Take Heart

Friends,
Greetings in the Jesus’ powerful name!  I am so thankful for all of you.  I am reminded of Paul’s words to Rome, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Hearing of your faithful prayers, ongoing studies, and merciful works makes me overjoyed in calling Central home.  And still God calls us to a brighter tomorrow.
We remain in extraordinary times.  Our prayers are with you and yours over the gatherings, travels, non-gatherings, and zoom calls this Thanksgiving weekend.  We are doing a great job of practicing the 3 W’s (Wash your hands, Wear a mask, and Watch your distance) here at 1425 E Main St. – please keep this up wherever you go in the coming weeks so we can do our part to keep numbers low as we are riding this wave of cases into December.
At Central, we are again asking those of you who are able to please join us in worship virtually at your homes.  We are hoping these measures along with what we asked last week, will keep allowing enough space for those who cannot worship from home comfortably to still gather well.
I know these are hard times as our memories carry before us past years and the many gatherings we have grown accustomed.  The laments in Scripture are full of such cries – yet they all find their way leaning into both God’s future promises. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) We may not be able to do what we once did, but we still have the same call – to give glory to God and follow Jesus wherever he calls.
And so knowing your love, I remain excited about our work at Central to transform this world.  Though we are distributed throughout Wayne County and Ohio, we can be like yeast in dough or seeds spread broad.  In our homes and in our conversations, we can daily attend to our prayers, readings, conversations, service and more.  We on staff look forward to continuing conversations about how we can further resource discipleship in our homes.  We can grow in Christ while apart so we can shine brighter when we all gather together.
My prayers are with you, and I hope to ‘see’ you on Sunday – both in the service and on Zoom following.
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph

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Greetings in the name of Christ!

Friends, it has been truly humbling to pastor here during the pandemic.  Central has been courageous, flexible, gracious, and faithful as we have navigated the rough waters of 2020.  You all have answered the call again and again while encouraging us in the office throughout the good and the bad.  You have a great staff here who, from their faith in Jesus, cares deeply about you, this community and our role in the midst of it all.

We appreciated the response to last week’s post.  Our numbers were in line with the Governor’s guidelines and everyone was following the 3 W’s.  Please continue this vigilance as well as staying home if you are in isolation, quarantine or have any of the symptoms.  It gives us hope for the coming weeks – for the waters seem to be churning and boiling again.  We are blessed with a large space in which to gather, yet we are going to put in some more measures to ensure we can continue to be open for ministry for the months to come. 
  • If you are able to worship comfortably from home, please do so.  We look forward to ‘seeing’ you online Sunday morning as we create more space for a distanced service in the sanctuary.
  • We will be dismissing service from the front and not recessing to the back.  This will further reduce groups congregating in the hallways and under the portico for conversation. Please continue to have your conversations to the side or outside (still at 6’ please).  Pastor Jen and I are available throughout the week for conversation.
  • Our Children’s and Youth SS classes are going virtual.  Please email Pastor Jen for a zoom link.
  • Throughout the week, we are asking groups who are able to go virtual and that any gathering of 10 or more to reserve space in either the Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary, Gym, or Choir Room.        
  •  If you gather with more than 2 households from out of town over Thanksgiving, please stay home on the 29th and invite any remaining guests to join you in online worship.

We realize these measures will make Sunday’s service mostly a virtual gathering, but we will remain open for those of us who are unable to worship online and to receive those God may still send.  Ad Council has discussed guidelines for suspending services if the cases continue to climb in our area over the coming weeks.  This will be assessed week to week and communicated clearly if we reach them in the coming weeks.  

Ultimately, we are called to be a people formed after Jesus’ example who show Christ’s love to the world.  This is true when we gather and when we are sent out into our neighborhoods.  We are all impacted by this pandemic, but we cannot be paralyzed.  Let’s not let Sunday morning be the only time we think about others.  We are the ones called for such a time as this.  Please continue to reach out, zoom, call, donate, email and converse (physically distanced) to those you love and those God places on your heart.  And above all, pray. Though the darkness may gather, God’s light overcomes through his promises and people.

Remember Psalm 46…

 

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

 The Lord Almighty is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

With God, we will get through this together.

Yours in Christ, Pastor Joseph


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People of Truth

Wash your hands, wear a mask, watch your distance and together we can slow the spread of infections.  Simple reminders with potentially profound results.  We could also add eat well, exercise, and educate yourself about ways you can build up your fitness and immune system before it ever comes to be tested.  Simple truths we are free to respond to.  Simple truths which some feel free to reject.

