Exactly a year ago, I wrote expressing to you all concern over the increasing uncertainty of what the days ahead would bring. At that time, reports from parts of Asia and Europe led to an increase in anxiety and fear creating an ominous cloud overshadowing everyone everywhere. It was in that third week of Lent 2020 that the reality of life being radically altered really sank in. Over the past 12 months, life has changed to a new normal that we first thought would last only a few weeks or months but is still with us in varying degrees. We adapted to isolation, social distancing, wearing masks, testing, quarantine, working from home, virtual meetings, and livestream worship, making the best of a terribly difficult situation as we found ways to cope. It has been difficult with many lives lost to COVID-19 over these months leaving millions of families and friends grieving. We wonder how long this will last, and though the human spirit is resilient, we wonder if we can we endure much more and how the struggles and stress will be seen in lives post-pandemic. All the unresolved grief, frustration, bewilderment, lost dreams and eroded hope will affect us all whether in our personal lives or in systemic social ills that affect communities. On this milestone, it is important to acknowledge and give thanks for those in healthcare who work so hard and risk so much in caring for those with COVID, the scientists who worked feverously to come up with a vaccine and continue to do so, the essential workers providing the necessary goods and services for our safety and daily necessities, and the untold number of nameless individuals who care for friends and neighbors who are most vulnerable. The list could go on regarding those that touch us when we see the genuine love in caring for others. I believe that the prayers offered for others and for ourselves have seen us through thus far, and provide all the more reason to pray daily, especially in this period of preparation of Lent. I want to invite you to a virtual event of prayer that will take place March 15 at 7:00 p.m. It is a memorial service organized by the Southside Faith Communities in which I will participate along with a number of other local clergy.
The period in the church year following Epiphany and leading up to Lent is called “Ordinary Time,” meaning the Sundays not associated with Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Christmas or Epiphany. The use of the term “ordinary” likely comes from “ordinal,” meaning counted, and should not be confused with being common. Although, during a ten-month period of a pandemic during which you are limited in activities, or even confined at home, the days may seem quite common. One thing is for sure, this year, though, the days following Epiphany and even Epiphany itself, January 6, have been anything but common, typical, or ordinary. The appalling events in Washington D C. last week left us bewildered, dismayed and incensed at words spoken and actions taken. These days are not common or ordinary and concern us all. Everyday, but especially over the next two weeks, we should pray for our nation, the elected officials, security officers, and every citizen, praying that God will grant wisdom and understanding to those in positions of power, that a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another will take place and that a spirit of peace and cooperation may come to those in positions of leadership. Hopefully, this will calm fears and restore and increase confidence in those elected so that all in our nation can live with hope.
This week, barring any technical problems as experienced last Sunday, we will worship together via the livestream broadcast. Technology, for which we are grateful, and which provides us the opportunity to gather virtually, does present some anxious moments when a component fails as it did last week. But, it can also provide a time to consider all things and become more positive and optimistic. As I reflect on last Sunday and the livestreaming glitch, I also remember the twenty-seven consecutive Sundays since the middle of March on which we were all able to worship together virtually, and how they were a part of keeping us connected. Focusing on the good and successful times can in fact help us appreciate them even more when something beyond our control stops us in our tracks.
We all have many new and different experiences, some good and some not so good, upon which to reflect as we persistently make our way through the pandemic dealing with a variety of challenges along the way. There are those facing tremendously large challenges and others whose difficulties pale in comparison. As I reflect on it this week, I think of the many life-changing, even life-threatening, issues many of you are facing. Family and friends who are grieving over the loss of loved ones during the pandemic, or perhaps those who have loved ones who are losing their independence due to physical or mental health issues come to mind. Still others are dealing with chronic illnesses and pain; invasive surgery to replace joints, to repair an organ, or remove a malignancy. All of these are a part of living, a part of being human, whether we are the individual affected or just close to the person.
This is a time for us to appreciate the relationships we have with each other. A time for those of us able to walk alongside and encourage those who are facing great challenges in life, to pray for them, to give them support and to help us all maintain hope. It is a time for us to realize that God has blessed us with one another to live and experience life in community with one another and with God.
