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Thoughts for church leaders on reopening

As pastors and leaders, we’ve been acting in full crisis-response mode to COVID-19 and stay-at-home restrictions for weeks.  We’ve been in *liminal space, where who we thought we were and what we thought we needed may have gotten blurred and shape-shifted by the coronavirus crisis. Fueled by adrenaline, sustained by prayer, we have had to re-imagine and manage new forms of worship, new structures for community, and new challenges for mission – hopefully for the very-short term.

With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to ease, how do we transition from reacting in crisis-response mode to engaging a more measured and reflective response mode for this next phase? Disaster spiritual care practitioners have found that the greatest need for pastoral care emerges with the shift from short-term to long-term recovery, when people discover that for real, things will not go back to normal. Debilitating anxiety, hopelessness, depression, blaming, and scapegoating can easily set in.

Isaiah 43 says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  In this liminal space and time, where vision is altered and perceptions get blurred, God invites us to imagine, thoughtfully and prayerfully, what new thing is promised for us. Will this “new thing” look like the old? What will it require of us?

Whatever our starting point, let us as leaders plan wisely and well for next steps. Some approaches:

  1. What are the “essential” services through which our people most deeply experience connection with God and each other?
  2. Which of these essential components of our church life can we restart first without compromising anyone’s health?
  3. How will we monitor the effectiveness/safety of these activities?
  4. How will we discern what should be restarted next?
  5. What [emerging] spiritual, emotional, mental, social, physical needs require more attention?
  6. What/Who may be missing from our current plan?
  7. To what extent do our plans comply with local and state health directives?

For the children of Israel returning home from 70 or so years of exile, God provided a roadway in the wilderness, water included, inviting them into new modes for a new time springing forth.  May we as leaders and congregations discern the mind of Christ as we meet the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 with the best from before and the best that will emerge as together we seek to follow the way of Jesus.

*”Liminal” refers to “threshold” or “boundary” areas between one of phase [of life], and another: Dawn and dusk are liminal times between day and night, when visibility changes, perceptions are altered, edges get blurred, shapes shift, and new insights can emerge in the transition to light or dark.

Notes from Conference Call with Church Leaders from across PA

Dr. Rachel Levine, The Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, answered submitted questions. Summary:

  • Churches are considered Life sustaining organizations. It is ok for ministers in communities with stay-in-place orders to travel to their church buildings for office work or to live stream services. 
  • New cases of COVID-19 are doubling every 2-3 days. They are expecting 400 cases a day by the end of the week, 800 next week, and so on. Flatten the curve!!! 
  • The use of live streamed or recorded service for churches is encouraged. 
  • Religious gatherings do not need to cease, but should be done on live streams, etc. for the time being.
  • Follow the guidelines for pastoral visits. Wait until the curve is bent down and restrictions have been lifted to do in person visitations. 
  • The greatest needs from churches is to provide spiritual care. Leave medical advice to the experts. 
  • Limit the number of people who gather together to produce your livestream services. It was asked if 5-6 people would be ok – the answer was “as few as possible.” One person if possible. 
  • It’s unknown when this time of distancing from one another will pass. April & May could be challenging months. Pray that it’s better by June. 
  • Don’t make any plans for church gatherings until told mass gatherings are ok by the governor’s office.
  • The news of new drugs is uncertain. They are untested. 
  • Continue food ministries if your congregation is involved in them. But practice all the guidelines that have been given out regarding handwashing, social distancing, and the like. 
  • The Coronavirus is more severe than the flu.
  • The State will not prevent religious services from happening. Churches will not be shut down by the authorities. 
  • Funerals & Weddings are not prohibited. But use wisdom and strictly follow guidelines for social distancing and hand washing. 
  • If you are delivering food, medicine, and supplies to people, practice safety guidelines. Leave the supplies on the doorstep, leave the proximity of the door, and inform them that their supplies have arrived (maybe over the phone). 
  • A sign that COVID-19 is under control will be there is a decrease in the number of cases in a sustained pattern.
  • Covid-19  is not a flu virus. We don’t know if, like the flu, this will be seasonal. So much is not known right now..
  • There is little chance of the virus passing through charitable donations. Normal cleaning should prevent transmissions.
  • Could we have a sunrise service outside and practice social distancing? This would not be prohibited. But will people abide and stay the proper distance apart?
  • Churches should feel free to prepare meals for each other. But follow guidelines for handwashing and social distancing. 
  • Could a church have a “drive-by” service for prayer? This would not be prohibited but you would need to find a way to practice social distancing. 
  • Dr. Levine finished the service with the following phrase she concludes all of her press conferences with: Stay calm. Stay home. Stay safe.
  • The most up-to-date information can be found at health.pa.gov  and/or from the CDC

And you invited me in

By Amy Yoder McGloughlin

Every summer since 2015, I have been leading a delegation to the West Bank with Christian Peacemaker Teams. I value the opportunity to walk with people as they understand the occupation from the perspective of everyday folks. We stay in Palestinian communities, eat local cuisine, and hire Palestinian tour guides and bus drivers. Once we get to Hebron, we join in the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, as we accompany children to school, and ensure that Palestinian rights are upheld in this occupied West Bank city.