Followers of Jesus, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, claim a relationship with Truth which is personal and dynamic.  This intimacy allows us the freedom to act within reality through the revealing light of Jesus.  Desires, falsehoods, harmful responses, and distorted facts do not have to enslave and trip up those who walk in this light.  Over time we begin to see clearly how the freedom to walk in this light means giving up the right to walk on the other paths which lead away from God’s truth and love.  Over time our faith leads to action which leads bodily engagement with all of our lives.  Over time, this leads to character which always responds with love and truth from our God to our neighbors.  In this moment, this means acting with love four our broader community.

There is some confusion about best practices and what the data all means as our community wrestles with the coronavirus. There is not confusion about the increased number of cases in our county and our state.  There is not confusion about more people dying.  Let us remember Paul’s words to the church, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Let us be a people who respond with love to our neighbors by creating spaces which care about them.  This includes not just proclaiming the truth of the Gospel but also not spreading misinformation. This includes minding all of the bodily lived out responses during this pandemic we can manage.  This means owning that the freedom to love our neighbor comes by bearing the responsibility of sharing public space and seeing our connections.

Here at Central this means continuing to follow the 3 W’s. This means staying home if any symptom or exposure has occurred.  This means making sure longer conversations with others here on Sunday morning occur outside (still at 6 feet please) or in areas to the side of the main flow of people.  This means checking out worship online some Sundays to keep our spacing possible. We still want to see each and every one of you on Sunday…and it is still good to socialize (physically distance) and gather – we also want to be sure our witness aligns with our love of neighbor.  So if you are able, say hello from online and chat with some of our new guests there while we work together to keep our coronavirus count down and keep our doors open. Continue to be awesome at checking in with one another throughout the week and offering encouragement.  And above all – pray…for all of us.

Friends, we are in troubled times, but we have a rock and we can endure.  We know the end of this story and the hope of Jesus’ victory (John 16:33).  Let us continue to love God, to remember the truth of his goodness the promises he has for us, to discipline our bodies to live this abundant life, and to be a people of Truth who love our neighbors well.  This morning a song from many years ago came on the radio as I was dropping the kids off to school.  I hope it speaks to you as it did to me this morning.

 

Shalom,

Pastor Joseph


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Alone we go fast, together we go far…

Alone we go fast, together we go far,” is  an often quoted ‘African proverb.’  At first glance it seems to speak to the wisdom of working together for bigger goals.  A second hearing and we begin to see its pointing out the reality of two different approaches to two different goals.  Yet a third thought often comes to mind, ‘Does it matter if we don’t know the direction to go?’

 

It is so easy in our Western world to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life.  Deadlines and sign-ups, promotions and events, travel and opportunity, techniques and training, life plans and crisis -and now – Covid quarantines and zoom backgrounds, appropriate PPE and digital presence.  It can often feel as if the carrot chasing pace we are on will not cease until… We can look back and see the times we went it alone, held our breath and got through something quickly.  We can also often see times when groups and family were so critical for getting us through the long haul.  Church, however you have experienced it, was probably involved somewhere along the way.  Yet, as we continue on, fast or far, we can begin to ask, ‘What for?’

 

I know there is great longing for us to gather like we once did.  When we do not gather as a whole, it takes great work from all of us to remain connected.  But it is worth it.  These connections keep the body of Christ moving and active even though we are distributed. 

“You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.” Ephesians 4:4-6 ~ The Message

 

I remember a past annual conference where we heard of individual churches growing fast and of our ‘larger 1100 location, 100,000+ church’ going far in the Bishop’s Miracle Collection.  But it was in the proclamation of our love of Jesus, the prompting of the Holy Spirit, our faithful following, and the resulting changes in the world which was such a reaffirmation of the road we are on together.  For we are a part of Christ’s church.  Every time someone said ‘Together,’ the audience responded, ‘We Are More!’

 

This is a thought which has haunted me since.  Together. We. Are. More.  There are times in life when we need to go fast, and times when we need to go far—and I hope the church will be a community we can rely upon for both.  For we, the called-out, committed followers of Christ who gather together under the name of Central are not in this for speed or distance alone.  We have at our helm the Holy Spirit guiding us down ‘the same road in the same direction’ for God’s glory!  We are all given significant parts in this journey and we have and will form significant community along the way.

 

It has been over 200 years since Methodists formed a gathering here in Richmond, nearly 100 since Central joined together, and 60 since we traveled to 1425 E Main St.  It has been a trip.  Yet, there is more to this road, and I believe Central is ready to take the next bend.  There are many in our neighborhoods and communities who do not know the love of Jesus and its accompanying shalom.  It is my prayer that you, and all who are called to Central, find your part in Christ’s bride here. For together, we are more.

