miles on horseback! He was convinced that it was important for him personally to spread the gospel through relationships and continue to grow closer to God in those relationships.
 
4. Wesley taught that doubt was part of faith.
Wesley believed that having questions about one’s faith should not be disparaged. Doubts are essential to making any belief system one’s own. Having questions does not mean that you don’t believe.
 
5. “Methodist” was originally a derogatory term.
Though the origins of the term “Methodist” are in dispute, but it is clear that it was originally used by outsiders to mock John Wesley and his early societies because of their dedication to following a “method” for growing closer to God. Wesley ended up accepting the term, considering it a positive descriptor of their movement.
 
6. Wesley counseled people to “eat a little less than you desire.”
Staying slim was far from Wesley’s goal, though he did weigh in around 128 pounds. This was not the result of dieting, but rather of a practice to ensure that people were not ruled by their natural desires, but exercising control over them.
 
7. Wesley never intended to split from the Church of England.
However, when the revolution happened in the American colonies, most of the Anglican priests returned home. Faced with the fact that none of the Methodists in the colonies could receive the sacraments, Wesley ordained ministers whom he sent to do the same in America. That act was the beginning of the separation that formed the Methodist Church in America.
 
8. Wesley never said this famous quote attributed to him.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can.” Though the quote is often attributed to John Wesley and is consistent with his perspective on life, many historians have confirmed there is no record of Wesley ever saying that.
 
9. Wesley taught you could not be a Christian on your own.
He said that we needed to be involved in “social holiness.” Though some often think this term is synonymous with “social justice,” its meaning is quite different. Wesley believed we could only grow as Christians in community.
 
10. Methodism grew from four to 132,000 members in Wesley’s lifetime.
The beginning of Methodism was a group of four who called themselves the “holy club” at Oxford. When Wesley died in 1791, he left behind a movement with 72,000 members in the British Isles and 60,000 in America.
 
If you would like to know more about the history of the United Methodist Church go to:
https://www.umc.org/en/content/history
 
–Jay
 

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Advent – Waiting In Hope

Conversations about Christmas decorations start early in October at our house. We wait until Halloween is over before we start decorating, but if we wait until after Thanksgiving, it’s too late. We have to plan around trips, parties, meetings and other commitments. We’ve actually scaled back over the years, but it is still a multi-day effort; and if we don’t get started early enough, it will not get done before the trips, parties, meetings and other commitments. I pulled the first box out of the basement three weeks before Thanksgiving. By the time you read this, Brenda will have put the last ornament in place. The house will be ready for Christmas.
 
As a kid, when our family had fresh-cut Christmas trees, my dad would only allow the tree to be in the house for two weeks. When we changed to artificial trees, we would decorate on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And we never started Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving!
 
Most often, in the church, we think of the season of Advent as a time of getting ready for Christmas; not just as a time to decorate, but as a time to prepare our hearts for the great celebration of God’s love in Jesus. Without spiritual preparation, our celebration can end up shallow and materialistic.
 
But Advent is intended to be more than getting ready for Christmas. Advent emphasizes the “already, but not yet” nature of our faith. Advent is intended to remind us that even though the Messiah has come, the Kingdom of God is not fully revealed. Even though Jesus is the Prince of Peace, we still wait for the fullness of God’s peace upon the earth. A common theme of Advent is that Christ will one day return in final victory, and the “peaceable kingdom” will finally be established.
 
Advent reminds us that God is still at work, drawing the world closer to God’s self. At the birth of Jesus, God inaugurated a whole new reality. The first Christmas was the dawn of a new day. It has already happened. But we are not fully “there” yet. Pain, injustice and war still mar the earth. But Advent reminds us that the promise of peace is still valid. Advent reminds us that God calls upon us to be instruments of peace, partners with God in bringing this world closer to what God intends it to be.
 
That’s an important reminder for us today. Our denomination, our nation and the world are all working through a time of high anxiety. God’s desires for this world have not changed. When God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, to declare that a new kingdom would be established with “justice and righteousness forever” (see Isaiah 9), it was not conditional. It was, and remains, a promise. Isaiah reminds us that the process started with King David, that now the authority rests upon Jesus, and that His kingdom will be established. God is still at work bringing this about.
 