One of the other reasons I go is because this place challenges my sense of hospitality. I always notice, after a trip like this, the limits I have placed on my hospitality. And it is humbling.

In the summer of 2018, on the first day of the delegation I was leading, I got the delegation lost on our way to our first appointment. We were on a public bus, and I asked the bus driver if we were going to Old Anata Road. He smiled and nodded, and dropped us off in Anata, the refugee camp.

When we got off the bus, I very quickly realized that I was in the wrong place. I asked the shopkeepers if they could speak English. No one could but a couple helpful shopkeepers called their cousins in the US and Canada and put them on the phone to help me out.

I asked the helpful cousins on the other side of the world–where is Old Anata road? And they said, “Just walk right up the hill and you’ll find it”. I started up the hill, and very quickly we found the separation wall. And I realized that we were on the wrong side of the wall from our destination. I started looking for anyone else that could help. I ran into a man doing construction and asked again, “Do you speak English?” He shook his head apologetically, but then lit up. He jumped in his beat up Toyota, and gestured for me and the team to follow him.

I wasn’t sure if I should follow this stranger. But I didn’t know what choice I had. It was painfully hot at 9 in the morning, and we needed help.

So I asked my delegation to follow me while I followed this stranger wherever he was leading us. The man began backing his car up the hill, stopping occasionally to gesture to us to follow him. He backed into the driveway of his home, and ran up the stairs to his house, turning to invite us in. We did not know what to expect.

We entered his home, and there sat his entire family in the living room–children, wife, and an aunt. They jumped up, and welcomed us to sit where they had been sitting. They brought us water, then tea, then coffee, then pomegranate and grapefruit juice. And THEN some sweets.

Still no one was speaking English. My delegates were looking at me, asking quietly, “What are we doing here? Are we going to get to our destination?” And I asked them to be patient.

That’s when Islam walked in. Islam Issa is 22, beautiful and spoke nearly perfect English, which she learned from watching Hollywood movies. She greeted us enthusiastically, and we got to know each other. Islam helped me to determine what I already knew–that we were nowhere near our destination. Her father called a taxi company and they sent a van to pick us up. But before we left for our next destination, the family insisted that we return the next night for dinner.

And we did. We came back the next night and the Issa family made us mokluba–a chicken, rice and vegetable dish that is a most delicious treat. They made stuffed grape leaves and baklava and treated us like royal guests. It was so generous; it felt like an embarrassing extravagance.

My Arabic is abysmal, and the only one of the Issa family to speak English was Islam, so our “conversations” with this family involved pictures on my phone, gestures and giggles about language barriers. But despite all the limitations, it was one of the best nights of fun I’ve had in quite some time. We made new friends that night. And these are friends that I still speak to on a regular basis. We “talk” via social media, mostly through emojis with the mom, and with more conversations with Islam.

This summer, I visited with the Issa family again, and we enjoyed another evening of hospitality. I brought them a gift from Frazer Mennonite–a quilted wall hanging. And they fed me nonstop for hours.

We’re already making plans for next summer–I’m going to work on my Arabic in preparation for our next visit, and they plan to teach me how to make mokluba.

The Issa family stops everything when I am in town. They welcome me into their home and make me feel so special. Their generous hospitality always challenges me to look at my own hospitality. What are my cultural limits? What are my personal limits? Why do we make sharing a meal and time with friends (and strangers) less of a priority than tasks and productivity?

I have deep gratitude for the care and hospitality I am shown in Palestine. Given our country’s policies, they could hate me. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. And yet, Palestinians like the Issa family have shared food, time, laughter and conversation with me. It reminds me of the time that Jesus, himself a Palestinian, shared with people. His agenda was a meal shared with friends. His last instruction to us was to eat, drink and remember him.

These yearly trips to Palestine are two weeks of communion. I bring that home, and use that to challenge the ways I spend my time. Is my time about busyness, or is it about conversation, a shared meal and deeper relationship?

Left: Amy with Islam Issa

Amy Yoder McGloughling is pastor at Frazer Mennonite Church. She will be leading a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Palestine August 3-17, 2020. To apply for the delegation, visit cpt.org/delegations/palestine.