Please take a few moments today and think of your church family, giving thanks for them and praying that they will be encouraged by the prayers offered.
Wednesday evening, we will meet virtually for our weekly time of prayer and study. I hope you will join your church family for all, or part, of this time together. We begin at 6:00 p.m. and look forward to seeing all able to attend.
We are all closely watching weather reports this week as Hurricane Sally makes landfall on the Gulf Coast and moves across the southeastern U.S. The reports bring to mind those directly in the path of this storm and prompt us to pray that the damage from the wind, storm surge and flooding will not be too destructive and that precautions taken will prevent the loss of lives. All weather related events for most of 2020, severe storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires, are shrouded in the reality and threat of COVID-19. With this ever-present heaviness brought on by the pandemic, any additional hardship only further threatens and complicates lives of the victims. It can be the tipping point for those severely affected making them feel even more isolated and some losing all hope. Many of you are already praying for those who have experienced great loss from these disasters. I encourage you and others to join in a concerted effort to pray specifically for these victims and, as news comes forth on ways to help, to consider how you can give to relieve some of the pain and fear. Your prayers and your participation in relief efforts, along with others, may be that which restores the faith and hope to those most severely affected.
Wednesday evening in the Zoom meeting for prayer and study, we will pray for these and others on our prayer list.
I hope you will log in to this online gathering to encourage one another and to consider ways to offer encouragement and help to our neighbors next door and those across the country.
Life goes on while we live in a strangely different time. Minimized and streamlined daily routines to reduce the risks related to COVID-19 do not eliminate other life events, expected and unexpected, that come our way. A newly married young adult diagnosed with cancer, a fellow church member’s elderly mother passing away after a fall, the progression of a disease that diminishes one’s independence, the depression that creeps in and engulfs one like a dark, heavy cloud with no easy way to catch a glimmer of light. And then there are those wonderful events such as a the first day of school, graduation, a wedding, the birth of a child and while still celebrated, it seems as though not fully celebrated. Life goes on! We miss the rich fellowship and support that our church family interacting face-to-face provides. We glean as much as possible from the online meetings, for which we are grateful, but we look forward to the day we can worship together in the same space. In the meantime, we are tasked with maintaining the spirit and fellowship of our church family by reaching out to one another and praying for each other. A question that I was asked recently and that we might each ask ourselves is this: How important is your church to you in this pandemic? Please think about this question, and when we gather Wednesday for Prayer and Bible Study, we will discuss some of the responses.
The Psalm reading for this Sunday begins with words which speak to us at all times.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
All that is within, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all his benefits. (Ps.103:1-2)
I look forward to seeing those all to participate in the Zoom meeting Wednesday at 6:00 p.m.
The link for the meeting is included below.
Meeting ID: 876 3757 9395
One tap mobile
+13126266799,,87637579395#,,,,,,0#,,253637# US (Chicago)
We start a new month and still we find ourselves in an in-between state. We are alive, and for the most part well, but our focus is very different than it was a year ago as the familiar feelings, sights and sounds of summer vacation coming to an end, a new school year and a college football season beginning are so radically different. In the days of March through August, we learned a great deal about ourselves, some good things and some not so good. Although we are not through the pandemic, we have learned how to function with less and with limited or no access to things we thought we couldn’t live without. The human spirit is amazingly resilient, and I am confident we will see evidence of this as we push ahead toward a day when a vaccine is available that will finally help us move beyond this pandemic.
One fact that was obvious before but is even more apparent now, is that we really do need each other. People around us, family, friends, and co-workers, need the awareness and assurance of others to whom they are very significant. Community, whether large or small, is important and vital for each of us. Take a moment today to think about those that are important to you and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for them. Almost daily, I receive word from someone expressing concern about a member or a neighbor’s well-being. If you are aware of someone having a need that we can help meet, please share that with the church office so that together we can give expression to the love of God with us, by encouraging and assisting those within our family of faith and in our community.
This Wednesday evening in our mid-week Zoom meeting, we will discuss the importance of community and how it has taken on a new significance for many. I hope you will join us to be a part of this discussion and in our time of prayer. The login information is included below.