One day, we will celebrate the “final victory” of Christ. I don’t know what that look likes, but I trust God to bring it about. The change that began at the first Christmas will one day be complete, but it’s not yet complete.
 
In the mean time, Advent reminds us to have hope, to live in love and to work for peace.
 
– – Jay

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Living Generously – Growing Together

Over the last few weeks, and continuing into November, we have engaged a sermon series titled Living Generously. These sermons include a series of films that tell the story of the Donovan family as they seek to understand what it means to live the words of Jesus. Each week, the videos have been fun and challenging. Each episode gives us a glimpse of the Donovan family’s journey as they take risks, experience suffering and joy, and find themselves transformed by the call of Christ.
 
In our first episode, we heard about giving good sheep and giving “stinky” sheep. Ray, the Donovan family gardener, explained that long ago, when God’s people would sacrifice sheep to God, some would offer their biggest, best, most valuable to sheep to God. Others would give away a sickly, stinky sheep, one they didn’t want in the first place. Giving our “good sheep” to God reflects our love for God. This is the heart of generous living: loving God with our whole hearts, souls and minds (Matt 22:34-40). As we examine our own generosity, we have to ask ourselves, “Is God our first love?”
 
Throughout this series we have also been hearing and reading testimonies from within our own congregation about the impact of living generously.
 
Living generously is a lifestyle I adopted when I ultimately realized it is more blessed to give than to receive. It involves prioritizing my money, my time. my services, and more. I learned to live generously when it became apparent that the way I personally receive love is by “time” given to me. As a Christian I now offer my time to encourage others, in sickness and despair…by notes and visits and prayers. I also contribute to my church as much as I can, more freely and joyfully. How living generously affects the outreach of the church is evident every day: providing PADS shelter in the church; the UMW Rummage Sale proceeds augmenting local and global efforts, being an election polling site to the voters in town, Christian social services providing temporary homes to families in need, etc.
 
Marilyn
 
Living Generously gives us all a chance to re-evaluate the demands upon our lives and reset our hearts toward gratitude. The series will conclude with our every member commitment campaign. We will receive pledge cards during worship on Sunday, November 17. You will receive more information about this in mail. Please have the “generosity” conversation at home before November 17, so that you will be ready to turn in your pledge card on that day.
God loves each one of us. Our best response is to love God. When God is our first love, we want to give God the best we have to offer, not our leftovers. Love moves us to give our biggest and best sheep to God.
–Jay

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Living Generously

Life is busy, and it is easy for our hearts to be distracted by the demands we face.  As the summer comes to a close we are all evaluating our calendars and gearing up for the change of pace that comes with the change of season. It is a good  time for us to re-evaluate our priorities.
 
Beginning in October we will begin a new series, titled Living Generously. This  series includes a series of short videos that tell the story of the Donovan family as they seek to understand what it means to live the words of Jesus. Each week in worship we will see  a glimpse of their journey as they take risks, experience suffering and joy, and find themselves  transformed by the call of Christ. You won’t want to miss a single Sunday! At the conclusion of the  series we will have the opportunity to make a real-life response through our every member commitment campaign.
 
Generosity is an important part of the Christian life, and an important part of the life of UMCL. The  members of this congregation are generous with their finances and with their time. Here are just two  examples of how generosity is lived out at UMCL:
 
Because of the generosity of this congregation, specifically through the Outreach Committee, I was able to help people in another country. This in turn led me to be generous with my time by serving on the Outreach Committee for a few years.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     -Becky Traut
 
Helping Hands and the Ride Sharing ministries started as needs arose in our congregation. Don & Jeris Boyce and John McNally started these ministries to help those who struggled in one way or another. Over the years, these ministries have expanded to helping folks throughout Lake and Cook counties. Our group has expanded to include folks from St. Lawrence Church and the men of UMCL. We pick up donated furniture and appliances that are distributed to people coming out of PADS, The Harbor, and San Palo Church of Waukegan. This ministry continues because there is a need, and because of the joy our people get from helping others.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             -Tom Plohr
 
We will hear more stories of generosity within our congregation as we go through the Living Generously series.
 