 

 

 

Puerto Rico Mennonite Convention – open letter to Puerto Rico government

A Call to the Mennonite Churches of La Convención of PR and
To the government leadership of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

The Mennonite Church preaches and lives nonresistance and peace. Since their beginnings in the 16th century, the Mennonites have promoted and embraced the biblical doctrine of peace in all its dimensions; affirming the value of life and rejecting actions that advance injustice, suffering and death. As servants of Christ we work restlessly for God’s peace as supreme desire for all creation. ” Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called children of God” Mt 5:9. We believe that peace is necessary for social justice.

As a Church we pray, we support and submit ourselves to our government 1 Peter 2:11-16. The power given to our government leaders must promote social justice and quality of life. When this power puts personal interest above collective interest, this causes evil and oppression to emerge. Therefore, Christians have the duty to call on the government leaders to change those practices in order to promote the common good, liberty, healing, respect and justice for all. A follower of Christ can join the institutions and movements that provoke social changes, with much spiritual discernment. This is the prophetic role that the church has in its society: condemn oppression, injustice, discrimination, mockery, verbal, physical or written violence.

As Mennonites and followers of Christ we raise up our voices to be heard, we have become outraged just like Christ did. Jesus, son of God, revolutionized history, pointed out hypocrisy, he turned in the religious entities and the governing entities in favor of the poor, the undervalued, the oppressed, the forgotten and the discriminated against.

With the responsibility we carry as a church, we have read the content of the hundred of chat pages of the Governor and closely related workers, and we understand those remarks are contrary to the values our community of faith and of the people of Puerto Rico. Given the charges of corruption facing your government and the claims of the Puertoricans on the island and outside, the remarks of some of the members of congress, the mismanagement of the donations and relief funds; we invite you Mr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevarez and all your governmental body to deeply reflect on the recent events and the effect they have had on the people of Puerto Rico. We (will) trust the Lord will guide you to make a decision which will benefit Our Land. We accept your forgiveness and forgive you, but you need to face the consequences of your actions.

May God help you,
Jannette Clarissa Negron Concepcion 
Moderator of the a Council 

This letter was translated by Elizabeth Soto and is shared with permission.

ELANCO Memory Cafe to Open

Stigma-free gathering for people with memory impairment and their caregivers

NEW HOLLAND, PA. – The ELANCO Dementia Friendly Community is pleased to announce the start of Memory Cafés in Morgantown and New Holland.

“A Memory Café is a stigma-free social gathering for people with memory impairment and their caregivers,” coordinator Crystal Yunginger explains. “We want to create a space where people cango and enjoy time together and socialize with others.”

“It’s not a support group,” Yunginger cautions. Instead, she says, “A Memory Café is an opportunity to connect with other people who may be facing the same challenges and find informal peer support.”

Volunteers with the ELANCO Dementia Friendly Community will host the Memory Cafés. Volunteers will have first aid and dementia training, but they will not be able to provide a diagnosis. Instead they can provide understanding and resources.

A Memory Café will be held on the second Wednesday of each month at Conestoga Mennonite Church, 2779 Main Street, Morgantown, from 6:15-7:45 p.m. In addition, a Memory Café will be held on the fourth Wednesday of each month at Trinity Lutheran Church, 221 E Main Street, New Holland from 2:15-3:45 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided during these free events.

The ELANCO Dementia Friendly Community initiative offers educational resources about dementia and support for those living with the effects of dementia to the ELANCO community.  The Dementia Friendly Community steering committee is comprised of representatives from the local business, public service, and church community, individuals personally impacted by dementia, and persons currently working in professional care of those with dementia. 

For more information, contact Crystal Yunginger, Memory Café coordinator, at 717.487.6223.

Centered in Christ | Building Connections | Sharing God’s Love

We invite you to journey with us…

As we center our lives in Jesus Christ, God’s Son,

As we build connections across diverse paths of life experience,

As we share God’s love in meaningful relationships and settings.

As people of God wanting to be known as followers of Jesus Christ, we strive to fulfill God’s command to love God with all of one’s being and love our neighbor at all times. The call to share God’s love means that we are witnesses of God’s love and goodness in our lives both in word and deed. We invite you to walk and run with us as we follow Jesus in our many diverse settings and walks of life.

God is doing a new thing yet God sustains history and principles upon which to venture out with new initiatives. ACC is an association of congregations and conference related ministries following expressions of faith; mission and service; justice and peace, guided by Mennonite Anabaptist convictions. In practice with other Christian traditions, we strive to leave positive impact in our communities which invite others to walk the journey toward God with us.

We warmly welcome you to learn more about us by visiting our congregations, joining us in activities and through information on this website.