In Christ,

Pastor Joseph


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Opportunities are Everywhere

The view here at the beginning of September is not what I had in mind at the New Year.  A quick survey of the past half year, a look at our current news, and a glance at what people are talking about in the coming months – and it is easy to understand why many are stressed and despairing about 2020.  Uncertainty of what will be, fear about what is, and paralysis of analysis on what has been has led to inaction and anxiety.  Yet,  John Adams’ wisdom observation still shines through, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”  The way it was is now problematic.  The way it will be has yet to be revealed.  We must have courage to the opportunities budding.  We are in the transition, but with our God at the helm, we know glory is not far away.  Take Paul’s words as further evidence:
 
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
 
Through the cross, we can find resurrection.
 
Our denominational founder also speaks to these moments.  John Wesley brought hope to the downtrodden masses with a long look at holiness of both heart and life, personal and social.  He knew we had to be accountable or else we would rationalize our every departure from the ‘methods’ of scriptural holiness and despair at society’s prospects..  One question he asked of regular class meetings cuts to the quick in times like these, “What is your doing?”  
 
This one hits close to home.  I am far more comfortable with ‘how are you doing?’  There I can keep it subjective and real – my feelings, my thoughts, what happened to me – the other calls me to account on my actions and my inactions.  ‘How’ allows for interesting stories and good reflection.  ‘What’ draws us back to the commands of our savior – the One who is good.  This is why Wesley’s 3rd rule was to attend to all of the ordinances of God (Prayer, Fasting, Conversation, Bible, Serving, etc.)
 
In the midst of a pandemic we righty give ourselves a pass on so much.  Do we want to give ourselves a pass on those things which draw us to our God and eternal life?  Opportunities are everywhere.
 
We have such an opportunity to walk with one another in social holiness in our upcoming Workbook of Living Prayer study.  In this we will have a workbook to guide us through regular prayer while doing so amidst a group of fellow sojourners.  We will cover both the what and how in the journey and be transformed along the way.  I don’t know about you, but I am excited about deepening my prayer life while learning from others during these coming 6 weeks.  Lord, hear our prayer.
 
You can access and sign-up for these groups here on OnRealm.  I have come to realize many still do not know what OnRealm is.  Let me take a little more time and offer some clarity. 
 
OnRealm is our existing directory service for Central. We have been using it for years.  When the pandemic hit we wanted to activate the online login feature so all at Central could stay connected to one another.  To do this, we had to invite you to access your already existing account (hence the email and creation of password).  As everyone logs in and updates their photo and information, we will be able to print off our own directory for those who do not have access to OnRealm.  Further, with everyone now signed on, we can offer other features such as a messaging board for prayer requests, private access to your current giving statement, sign-ups such as this study, private chats, and group communications.  With OnRealm, we can adapt as a church and continue Christian conversations in 21st century mediums.
 
Sure, there is pain ahead and the unknown, but I like what our God is calling us to.  Through the cruciform life, new opportunities arise.  New neighbor outreach, a new focusing on prayer, new ways for Christian conversation – 2020 could go down as one of the most formative for our Christian journey.  
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph

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The Bible tells us more than just about God

King Hezekiah was considered one of the most righteous Kings in Judah’s history.  He oversaw temple reforms, commissioned the infamous Siloam tunnel (pictured), helped collate some of the proverbs for the book of Proverbs, and is mentioned in Jesus’ geneology. Nine different books in the Bible mention Hezekiah.  He “trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses,” (2 Kings 18:5-6).  He fought against idol worship and offered a lavish Passover not only to his own people, but also to the other tribes of Israel in the North.  He received promises from Isaiah no nation could overtake Judah as long as they were faithful.  Still, challenges of ‘biblical’ proportions arose.
 
Sennacherib was one of the most famous kings in ancient history.  Not only is he featured in the Bible, but he also destroyed Babylon and built Nineveh into a wondrous city.  After the death of his father in 705BC, uprisings challenged his power throughout the Levant (area from Egypt to Turkey).  These campaigns were recorded not just in the Bible, but also in archaeological finds – the Lachish Relief and the Sennacherib Prism.  One of those kings mentioned in the carvings- Hezekiah.
Many accuse the Bible as being made up.  However, again and again it has been vindicated through archaeology and other historical studies.  Further, people do not pause to think how thousands of years of writings could coalesce so well and point to a person so significant that the world changed its dating system to accommodate.  Finally, we often fail to remember how accurate it is in mirroring back the nature of humanity in such piercing ways.  Case in point, Hezekiah and Sennacherib.
 
