October Newsletter – Pastor JJ
What an absolutely bizarre and incredible year it has been! Before I get into all the things we have been doing, I do want to pause for a moment a recognize the incredible challenges in front of this church. This has been a hard year for everyone – emotionally, physically, technologically, and certainly spiritually. I know that we as a church have not been able to reach people the way we used to. We have not been able to connect and love one another the way we need to. My heart breaks when I think of and I pray for those I haven’t seen or spoken to in many months. You are missed and you are loved. Our vision statement last year was “Eyes Up, Flushing” – which came from the story of Peter when he walked on water. The moment he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the waves – he began to sink. It was a good vision, designed to help us walk through some turbulent waters of denominational change. I did not expect it to become a battle cry we would shout daily into the storm as we walked through a hurricane of a global pandemic. Yet, by keeping our eyes on Jesus this church has not only survived but we have THRIVED in 2020. I would say the success of this church is inexplicable, except that I CAN explain it. Your faithfulness. You, the people of this church, have been faithful in your connection to God through this church and that is why we have risen above the storm. You have made this possible.
Our new vision statement is “Rise Up to Raise Up” and we are committed to creating a church where we rise IN ORDER to raise up other people. We grow and then we help others grow. One of the keys to creating fertile soil for ministry is by having apprenticing and mentorship built into the very culture of our church. Now, for the rest of this letter – I want you show you what I mean by “fertile soil for ministry.” When a church is healthy, we create an environment where we encourage people to rise up and put their faith into action – to make ministry a reality. There are a lot more stories, but these are just a sampling of how our people are RISING UP at Flushing UMC.
When we first closed our church, one of the greatest disappointments was the cancellation of the Annual Easter Egg Hunt. Our outreach team always has a good time putting that together and the community kids LOVE it. We even pull some strings and get the Easter Bunny to make an appearance. But when we cancelled, it was our very own Blair Booth who came up with an idea for the Easter Bunny Wave! A drive by social distancing event – we reached out to our buddy the Easter Bunny and set up an event where kids could drive by and wave at the bunny, maybe even stop and take a picture without getting of our their car. It brought so much joy in the midst of that chaotic turmoil, and a few news crews even showed up to document it. What an amazing idea Blair had – great job!
The drive by event was inspiring on a lot of levels, and soon another member of our church – Kris Supernaw – had organized a number of drive by “parades.” At these events, we didn’t even have to get out of our car – but dozens of folks drove by with signs and balloons, honking and waving. It was a beautiful way to show enthusiasm in the summertime – we did several birthday celebrations, staff recognition and even two drive by baby showers! What incredible work for the kingdom of God – great job Kris!
Of course, just because the building closed does not mean the work inside slowed down at all! Our trustee committee, working in cooperation with gifts and memorials approved a number of improvements to our technology. This summer, we have increase our wifi abilities, installed a brand new sound system, upgraded computer software, AND put in new cameras. Our new sound board is a beautiful piece of work and gives us INCREDIBLE new abilities to reach people digitally with the word of God. A new member, Preston Swigart, took a special interest and dedicated hours and hours of time with a friend to installing our new sound board. He even found a special video training for our sound people to take so we could understand this new piece of equipment. Because of his passion and dedication – we are regularly reaching people all over the world with high quality streams of our services (California, Detroit, even Italy!). Thank you Preston!!
We did close our office temporarily for a short while, but even when our doors were locked – the staff were busy learning new skills and stretching into new ministries. I wanted to give special mention to Rose Dessinger, member of this church and Office Manager extraordinaire. She learned a whole new set of skills in video editing to bring us our pre-recorded services (before we had our livestream abilities up and running). She put subtitles and lyrics on the music, and edited together all the pieces before uploading them to Youtube and Facebook. These things are not in her job description, but she adapted to the needs of our church and did an incredible job!
And how can I talk about the pre-recorded services without mentioning the excellent efforts of the Faithful Five? Of course I’m referring to Bob Martin, Jim Thomas, Bob Kruger, Roland Woods and Ed Nixon – the fellas who have been singing for us since we shut down. They would come in during the week, all spread out for the cameras and perform our songs – so that people could have something to sing along to on Sunday. In fact, it was so enjoyable – when we came back for in person worship, we asked them to keep leading us! With the choir paused due to COVID, and singing with a mask being difficult – these wonderful men have blessed us with their ministry of music! Thank you gentlemen!
Of course, not all of our music was indoors! Joe Williams, and the other members of the incredible band 1Fifty led the way to our most successful year of Worship On the Riverfront ever! We coordinated with other churches to provide outdoor, public worship, EVERY SUNDAY this summer! That’s over twice as much as last summer, and the crowds were much bigger too. They practiced countless hours, set up and tore down, gave powerful testimonies and brought people closer to Jesus. Thank you Joe and thank you 1Fifty!
We had hoped to launch our brand new Men’s Ministry (called The Forge) this year – but obviously with COVID, that became difficult. Undeterred, two familiar faces – Jim Belanger and Tim Seaman, sprang into action and put together an outdoor building project for our Children’s ministry – a boat! Groups of men have gathered weekly to put this boat together all summer, and it’s going to be a beautiful addition to our children’s ministry. Great job Tim and Jim!
I could literally go on like this all day – but I’ll just give you two more quick stories and then I’ll stop. One of the things that happened in our community was that volunteering became more difficult. Many folks were not able to volunteer as they used to, but the need for volunteers did not go down. Many sites – such as F.C.O.C. and the North End South Kitchen – were greatly affected. So one of our members, Dan Venters, decided that he would start volunteering more often. Normally, our church sends volunteers to the North End South Kitchen once a month – but after being inspired by Dan’s example, our team decided to go every single week. I’ve had to the privilege to join them on occasion – and it is such a wonderful ministry! Great job Dan!
The last story I wanted to share is a new one – the Wifi Hotspot ministry. Because we closed our building to outside programs, our fellowship hall has been vacant for months. The school board of Flushing announced that the schools would be FULLY digital for at least the first month. So one of the moms in our church, Beth Anderson, who is ALSO an educator, teaching her classes online (AND she has kids who are learning digitally too) – came up with an amazing idea. She wondered if we could open our fellowship hall for students who do not have reliable wifi. Obviously it’s best if the kids can stay home – but we could be there for those who don’t have the resources they need. Inspired by her example, we looked into it and the Wifi Hotspot ministry was born! (Which led to our very first viral post on Facebook, three news crews and two print journalists reaching out to cover the story.) Way to go Beth!
I have been so inspired to lead this incredible group of people over the last year. But I am also haunted by the realization that there is so much more that we could be doing. I know that there are people in our church who have not been reached in months. Particularly in the area of pastoral care – I miss the people I have not been able to visit, people I have not had time to call. I miss you dearly. You are missed and you are loved. I know that there are ministry opportunities we have not touched. I know there are leaders among you who have not stepped forward yet. And I know that I cannot do all that needs to be done without you. The stories I have just shared represent the work of maybe twenty people and we are a church of two hundred! Can you imagine what our impact in community would be if ALL of us rose up together to spread God’s love into the world? 2020 has been a difficult, challenging, unexpected, incredible year for this church. So I pray that next year, you rise up in order to raise up the people around you.