“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (CEB)
This coming Sunday is the 51st week since we made the incredible, previously unimaginable choice to take our worship out of the building, gathering online as best we could. Then, as the virus receded, we cautiously tiptoed back in, enjoying a strange but sacred Summer unlike any other here. Now, with cases falling (or plateauing before, hopefully, continuing to drop), it’s time to come back again. I hope and pray that this will be a durable reopening and that we will resume the work of opening our doors wider and wider.
I can’t really express how difficult that first move online was. The theology I preach and share from the pulpit is always one of radical welcome to all God’s people, from the lifelong disciple to the nominally religious, those who serve on every committee possible to those struggling with this whole faith thing. All are welcome and necessary for this place to look like the church. The move online left some out.
Why do it then? Certainly, there were plenty of examples of churches meeting throughout the pandemic. I’m not here to disparage the choices those people and those leaders made. I’m here to say that our decisions were made in an impossible situation to honor the greatest commandment Jesus shared with his questioner long ago. Love the Lord with everything we are and our neighbors as ourselves. That’s the essence of this faith. I sought to be faithful to that commandment even as it was uncomfortable and occasionally lonesome.
But, friends, it is time for many of you to come back. Here is important information for this week and also some things to look forward to:
First, things will seem familiar to those who returned to the sanctuary last Summer. We will begin with marked-off seating areas. Face coverings have proven an effective way of slowing or stopping the spread indoors, so please bring your own. If you forget yours, don’t turn around and head home, we will have them available at the door. Singing out is still not advised, though humming or singing about as loud as you might while browsing Shop-Rite is always welcome. We will celebrate Communion Sunday morning, though once again it’s a bring-your-own cracker and juice affair, with plans to return to a common Communion cup after vaccination rates rise and disease rates drop. It’s not yet time to continue coffee hour in person, though that day will come, too. Small groups will remain on Zoom for now, also.
Gov. Murphy has given churches the go-ahead to gather at 50% of building capacity. For us, that means we could accommodate the entire pre-pandemic congregation. From talking with many of you, however, I know there are dozens who are going to hold out those remaining weeks, waiting for cases to drop more, vaccines, or whatever reasons you might have. We will do our best to live stream our services each week, making sure the projector screen is legible, speakers are audible, and the rest.
Judy and the Children’s Ministry team are talking about a potential resumption of activities for our youngest disciples later this month. For those who are comfortable, we would love to invite kids to come back to worship on Palm Sunday, March 28, for a procession and parade followed by crafts in Fellowship Hall. The following Sunday, Easter Sunday, we will have an outdoor egg hunt (weather permitting). For the remainder of the Spring, we invite children to come to church and then head to Fellowship Hall for Sunday School lessons.
To those who are interested in joining Flemington UMC as members by profession of faith – Easter is a great service for that. You can reply to this message and I’ll get back to you quickly. If you’d like to join with others that Sunday but aren’t yet ready to return to the building, we can receive you over Zoom if necessary. Know you are welcome and, in the months and years ahead, we will all gather safely and joyfully here as we will in the world to come.
There’s more to cover, of course. But – and this is important – this is a happy day for this church, our community, and our world. We are allowed to celebrate even as we must not forget those who are suffering or grieving the loss of loved ones as this pandemic is not yet over. However, for the first time, the end appears to be in sight, sooner than we may have feared even if longer than we’d hoped. I am grateful to those who will return Sunday and to those who will return in the Sundays to come. It’s been 51 strange weeks, but we’ve held fast to the commitment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves as best as we could. I am thankful for each of you.
Grace and Peace,
Continuing Coffee Hour Over Zoom
Laura Newton will host a weekly time of conversation and connection at 11:30 am after our worship service each week. Login available at 11:15am or conclusion of worship, whichever is later.
Here is a link to that time –
If you have questions or need help, you can ask Pastor Ben or Laura. Don’t be shy, you are missed and a part of this church family, too!
New Upper Rooms are Available in the Church Office
The new Upper Room Daily Devotionals are also available now. If you’d like to pick yours up, Gretchen is in the church office from 9am-noon Tuesday – Friday each week. Please call ahead so she can set whatever you are picking up out for you.
You will find every newsletter, worship service, devotional, and additional material posted to our Facebook page:
Even if you don’t use Facebook, you can access everything we have there. If you do have a Facebook account, “like” to follow our page and be notified when new things are posted or when videos are about to go live so you don’t miss anything.
Coffee Hour is a time of sharing after Sunday morning worship hosted by Laura Newton at approximately 11:30am. All are welcome!
If you have any difficulties accessing any of those links, please reply to this message or call the church office at (908)782-1070 and we will get you connected right away.