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TLC Weekly Sermons December 13
TLC Weekly Sermons December 6
TLC Weekly Sermon November 29
TLC Weekly Sermon November 22
TLC Weekly Sermons November 15
TLC Weekly Sermon November 8
TLC Weekly Sermon November 1
TLC Weekly Sermon October 25
TLC Weekly Sermon October 18
TLC Weekly Sermon October 11
TLC Weekly Sermon October 4
TLC Weekly Sermon September 27
TLC Weekly Sermon September 20
TLC Weekly Sermon September 13
TLC Weekly Sermon September 6
TLC Weekly Sermon August 30
TLC Weekly Sermon August 23
TLC Weekly Sermon August 16
TLC Weekly Sermon August 9
TLC Weekly Sermon August 2
TLC Weekly Sermon July 26
TLC Weekly Sermon July 19
TLC Weekly Sermon July 12
TLC Weekly Sermon, July 5
TLC Weekly Sermon, June 28
TLC Weekly Sermon, June 21
TLC Weekly Sermon, June 14
TLC Weekly Sermon, June 7
TLC Weekly Sermon, May 31
TLC Weekly Sermon, May 24
TLC Weekly Sermon, May 17
TLC Weekly Sermon, May 10
TLC Weekly Sermon, May 3
TLC Weekly Sermon, April 26
TLC Weekly Sermon, April 19
TLC Weekly Sermon, Easter
In 1 Peter 5:6-7 we read: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” The Apostle Peter assures us that God will hear our humble, honest, and trusting prayer, made in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
PRAYER VENTURES: January 2021
These petitions are offered as guides to prayer for the global, social and outreach ministries of the ELCA, as well as for the needs and circumstances of our neighbors, communities and world. Thank you for your continued prayers for the life and mission of this church.
1 Give thanks and praise that God knows intimately our complexities, failures, accomplishments, questions, goals and hopes, and still looks upon us with loving kindness, newness and a desire for us to thrive as individuals and communities.
2 Pray for our companion churches and international leaders as they confront multiple waves of the pandemic. Ask the Spirit to fill them with hope, resilience and reassurance that our faith in the presence and love of God, which we share as siblings in Christ, will unify us in caring for one another and in doing God’s work in the world, using our diverse gifts, cultures, languages, resources and perspectives in every circumstance.
3 Give thanks and praise to God that we are children of God, knowing and testifying to the good news that Jesus Christ became flesh and lived among us, and that we have seen the glory of God’s only son, full of grace and truth for the world.
4 National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month We remember and pray for victims of sex trafficking, involuntary servitude, debt bondage and forced labor in our nation and around the world, and we ask God’s guidance in caring for victims and actively working to end this abuse, injustice and oppression.
5 Pray for Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, members of the ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops. Give thanks for their humble service, their faith in Christ, their leadership and gifts, and their commitment to wrestle with difficult decisions and issues for the sake of the church and the world.
6 Epiphany As people of faith, we are not immune from wondering about God, Jesus Christ and the Spirit. Pray that God will be patient with us, illuminating the truth of who we are as baptized children of God and the reality and certainty of the good news of Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, our Savior, Messiah, Redeemer and teacher.
7 As the pandemic continues, pray for doctors, nurses, emergency responders and health care workers who need renewal, strength and our gratitude and recognition as they continue to serve at great personal risk and sacrifice for the sake of our health and well-being.
8 Give thanks for the people in our lives who inspire hope, faith and courage, and whose words and actions touch us, teach us the meaning of grace and move us to become bearers of mercy in the world.
9 In Christ we have received forgiveness of our sins and salvation through God’s unfathomable grace, showered upon us every day. Praise God!
10 Give thanks for God’s love and forgiveness in baptism, which marks the beginning of our journey with our siblings in Christ to share the good news, serve all people, grow the church and strive for peace and justice in the world.
11 Pray for parents, students, employees and business owners whose plans and routines change day by day and week by week due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, that they might be hopeful, resilient and able to adapt, change and endure.
12 Pray for our faith-based schools, early childhood education programs and day care centers as they provide experiential education, social interaction, stability and calm for the youngest of our children, who are often most vulnerable during times of uncertainty and anxiety.
13 God is mighty, majestic and eternal throughout the universe, generously sharing strength and blessings with us. Give glory and thanks to God, and shout for joy!
14 Ask God to help us practice justice, generosity and care for creation, sharing our resources with others who have few or who have lost resources or productive land as a result of natural and human-caused disasters.
15 Pray for the young adults who have applied for a yearlong journey in international service with our companion churches and organizations through the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program, which will resume in 2021-2022 after a time of sabbath during the pandemic.
16 Thank God for our special relationship with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a full communion partner with the ELCA since 1997; pray for the church, its members and its leaders, and pray that together we will find strength and new resources for the work of sharing the gospel and serving our neighbor, especially in these uncertain and challenging times.
