Each year, as part of our charge conference paperwork, local church pastors are asked to write a “State of the Church” report, sharing our pastoral perspective on the life of the church throughout the past year. Even in the midst of such a difficult year, I find we have so much to celebrate… and so, Wesley Church, in the spirit of a devotional, I share with you my own “State of the Church” report for this season of covid-tide. Join us for the Charge Conference livestream tonight — Wednesday, September 9 at 6:00 PM — by visiting our church’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wesleychurchbethlehem.
As a child, I learned the sing-songy words of the traditional Pentecost hymn: The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place. The church is a people! This March, as the spread of COVID-19 compelled us to limit access to the church building, I began to wonder… what would become of the church? Not this building, or this steeple, or this resting place. What would become of this people?
Before COVID-19, we as the people of Wesley Church were making great strides. We had a steady — even growing! — worship attendance. We were becoming more financially stable, were adding special missions offerings to our regular giving, and were beginning to tackle much-needed capital improvements. We added a new staff member and a dozen new church members. We offered lay-led Bible studies, interfaith dialogue opportunities, and the beginnings of a new kind of confirmation program. We continued to enjoy vibrant music ministries, children & youth ministry, and outreach ministries (including our community garden, annual backpack distribution, and outreach depot). We saw a strengthened relationship between the church and the Wesley Circle of Friends Preschool, between the church and the New Bethany Food Pantry, between the church and the Bethlehem Emergency Shelter… really, between the church and the community.
Then COVID-19 struck. Initially, I thought the shutdowns might last for a few weeks. Maybe a month. Surely we’d be back to strength by Easter, right? When the full scope of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, I began to wonder… would any of it survive? What would be left of Wesley Church?
But you, Wesley Church, continued to show up. You continued to give. You continued to donate food and essential supplies. You continued to reach out. You continued to serve. You continued to be the church, to be “people blessing people.”
During this season I’ve come to call “covid-tide,” we have transitioned to an engaging online format for worship. We’ve celebrated Easter, Pentecost, and our 25th anniversary here at 2540 Center Street. We’ve gathered together outdoors for bimonthly communion services.
During this season of covid-tide, we have experienced renewed interest in our community garden ministry — over five hundred pounds of produce donated in this growing season alone! We reimagined our entire “We Got Your Back” backpack distribution program, taking our fundraisers online, engaging with conference and community partners, and distributing school supplies, backpacks, socks, and underwear in a curbside-pickup event. We have redoubled our donations to the New Bethany Food Pantry, ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors do not struggle through this season in needless hunger.
During this season of covid-tide, we’ve been creative and innovative. We’ve held meetings, youth group gatherings, Bible studies, staff meetings, music group gatherings, prayer team meetings, and book clubs via Zoom. We’ve offered inspiration through virtual music ensembles. We created our own in-house VBS curriculum and offered our kiddos “VBS in a Bag!” We’ve shared daily messages of inspiration with our congregation and wider community via website and email (and one month, sent so many messages that we temporarily broke our email service!).
During this season of covid-tide, we’ve branched out in new ways. A new “plarning” ministry helps our community and our planet, turning once-discarded plastic bags into useful sleeping mats for neighbors who lack adequate shelter. New small group studies planned for this fall will enable participants to discover God’s response to stress & anxiety and God’s call to strive toward racial justice. New efforts at touching base with our congregation have helped us discover the best ways to connect with different individuals.
This season of covid-tide has been a trying season, a testing season. Indeed, it has been a test to determine, once and for all — is Wesley Church a building, or a people? We are a people, friends, a vibrant, Spirit-led, faith-filled people.
That test isn’t over. Will we be able to maintain our enthusiasm and passion as the weeks of covid-tide wear on? If a vaccine is delayed? If a second wave comes crashing? If we open for in-person worship, and then circumstances compel us to go back to online-only? If even Christmas has to be online? It’s my hope… my prayer… my belief that Wesley Church will pass that test, too. We’ll continue to show up, give, donate, reach out, and service. We’ll continue to be the church, to be “people blessing people.”
And remember, friends:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
Want to know more?
- Learn about our church and its ministries: https://wesleychurch.com/
- Make a gift to support our mission: https://wesleychurch.com/giving-2/
- View our recent messages: https://wesleychurch.com/sermon-message-on-video/
- View previous devotionals: https://wesleychurch.com/pastor-candys-devotionals-2/