Each of us has so many blessings, but often the situations of our lives distract us and our attitudes are less than generous. Together, let’s work through the distractions and learn to live according to the call of Christ upon us!
 
–Jay

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

We live in a time of great cultural anxiety. Our nation is more polarized today than at any time in my memory. We characterize people who disagree with us as villains. Our politicians consider “dialogue” and “compromise” to be dirty words. As a culture, we are quite willing to kill the killer, hate the hater, and be close-minded to the close-minded. But in the end, hatred doesn’t work. Hatred breeds hatred.
 
And yet, hatred seems to be SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, for so much of the world. We plan and plot how to overcome those with whom we disagree. We rejoice in their failures and mourn at their successes. We write letters, make phone calls, send e-mails and muster up support for “our side” among our friends. We try to get people to side with us and join the team of those who are angry with others. And then, we go to war with them.
 
There is no doubt that the polarization we are experiencing is feeding today’s culture of violence and mass shootings. We’ve even identified a whole new category of “domestic terrorism” to describe events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Charleston church shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Congressional baseball shooting and the El Paso Wal-Mart shooting. Our willingness to hate the hater and to villainize those with whom we disagree is part of this national tragedy.
 
So, what are we to do? Is there a way to end the vicious cycle of hatred? How do we overcome the anger people experience when they feel betrayed? How can we prevent the downward spiral into self destructive patterns of depression, anger or revenge that so many individuals experience when they have suffered abuse at the hands of another?
 
Jesus answered that question nearly two thousand years ago. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (See the Gospel of Matthew 5:43- 44.)
 
For Jesus, it is not enough to stop hating your enemy. If you want to experience the blessing of God you have to go farther than that. You have to love your enemy.
 
Jesus didn’t mean that to love our enemy means we support them in what they do. To love our enemy does not mean we have to agree with them, or even necessarily become good friends with them. Loving our enemy means that the cycle of hate, the cycle of revenge, the cycle of retaliation stops with us. You can be angry with a person for what they do, and yet still love them.
 
If the cycle of violence that has become so much a part of our culture today is going to be broken, it will take more than changing our gun laws. It will require the power of love. Join us on Sunday morning to discover how.
 
Jay

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A Place to Belong! A Truth to Believe! A Way to Become!

On July 1, Ashish and I (and our families) will officially begin our third year at UMCL! Happy anniversary to us!
 
In the United Methodist Church, pastors are appointed each year by the area Bishop. Every appointment is for one year at a time. I describe this process as, “having a one-year contract with the option to renew.” At Annual Conference in June, Ashish and I were both re-appointed to UMCL for July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020.
 
Saying I’m in my third year somehow feels more substantial than being in year one or two. For the first year and a half, it seemed like I was often refered to as the “new” pastor. Being “new” got old after a while. I’m glad to see the “new” description to have been mostly dropped. Dropping the “new” makes me feel like I belong.
 
I came to UMCL believing that God wanted me to be here, so in that sense I knew I “belonged” here. And certainly the overwhelmingly positive response to our arrival here made us feel accepted and loved. But now that we’re entering “year three” I have a sense of belonging in being connected to people, being accepted, being part of the group. There are still names that I do not know, and history of which I am unaware, but I’m glad to be part of such a beautiful community. In a society where people move so often, where we rarely spend our adult lives in the same community in which we grew up, there is a great need to feel like we belong.
 
Feeling like we belong really comes from building relationships. The Biblical word for this is “oikos.” Oikos relationships are the kind where we walk through valleys together, where we find support, where a trusted friend will tell us lovingly when we’ve screwed up, where we can be honest with each other and know we will still be loved.
 
This deep community does not happen if we only interact for an hour on Sunday morning. That’s why it’s so important to be involved in a small group or a ministry. Whether you sing in the choir, or serve as an usher, or you are in a Sunday school class or a UMW circle, whether you serve on a committee or go on a mission trip, we all need to be building faith-based relationships.
A recent Barna survey indicated that Americans frequently interact with each other about their religious beliefs and experiences, but seldom actually change their behavior. The survey reviewed the behavior of Christian adults over a five year period. Even more disturbing is the survey result that more people changed their behavior by moving away from the church than toward it. Only 7% of respondents said they had made a change in their life
that was identified as developing a positive Christian behavior. But 16% of survey respondents said the change in their behavior was away from the church, praying less, reading the Bible less, or generally “decreasing religious activity.” So, it is not enough for us to be a place to belong; we also have to be a place to “become.” We can build on our sense of belonging to encourage each other to become more of what God wants us to be.
 
