You learn a lot about yourself when everything changes, your routine is ripped up and thrown away, and there is very little normal left. You learn how easily you adapt, what your priorities are, and whether you are basically an optimist or a pessimist. You also learn something about your relationship with God when life’s turned upside down. You learn what you expect from God, how dependent you are on Jesus and how much you long for the Holy Spirit to be at work in your life. Learning about yourself is always good. It can also be painful, especially when you are confronted with things you don’t like. But there is hope. Awesome Hope. Because God’s amazing grace loves you unconditionally and transforms you from the inside-out – all at the same time!
This week is Spring Break and some schools, especially in rural areas, may not continue to serve meals. Other schools that are not offering any type of continued instruction also may not be offering meals. This means that those low-income students lose access to two meals per day. Please consider ways to provide meals to these students.
- Do your research! 1 person from the church should call the local school, the school district or the school superintendent to ask how and where students are being fed. You can also reach out to your local county extension office agent, as they are also aware of resources that are being made available in your area.
- Look ways to partner – help deliver meals or food boxes along bus routes if they are delivering instructional materials. Or, offer to provide meals at a convenient location for students.
- Invite other churches in your area to help provide meals.
- Recruit volunteers.
- Set up prep and cooking stations with space in between for volunteers.
- Recruit younger volunteers if possible, keeping our most vulnerable members safe.
- Work with the schools to share with their community where meals will be offered and at what time. If not along a bus route or at low income housing areas where many children live,
- Try to serve out of the same spot so that the families know where to go each time.
- Keep the times limited to a reasonable time frame.
- Pack meals to go – either cold bagged lunches or boxed hot meals.
- Deliver to cars using protective gear and wiping gloved hands with sanitizer between each delivery.
- Or, set up tables near the door so that families can quickly grab and go. There should be no congregating. Minimize activity in the building.
- Keep a safe distance, using 6 feet. Tape demarcating where people should stand or wait can be helpful.
Let Mary Lewis Dassinger know if you are providing meals. If you need assistance, then there are potential resources with which to connect you.
Other Ways to Help
- Provide Food Boxes along with the meals. Backpack ministries may have food available or looking for ways to continue.
- Continue to support local food pantries or blessing boxes. Collect food to keep shelves full.
- Regional food banks can also help you connect and serve. They may know where the greatest need is and able to connect you. They may also need volunteers to pack food boxes as well as financial donations to keep their warehouses full.
- Any food collections would best be utilized at a local ministry since the food banks would have to turn the food around and send it back out.
- Confirm volunteer conditions are practicing safe distances.
This link will provide a map of each food bank’s territory and links to their websites.
North Central Arkansas
Arkansas Food Bank
Patricia Fry (Volunteer Coordination) or Connie Bledsoe (Agency Coordinator)
If you would like to help the ARFB pack boxes this week, please sign up for a volunteer shift here.
Food Bank of North East Arkansas
*Jennifer Hannah or Emily Still
River Valley Regional Food Bank
*Morgan Osman or Tracy Engle
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
Harvest Regional Food Bank
*These names have been pulled from their websites and have not returned request for permission to contact specifically.
By Kay Brockwell
Lay Leader, St. Paul UMC, Jonesboro
When we began Lent on Feb. 26, we were certainly not thinking about giving up this much. Not our jobs, not our family gatherings, not our dinners out and movie nights, not our worship services. We were not thinking about giving up affectionate hugs from our friends when we met them. Our teens were not thinking about giving up senior proms and high school basketball championships. Our sports fans were not thinking about giving up March Madness and the first month and a half of major league baseball.
We were not thinking about giving up community.
What a difference four weeks make! Now we are “hunkered down,” making only necessary trips to the grocery and pharmacy and doctor’s office, and being careful to keep the prescribed six feet away from everyone else in the store. In the evenings, we rediscover our families, if we are fortunate enough to still share our homes with them. Unless we’re a health care worker or a first responder or work in what’s deemed essential retail, we’re absent the community of our workplace. Those of us who live alone may go for days without seeing another human being.
Our Lent is fashioned after Jesus’ period of fasting in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan, and where he withstood those temptations. He spent his 40 days in solitude. And here we are, 2000 years later, spending our days leading to Easter in solitude as well. Our churches are empty. Our Sunday morning church is conducted by Facebook live, YouTube, Zoom meeting or conference call. We, too, are tempted in our solitude; tempted by sloth, by depression, by even further withdrawal from the world we can no longer touch. We, and our church, will emerge from this period time a changed people, and a changed church; the question is how we will change, and how we’ll shape the post-coronavirus church and world.
How do we, then, survive this time in our own little wilderness? While our distractions are lessened, our opportunity to seek God grows. Without the tyranny of a schedule and a calendar, we can spend more time in His presence. We can take time to sit quietly in his presence, not petitioning, not praising, just aware of his presence in us. We can, perhaps, begin a practice of meditation and contemplative prayer.
We can spend more time showing love to those with whom we live, and to others in our community. We can craft wonderful meals, build long-awaited projects, play in the back yard; we can take a home-cooked meal to a neighbor (leaving it on their porch). We can call a shut-in or someone who lives alone and pick up their groceries when we shop. We can mail a card or a small gift.
We can re-establish our church community through a combination of technology and inventiveness. If most of our members are elderly and not online, we can have conference call services. We can offer drive-up Communion, complete with masks and surgical gloves and individually packaged elements. We can move a pulpit and sound system to the parking lot and hold a drive-in church. We can establish online prayer groups and Bible studies.