Meeting ID: 876 3757 9395
One tap mobile
+13126266799,,87637579395#,,,,,,0#,,253637# US (Chicago)
Each week a few volunteers and our church staff work diligently to make sure the worship service available via livestream is spiritually uplifting and provides a connection for you to your church family. I understand that a livestream service is not the same as being present; however, I hope the visual of the sanctuary, the music, the scripture, prayers and homily help you as you worship from your home until the time when we are able to safely worship together in one place.
Other ministries of the church are ongoing as well such as Bible study on Wednesday evening and Sunday morning and our Men’s Bible Study on Thursday at noon, although these are also virtual events. The Food Bank is open every other Thursday from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. and is the only ministry taking place onsite, with the exception of those by the non-profits housed at SSBC.
Every person that offers prayers for these efforts, or makes a financial gift, is a part of these ministries. We all want to be ready individually and as a church family to address the needs we see before us now, and when we are able to assemble together again. Please pray for the many needs around us, and give to support these ministry efforts as you feel led.
It is the last week in the fifth month of the pandemic, and still we wonder when positive news will lighten the heaviness under which we live each day. We hope and pray for the success of vaccine trials which we know are the only sure way to get beyond the effects this virus has on the health of people around the world and the dramatic changes we are all making for the sake of ourselves and others.
The new normal, which has become our routine for the last several months and likely will be for several months ahead, is not at all what we want, but it is what we have. Therefore, we push on in our individual lives, taking care of the critical aspects of life and discovering new ways to enrich our lives and relationships. As a church family, we address the ministries that are a part of our mission to the degree possible and discover new ideas and ways to be the presence of Christ in our community and beyond.
Each Sunday, I remind you of some of the ministry efforts that are on going, and on Wednesday evenings we gather for a time of prayer and Bible study in a Zoom Meeting. Prayers for members of our church family are offered and other concerns related to the ministries of the church are discussed during the study time. If you have concerns or questions, join us for this time of prayer together. It would benefit your church family to hear from you. If your schedule prevents you from joining our virtual gathering, you can email me or the church office.
Worship last Sunday featured the welcomed return of the pipe organ creating a very familiar and comforting feeling which facilitated our experience of worship. The failure of a part that rendered the organ inoperable was replaced; however, obtaining the part and the installation took longer than expected due to the pandemic. The months of absence or limitations of various activities and interests perhaps have reminded us of their enriching values leading us to appreciate them more. I encourage you to give thanks for the blessings so easily taken for granted pre-pandemic.
The Deacons and the Congregational Council met in a Zoom meeting Monday. The meeting followed the usual agenda, but as it has for the last five months, the effects of the pandemic on members and on the ministries of Southside Baptist Church were at the forefront of discussion. We are all hopeful as we pray that the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths will begin to slow, but until then, the deacons decided it is best to continue with no on-site worship or meetings for our congregation. This will be revisited at the August Deacons meeting. The church staff will continue to do our best to provide a wonderful worship service each week. Please continue to pray for each other and the ministries of SSBC that touch the lives of so many in our community and beyond.
Have you been able to maintain a positive outlook on life while working from home and having limited or no social events to attend? Life is strangely different now, and it looks as though it will remain in some variation of this state for months to come. How can we foster interaction and fellowship among our church family during these times? One way is through the gatherings we have online every Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m. The first half of the Zoom meeting each week is a time of discussion related to church family news and prayer concerns. It is an open discussion to determine how to help those most affected by the pandemic, as well as discussing various social concerns, especially those related to social justice and racism. I encourage you to take part in this important opportunity for dialogue. I also encourage you to participate in the virtual Sunday School Class at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday mornings and the Worship Service livestream at 11 a.m.
Our Food Bank will be distributing food this Thursday from 3-5 p.m. If you would like to help in this mission and ministry effort, please contact the church office for details on guidelines for volunteering or for receiving food. The number of families receiving food has increased steadily since mid-May and will likely continue to increase as special assistance with housing and loss of income begins to diminish. You can also take part in helping to support this ministry by giving financially to this cause.
I look forward to seeing those able to participate in this effort and those able to join one of the virtual meetings this week.