2 Chronicles 32 tells of when these two great kings met in a series of sieges around Jerusalem from 705 – 689 BC.  Hezekiah at the height of his religious reforms and political power finds over 40 cities throughout Judah seized.  Despite having offered tribute in a moment of fear of the vast Assyrian power, Hezekiah realized nothing would satisfy the onslaught of Sennacherib.  He appeals to the people to trust in God and cries out with Isaiah in prayer.   In the middle of the night God sends deliverance and the Assyrian army fled despite having claimed to have ‘shut up Hezekiah like a bird in a cage.’  We see a story here told again and again in scripture.  
 
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Even for someone as righteous as Hezekiah.  It may seem like a minor infraction on Hezekiah’s part – paying for protection to prevent destruction of all of the reforms he had oversaw – but it still was a departure from faith and a matter of the heart God was pursuing(2 Chron 32:25-31).  
 
Some of our biggest falls come when everything is going well. Hezekiah worked wholeheartedly and faithfully for God and he prospered (2 Chron 31:21-32:1).  It was not in the midst of tragedy, but rather unparalleled success that trials and temptations came to Hezekiah and Judah.
 
There is still more.  If you turn to this story or have been following along in Reading the Bible in One Year, you know there is so much more to this story.  Opening the Bible each time reveals new layers of history, religion, truth, humanity and more.
 
Ultimately, Hezekiah’s heart turned towards God and offers us renewed hope.  Not in our own efforts or circumstances, but in the truly righteous king the Biblical story goes onto reveal – our king Jesus. No matter the righteous work we have done or the enormous circumstances which arise, God pursues the depths of who we are and offers renewed hearts.  With these we can have shalom and put our hands faithfully to the kingdom work ahead.
 
Excited to be on this lifelong journey in the Word with you.
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph
 

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Stewardship

Growing up I loved books by Gary Paulsen.  He wrote about boys and young men in the wild, wrestling with history, or up against great challenges.  Recently, I have been sharing this love by reading The Hatchet to my own boys.

In it, Brian wonders what life with his Dad in Northern Canada will be like after living with his Mom in the city.  These forward looking thoughts are pierced with the unthinkable reality of a plane crash leaving him in the middle of the wilderness with just what he is wearing, which fortuitously includes a brand new hatchet.  The story rolls out with adventures in survival and changing perspectives.

I don’t want to give it all away for it is a great read (and we are not finished yet), but I could not help but think of the story line anew against the backdrop of 2020.  Marriages, grand trips, and professional plans are but a few of the many predicates to “I was planning to….” Losses have been abundant, but in this current moment new perceptions and skills are arising for our surviving and hopefully someday thriving.  What plans and dreams did you have derailed by the events of the past 5 months?  What unknown wildernesses do we find ourselves learning how to survive again? 

These have been disorienting times as the information from around the world no longer aligns with what we once knew.  Yet all is not lost.  Much like Brian is forced to learn new ways and transforms in the process, so also we have an opportunity to learn new ways and grow as a community.  Along the way, we might see what God has strapped to our sides for such a time as this.  What tools or people which have always been close by have become indispensable this year?

We all have been through a lot and have challenges ahead.  Though we may be stewarding different stores through unimagined challenges, Our God abundantly blesses throughout. We do well to remember Moses’ word to the Israelites as they were ending there wilderness journey, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Joseph


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Masking Ourselves in Love

Masks.  They dominate our conversations.  Only if only it was just about halloween again.  I am sure we all find ourselves staring into the past to try to regain footing for these current moments.  I find myself reminiscing about simple conversations with my kids about superhero masks and alter egos and wonder when the coronavirus villain will be vanquished.  I look to the Bible and see most references to masks are about hypocrisy and false teachers.  I remember working in attics and wearing masks to keep my lungs healthy for future outings with my grandkids.  And then I am back again to our moment. Masks…everywhere.
 
Governor Holcomb announced this week masks would be required of all people in public who cannot socially distance.  I believe we at Central can continue to model this precaution for our neighbors.  No longer are masks ways to hide our identities (though I miss seeing you all face to face).  Now they are ways of showing our love.  When we think of Jesus’ words, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,’  masks are but a simple step.  Many could not – can not – go out into spaces where people are not taking what has become a simple precaution.  Masks are a simple way to allow for us to continue to be present in our lives.  In this sense, social distancing might better be understood as healthy distancing so as to avoid the extreme of social isolation.  We want to continue to create space for those who are able to gather.  
 
