Hello everyone! I hope you all are staying safe and are still remaining rock solid in your faith. Wow! Who would have thought we would have already had 8 online worship experiences?! Please remember that we will still be worshipping online at least through May 31 and possibly longer. All activities at the church will be suspended at least through May 31 as well.
I have leaned on the following persons and groups for support and guidance: Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, Governor Bill Lee, local government officials, scientific data from the CDC, the Executive Team of FCUMC, and one scripture in particular; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NRSV)
As one wrote: “During this pandemic, love for ourselves is expressed in the ways we protect ourselves from getting infected. In the same way, love for our neighbor is expressed in the ways we protect them from getting infected.”
As you know, things are changing on a daily basis and this virus seems to be choosing new candidates to attack like our children. I am going to share a possible strategy for re-opening the church when that time comes but please know that this may change depending on the level of infection in the Chattanooga area.
I am proposing a four phased plan. We are already in Phase One with online services only and all activities at the church suspended. In Phase Two, we hope to have small groups with specified numbers gather and limited numbers in Worship. This phase is dependent on the guidance we receive from the Bishop and from state and local officials.
In Phase Two we will practice social distancing and wear face masks while on the FCUMC campus. Why? See Matthew 22:37-39 again please. Phase Three will be less restrictive and Phase Four will allow us to resume in person ministries.
Of course we move backwards or forward from one phase to the next with prayer and guidance from all available sources. I hope this information helps. I will provide a more detailed plan in the near future. In the meantime, I offer the following prayer from ll Thessalonians 1:11-12 for you: “To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Published on Friday, May 22, 2020 @ 2:05 PM EDT
For our anniversary this year Judy had some old Kodak slides (yes, the one you put in a slide projector) and sent them off to be converted into pictures. Does anyone still have a slide projector? Anyway, the slides were of me when I was very young. I had a burr haircut and was always the smallest one in the picture. I also saw pictures of my grandparents, my dad and mom. They all look so young but when I was growing up they all looked so old!
I had time to reflect on my mom. She was young and healthy. Unfortunately the last few years of her life were filled with pain and suffering. There was a new drug on the market that was to be a miracle drug but also had a severe side effect which was addiction. Add to this a battle with weight and my mom was often facing struggle after struggle. Yet, through all these struggles she still kept her faith and hope alive! She had a deep faith that God was good and would not let her go. I learned so much about faith from watching her face the battle of life each day with the grace of God. Sometimes she did well and other times she failed miserably but she always faced each day, trusting God and depending on God’s grace.
One of her favorite Bible verses was Lamentations 3:19-26: The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. I come to remind you that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases! God’s mercies never come to an end! We have a God whose love will not let us go!
Please note that Worship services will be online April 26 and May 3. All activities at the church have been suspended thru April 30. The Holston Conference has been postponed (date to be determined). Keep Hope alive this week.
Published on Friday, April 24, 2020 @ 2:49 PM EDT
In his recent book, The Hope of Glory, Jon Meacham writes these words:
“Our faith is fragile, never immune to error, distortion, or deception…For the thoughtful believer, then, there is nothing more certain than the reality of uncertainty, nothing more natural than doubt, which is perhaps thirty seconds younger than faith itself.”
These words are written in the prologue and represent a tone more intimate than any of Meacham’s previous works. Rather than allowing ‘historian influence’ to overshadow, his writing reflects a rare glimpse of one examining the seven last words of Christ. He writes as a flawed, yet hopeful, human with faith and assurance of Christ’s redemption.
We are reminded that we can be honest open about our shortcomings, rather than hiding or denying our deficiencies. “Grieving our losses does not disconnect us from life but rather, like invisible threads, the losses of our lives weave life unto life,” says Donna O’Toole, a noted grief author, publisher, and teacher.
Just as Good Friday brings a darker reality to the Passover narrative, we are comforted by the promise(s) of Jesus’ words, then and NOW. As we continue our Lenten Journey, may we forever remember: “…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
Published on Thursday, March 26, 2020 @ 3:07 PM EDT
When tragedy and natural disasters strike close to home, the fear seems real and the loss feels more painful. Last week our brothers and sisters in middle Tennessee were affected by devastating tornados that left entire communities and neighborhoods in pieces, businesses and churches destroyed, and families torn apart and lives lost. If you or your family was affected by the tornadoes know that you are in our prayers and please let the church know if there is anything we can do to help.
Whenever a tragedy like this occurs, it is comforting to know that our United Methodist Church is one of the first responding organizations and commits to areas well beyond the initial swell of volunteers and donations. UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) has already dispensed funds to help with immediate needs, is distributing cleaning and recovery buckets to help with the process of recovery, and has trained disaster relief teams that are waiting for the all clear to dig in and help.
As a church we are joining in with UMCOR and the Tennessee Conference by sending funds through UMCOR’s disaster relief and through cleaning and hygiene kits. Make your check to First-Centenary UMC and designate your gift to the UMCOR Tornado Relief. There is a link on the church website that has more information on how to respond financially and contains information about the hygiene and cleaning kits. We are going to let the trained disaster relief teams triage and evaluate for now but if you would like to be on a future work team to help in the recovery efforts please let myself or Pastor Barry know.
Thanks for being who you are as individuals and as a congregation. I look forward to serving alongside you as we seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our sisters and brothers in middle Tennessee.
In Christ, Will
Published on Thursday, March 12, 2020 @ 12:31 PM EDT
As we move into the season of Lent, I want to share with you the focus of our worship experiences. I invite you on a journey of spiritual disciplines. By the time you read this article, we will have taken our first steps on this journey. Last Sunday, we focused on the spiritual discipline of prayer. In the weeks to follow we will be addressing other spiritual disciplines: scripture reading and study, fasting, Sabbath rest, service and acts of mercy, worship and sacraments, and incarnational community.
John Wesley referred to these and other spiritual disciplines as Means of Grace. Bishop Ken Carder in his book, Living Our Beliefs, describes Means of Grace in the following way: “Methodists, since their beginning, have identified “the ordinances of God” as Means of Grace - means God’s presence and power” (p.82).
God offers us food for the journey by giving us means to draw closer to God through a disciplined life. These disciplines help us prepare to live in a new heaven and a new earth!
I have no catchy sermon titles or phrases to draw you to Worship. I simply offer an invitation into a richer, fuller, more meaningful relationship with God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual disciplines help us to live the abundant life that Jesus promised us and helps our light shine more brightly in this world of darkness.
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.”
See you Sunday! – Mark
Published on Thursday, March 5, 2020 @ 11:27 AM EDT