17 Jesus invited Philip to follow him as a disciple, and Philip, in turn, invited Nathanael. Ask God to help us be faithful followers, students and, at the same time, disciples eager to invite others to join in God’s good work in the world.
18 Martin Luther King Day Today we remember the life, ministry, sacrifice and activism of Martin Luther King Jr. Pray that his life and the legacies of others who have fought for civil rights and social reform will inspire our own commitment and persistence in working for racial justice, dismantling racism and combating white supremacy.
19 We may argue about what is legal, what we are entitled to or what we have the right to do with our bodies and lives. But Paul reminds us that we have been made one with the body and spirit of Christ; we “were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” Pray that the Spirit will guide us to live with humility and deference for who we are in Christ and in obedience to the ways and desires of God.
20 Inauguration Day As members of society and the church who represent varied political affiliations and perspectives, pray together for our nation’s newly elected president and vice president, that the Spirit will grant them wisdom, strength, commitment to serving all people, a deep understanding of justice and mercy, and the courage to enact change for the well-being of our communities and nation.
21 Pray for the ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering, an online event happening right now that gathers ELCA World Hunger leaders for learning, networking, sharing ideas and planning for our common ministry to address hunger and its root causes.
22 Pray for reconciliation, understanding and renewal in our divided nation so that we might work together for justice, compassion and generosity, serving our neighbors in need and the well-being of our communities as they struggle with vexing, deep-rooted problems. Ask the Spirit to inspire and guide our lives so that our values, decisions, actions and words reflect the gospel, the teachings of Jesus and the ways of God, who is good, gracious, merciful and just.
23 Praise God that, as small and insignificant as we might be in the vast universe, we are wonderfully made and God knows every little thing about us and our human ways.
24 In Scripture we read about Jesus’ simple, personal and compelling invitations to Simon, Andrew, James, John and the other disciples to drop everything and follow him. Pray that when God calls us to follow and serve, we will respond with faith and trust, even if we do not yet know where God is leading us or what God is calling us to do.
25 Pray for ministries, nonprofit organizations and agencies that serve the daily needs of communities, families and individuals; pursue justice and equity; build resilience to cope with disasters and crises; accompany immigrants and refugees; and bring the hope and love of Christ where there is despair and weariness.
26 When, like Jonah, we are reluctant to forgive, practice mercy or share the gospel with those we deem undeserving, ask the Spirit to help us discern God’s ways, grace and mercy for all people, and to act boldly without personal bias.
27 Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe, witnesses to the faith Praise God for the witness and ministry of women of the early church. Give thanks for women of all ages and backgrounds who, responding to God’s call, continue to use their gifts, life experiences, knowledge and passions to grow the church, serve all people and be bearers of hope and healing in the world.
28 Give thanks for the Lutheran liturgy and worship practices that equip us for daily life, helping us to praise God, listen to God’s word and experience unity in the body of Christ.
29 Give thanks for the self-sacrificing generosity of people who demonstrate their gratefulness for God’s gift of life and their concern for their neighbors’ well-being by donating blood, plasma and even organs.
30 Remember in prayer those who continue to struggle with unemployment, underemployment and job searching as a result of the economic and health impacts of COVID-19.
31 Though our creeds do not speak of Jesus’ teachings, miracles or example, give thanks that, through Scripture, the Spirit reveals Jesus to be the source of our redemption and a trustworthy guide, instructing us how to live with one another, serve our neighbor and do God’s work in the world today.
The Worship and Music Team met on Saturday, December 5th to discuss how our services for the remainder of Advent and the Christmas season will take shape. The primary concern which guided the team members to make the decisions outlined below is SAFETY. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday and the exposure that many people risked to be with friends and loved-ones, which is causing a large spike in covid cases, as well as the added up-tick in COVID cases brought on by cold weather, the team felt that abundant caution is key to keeping us all safe. Its decisions were unanimous.
When we talk about safety it is a two-fold concern.
First is the safety of those who lead worship. This includes me, Pr. Greg playing the organ, four singers, four members of the praise instrumental team, two people manning the AV station, and two people providing auxiliary support. These fourteen people have shown incredible devotion to making worship happen from February when COVID first took hold right through the present time. That is eleven months risking exposure to one another, and then to the sixty people who came to in-person worship when it was possible from June to two weeks ago. Many of these people, by virtue of their singing, speaking or playing roles, are maskless for part of the time. But they are well distanced.
Second is the concern we must have for those who come to in-person worship. While we carefully observe the requirement that people wear masks and practice social distancing, it only takes one COVID+ person to infect others. We would hope no one would come to worship knowing they are positive, but the unfortunate reality is that people are infectious even when they do not have symptoms. We read about church gatherings being super-spreader events, and we certainly do not want Trinity to be one of them. Moreover, the preponderance of our membership is aged 65+, and this group is especially vulnerable to the virus. It would be tragic for even a single person to be infected at worship.