But, it is the “truth to believe” that ultimately binds us together and moves us on toward God’s vision for ourselves. Because God came to us as one of us in Jesus; because of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; because of the strength available to us each day through the Holy Spirit; we have the chance to be new people and partners with God in making this world more of what God intends it to be.
A Place to Belong. A Truth to Believe. A Way to Become.
 
I believe UMCL embodies all of this. And I am grateful for it. But it’s up to all of us to engage in the process of belonging, believing, becoming!
 
-Jay

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It’s About Love, Not Survival

The trend is hardly even news any more — despite the growth in population in the United States, the number of Christians in America continues to decline. According to the Pew Research Center’s newest report, the United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.
 
The Pew survey shows dramatic shifts as large numbers of people leave major denominations, including the United Methodist Church.
 
In a similar study, the General Social Survey (GSS), reports that while about 30 percent of Americans identified themselves as “Protestant” in 1972, that number is only 15 percent today. In other words, based on the GSS, main-line Protestant churches lost half their people over the last 40 years.

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Hatred, Love and Easter

The world was shocked, once again, by an overwhelming display of hatred on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a white supremacist live-streamed the killing of 50 people gathered for prayer at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. An additional 50 people were injured.
 
A 28-year-old Australian man, described in media reports as part of the “alt-right”, was arrested and charged with murder. The attacks have been linked to an increase in white supremacism and alt-right extremism globally. The suspect published a manifesto and live-streamed the first attack on Facebook Live. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern New Zealand history.
 
The U.S. has seen a rise in violence by white supremacists, including the murders of 11 people at a Pittsburgh Synagogue last fall. There was also a deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the murders of nine people at a church in Charleston in 2015 and the deaths of six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012.
 
This doesn’t even count the other mass shootings: Aurora, IL, February 15, 2019, 6 dead; Mercy Hospital, Chicago, November 19, 2018, 4 dead; Thousand Oaks, CA, November 7, 2018, 13 dead; Stoneman Douglas HS, Parkland Florida, February 14, 2018, 17 dead. The list goes on, there were 323 mass shootings in the US in 2018.
 
We live in a world of brokenness and sin; a world where hatred breeds hatred and violence breeds violence.
 
And yet, this is the world into which Jesus came. Jesus came to this world to “put flesh” on the love of God. He came to bring healing to our brokenness, to overcome hatred with love. And for his efforts, Jesus was crucified between two thieves.
 
As harsh as that is, we know that it is not the end of the story. We know that even death could not stop Jesus’ love. Because of Easter, we know that love has the power to overcome hatred. Because of Easter, we know that God offers a forgiveness that overwhelms judgment.
 
Each year, we travel through Good Friday to get to Easter. The crucifixion and resurrection remind us that while our world is still broken, God’s agenda is reconciliation. We are forgiven; we can forgive. We are loved; we can love.
 
To live as Easter people is to live with love as our guide. To live as Easter people is to respond to hatred with love. To live as Easter people is to love so fully and completely that we overwhelm hate. Love is not weakness. Love is stronger than hate, if we choose to truly love. Love can turn an angry young boy into a faithful follower of Christ.
 
Please join us as we make this journey to Easter:
–  Palm Sunday, April 14, at 9:30 and 11 am: We will remember Jesus’ triumphant entry in to Jerusalem with the waving of palm branches.
–  Good Friday, April 19, at 7 pm: We will remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us, share in the Lord’s Supper, and be led      in worship by the Chancel Choir singing Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.
–  Easter Sunday, April 21, at 9:30 and 11 am: We will celebrate the message that love overcomes hate.
 
Easter gives us the power to bring healing to the brokenness we encounter, even within our own lives.
 
–Jay

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