To this end we are asking all who come to Central at any time to wear a mask while moving around the building.  This will allow us to continue to minister to all of our neighbors while continuing to fight the spread of the coronavirus.  Further, we will be returning to limited office hours (8-1 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, & Friday & 8-5 on Thursday) to provide flexibility and space for our staff to navigate these times.  The building will still be available for groups and appointments outside of these hours.  We continue to serve not just the discipleship needs of our members at Central, but also the broader community.  If you feel called to donate masks, we will continue to distribute them to all who come through the doors at 1425 E Main St.
 
Let us continue to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.  I will admit, I never thought masks would be a part of it.  But as Paul writes, ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.’
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph

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A recent message from our Indiana Conference Associate Director of Leadership Development for Laity and Discipleship.

We are blessed to be part of a Global connectional church. Today’s post is a recent message from our Indiana Conference Associate Director of Leadership Development for Laity and Discipleship.
 
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you! When I try to make sense of all that is going in the world today, I keep coming back to the imagery of a groaning world. The pandemic, political conflict, unjustified killings, and civil unrest are all reminders of the brokenness of the world. They are also reminders of the need for Christ’s reconciling work and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit to redeem all of creation.
 
When we see the images and hear stories of brokenness and injustice, it is right to mourn and to feel righteous anger. At the same time, we have the hope of the promise that all things will be made new. God has recruited us to be agents of change in the world as we live in the image of Jesus. Mourning and anger remind us of what ought to be and should motivate us to take action.
 
We are all called to use the gifts we have been given to partner with God in the mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. The transformation happens little by little and person by person. However, sometimes dramatic movements of the Spirit happen in moments of desperation when people will see what they have not recognized before. I believe this is one of those times. As such, it is up to the people of God to reach out to the scared and lonely, work to bring justice to communities, and meet the needs of the most vulnerable in the name of Jesus.
 
This work will look different in today’s circumstances, but it is just as necessary as it has always been. Take time to identify the needs in your community, especially those that have long gone unmet. Open yourself to making new friendships with those that God has put in your path and be ready to share the difference that Jesus has made in your life. There are many searching to make sense of the times. We must be ready to show them Jesus, who offers hope and healing.
 
R.C. Muhlbaier, Assoc. Dir. of Leadership Development – Laity & Discipleship

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The Journey So Far

Friends,

How are you?  No really, how are you?  So much has happened and is happening.  It is good to work through it all in prayer and conversation.  I miss having time throughout the week to sit and talk with all of you as you pass through the building.  Do you have a fellow Christian to talk it all over – to listen?  If not, let me know and we can remedy that shortly.  It is my hope all who have ever called Central home has a regular connection as we follow after Jesus in these strange times.

Recently, we concluded the book of Proverbs in our Wisdom Study (resuming in August).  In it, there is a centering line in Chapter 3 which reads:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.
 
Though this is true in all circumstances, I have been surprised at how often I want to lean on my own understanding throughout the pandemic, the rising conversation on race, and movements in the streets.  God’s shalom has been broken anew.  Rather than finding eyes to see the Spirit’s new work, I rush to return to what worked before in my understanding.  Every time I do, I find it no longer holds like it used to.  Every time I do, I find myself humbled anew.  Every time I do, I find how foolish I was to ever turn from awaiting for God’s beckoning – from trusting God’s timing and action.  Still, his grace overwhelms me as again and again our Lord allows me space to return to the straight path.  

 

This is the path I pray we at Central maintain in the weeks ahead in both our peace-making work and in our continued vigilance with the coronavirus.  Our drive down this path has shown us much, but still much remains to be revealed around the coming bends.  Indiana is doing well with its coronavirus mitigation as we continue on a downward trend.  Wayne county and its health professionals have done an even better overall job of keeping our community in one of the lowest per capita case rates of any county.  Still with so much still unknown, we will still be proceeding with the following measures on Sunday mornings.

• We are asking you to continue to wear a mask to worship on Sunday mornings..
• We will continue to offer communion outside for both those attending and drive thru.
• We will continue to tape off rows.
• We will continue to offer more meditative music opportunities throughout the service.

If you will be rejoining us for the first time come July 5th, you will notice several other changes with an eye towards keeping any possible transmission at bay.   We continue to encourage anyone who is feeling even the slightest symptoms or who is at risk to join us in worship online through Facebook on Sunday mornings at 10.  If you are in need of face to face conversation, please call and I or another of the good people at Central will come and sit socially distant in the driveway for a good chat.  We are in this together.  God is still good.  We can lean into his solid Word.  He continues to call us to holy work in our lives, our homes, our community, and beyond.  Let us walk faithfully down this straight path.
 
Yours in Christ
,
Pastor Joseph

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