We can reach out to those we don’t know by providing food for feeding programs, or in neighborhood “free pantries,” or to our local food bank. We can continue to provide for the many needs that don’t stop because we are quarantined – infant formula, children’s clothing, online one-to-one tutoring for school children, meeting the needs of our homeless.
Most of all, we can remember the many times God has promised that he will never forsake his people. Quarantine may separate us; let us not allow it to forsake each other.
By Melinda Shunk
Children's Ministry Coordinator
Holy Week for Christians is a time to spiritually follow the journey of the disciples and Jesus through worship experiences so that we all can be reminded why we feel joy on Easter morning.
The tradition of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Easter vigil is important. I would argue that without those services, can we really appreciate and pass down the stories to our children of why Easter Worship is a celebration?
However, over my time in ministry, I have seen these important worship services dwindle in attendance, and dare I say get dropped from the Holy Week worship schedule altogether due to lack of staffing and attendance. I am not judging. I was on staff at a mid-size church for 10 years. I understand the struggle in planning worship that people say they don’t have time or interest to attend.
Barna Group just published some research that tells us we can do better in creating inspired, encouraged, and forgiving worship experiences for our members.
Overall, churched adults say they leave worship services feeling inspired (37%), encouraged (37%), forgiven (34%), as though they have connected with God or experienced his presence (33%) and challenged to change something in their life (26%). A plurality of churched adults also express always feeling like attending service was the most important experience they had all week (29%) and that they learned something new (28%). (Barna Group, 2020)
To be clear, I am not putting blame on senior pastors, but I would rather like to encourage them to not feel the weight of their entire congregation’s spiritual needs being met by one pastor at every service. Because as we are all designed differently, we all learn differently.
A senior pastor also knows how to see spiritual gifts in others so create a worship team and use their gifts. You can’t possibly do it all every week and especially not a week with at least four services. Sticking with just one way of worship and not relying on the parish members to offer other forms of teaching keeps people at 37%, but if a pastor seeks out the gifts of others to help with the planning and leading of worship more of the congregation will be touched in multiple ways, thus guaranteeing that people leave worship with positive feelings.
During our first session of Beyond Conference 2020, speaker Rev. Dr. Leanne Hadley taught us that although we are called to minister to children, we are also called to let children minister to us!
You read that correctly. Children minister to adults. Every time I work with children, I have at least one experience when a child ministers to my soul. Children are part of the congregation; let them minister to adults during Holy Week.
The best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Challenging a group of fifth and sixth graders to lead service will help them learn parts of worship and the Gospel stories. Your congregation will be inspired and intrigued to see and hear the excitement of the message being taught to them through the voice of innocence. Parents will not miss an opportunity to be part of the worship that their child is helping to lead. It becomes an “everybody” worship instead of a “You” and “Them” worship. Here are some examples of Holy Week Everybody Worship that may inspire you:
The youth at Lakewood UMC lead worship with a Living Last Supper on Maundy Thursday in 2019. Having children or youth lead worship during Holy Week is a great way to take the pressure off of clergy. || Photo by Kat Caserta
1. All can feel part of Palm Sunday at the call to worship by starting in the Narthex handing out palms as the music plays. Don’t let them file into their pews as usual. Not allowing the normal entry and comfort seating interrupts the habit and rote worshipers creating a sense of alertness to the specialness of the day.
Create a special multi-age Palm Sunday choir that starts the procession into the sanctuary and have clergy bring up the end of the processional. The pastor can begin worship by explaining the importance of the Palm as each congregate holds it in their hand. Some churches already do this with a few members or just the choir, but I recommend making it all-inclusive as a symbolic way of “walking into Holy Week” as a congregation just as Jesus knew what he was walking into that day.
2. Take a look at a photo from Lakewood UMC’s Maundy Thursday service last year. Lakewood’s Youth Minister Kat Caserta had her junior high youth lead the worship with a Living Last Supper. They used costumes, set up a Seder meal, and washed feet. They learned Holy Communion, the Lord’s Prayer and learned why the washing of feet teaches us to serve others in a way that creates lasting understanding for the kids who lead. Kat reported to me, “This year, we’re doing it again in our sanctuary and making it more of a blended service with the rest of the congregation. The action will be a big part of the worship service. The youth and children will continue to be a big part of it.” It was so well received they are continuing to lead Holy Week worship.
3. Two years ago, the Rev. Bill Sardin and Children’s Minister Michelle Wilkins at FUMC Hot Springs incorporated multi-generational readers, shadow mimes, and object bags to tell the Good Friday story. All who attended worship could feel and touch the story because volunteers made small bags with a thorn, a die, a sponge, a cross and a nail that the congregation members could hold and look at as the scripture was being read. Church members had visuals, tactical objects, and the spoken word of the Gospel as they were taught the Good Friday story. It was the largest multi-generational Good Friday worship the church had experienced in several years.
What if my 401K retirement plan is decimated because of what’s happening on Wall Street? What if I lose my job? What if my elderly grandmother gets COVID-19? What if the schools don’t open again until next fall? What if life is never the same again? Every one of these is an important – and very appropriate – question. But if you insist on asking “what if” questions that simply cannot be answered right now, you’re likely to develop a case of “WhatIfism” – constantly living in a state of imagining only the worst case possibilities. There is, however, a cure for this insidious disease. It’s Jesus’ love that seeks you out, embraces you (social distancing notwithstanding!) in unconditional love and redeems you so that you can thrive regardless of what COVID-19 throws at you.