Many feel an obligation to attend worship, if it is offered face-to-face, and taking that into consideration, here is the plan:
December 13th – The Third Sunday in Advent – Live worship at 10AM without a congregation present. We will have a Baptism this day, which reminds us that a weary world can rejoice!
December 20th – The Fourth Sunday in Advent – Live worship at 10AM without a congregation present.
December 20th – Family Christmas Service – Prerecorded service of wonderful Christmas music and the happy news of the baby’s birth in Bethlehem. Fertile Soil, the Blue Grass band which gave special meaning to our Thanksgiving service, will be here. Stevie Prather, who entertains us at Praise Worship at Christmas will be seen via video. We will have a children’s sermon. The Praise Team will lead us in singing some of our best Christmas Carols. The service will be available on our various sources at 5PM.
December 24th – The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Music starts at 8PM and a Festival Eucharist with candlelighting will be celebrated at 8:30PM. The service will be live, and a congregation will be present. We can, however, only accommodate a limited number of people and reservations are required. Please call the church office at 301-733-2878/option 5 to speak with Rich Kittle to make your reservation. If he does not answer, you are welcome to leave a message, but it would be better to call back and speak to him directly. You can, of course, also reach the church office by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make your reservation early to avoid being disappointed.
December 27th – The Festival of the Holy Family, being a Service of Lessons and Carols. This service will be prerecorded to keep our worship team safe after family gatherings at Christmas. We hear lessons which foretell the coming of the Messiah, and its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus. We will sing our favorite carols, and words and music will be available on-screen. There will be special instrumental music. The service will be posted at 10AM that morning.
January 3rd – The Epiphany of Our Lord (Transferred from the 6th). We welcome the visit of the Magi to the Christmas Crib. The team will decide the week of December 27th if we can return to worship in-person. By then we will know how things are shaping up with the spread of COVID.
Some of you will be disappointed in our schedule. We all long for normalcy in these challenging times. It will return, hopefully by early spring, when vaccines are readily available. Until then, SAFTEY FIRST must be our battle cry.
My dad, George, worked as an engineer at a plant which made explosives. When dealing with nitroglycerine, dynamite, and blasting caps, safety must be first. That slogan was printed on everything he brought home from the plant, including his reflective jacket and clipboards. Twice in my early life I remember him getting a call from the plant telling him there had been an accident. On both occasions people died. Of course, being the safety office, these incidents shook him greatly. He took personal responsibility, even though the people involved had probably put production before safety procedures.
With Covid, we are dealing with something as deadly as explosives. Unseen, it lurks among us and is very threatening. It is completely beyond me that many, including people in the highest offices in our government, continue to either deny the existence of COVID, or downplay the consequences it can have when people get infected. It is not the flu. Eighty-three people in Washington County have died; 4,865 people in Maryland have died; 285,564 people in the US have died. The world-wide death toll is 1,535,492 as of this writing. I don’t want to be one of them. I know you don’t either. So, mask over both mouth and nose, distance, and wash up! Lets be cautious, and enjoy this wonderful season as best we can, while being as safe as possible. If that means forgoing for one year the things that make it truly special, I think we can do this out of respect for the common good.
– Pr. David
In MARCH, MAY and JUNE there were no meetings since church staff met to work on ideas for continuing contact and inspiring faith with members, and any new information or concerns were communicated on the mailed and online Daily TLC.
In APRIL and JULY Council met online using Zoom wherein we could see each other, reconnect, encourage, laugh and pray together. There was nothing else happening to generate minutes.
Starting in August, Council had in-person, masked, spaced meetings held in Fellowship Hall.
AUGUST Discussions included:
- adapting to the new conditions of the church and the continuing pandemic by streamlining our methods of operation to be more efficient and updating our bylaws
SEPTEMBER Discussion included:
- planning for Trinity’s week in December at REACH
- Working on the 2021 budget
- Food & Clothing Banks planning to call forth a new Director to reopen; current supervisors and volunteers to continue under new leader.
- Thanksgiving boxes will be distributed to 30 local families.
- Tim Higgins resigned from Council; Leslie LeBlanc to fill that position. To appropriately reflect TLC’s current functioning, Council members will number 6 to 8 instead of 12 members.
- Boy Scouts to hold a Court of Honor on 9/12 in Fellowship Hall.
- A fogger was purchased that will quickly disinfect Fellowship Hall and the Sanctuary.
- Our week at the Cold Weather Shelter is 12/6- 12/14. Volunteers can sign up.
- Members voiced doubts about volunteering for close contact with the homeless at REACH this year due to Covid. 95% of our active volunteers are seniors with health concerns.
- This meeting combined Council concerns aa well as( Mission & Vision group discussions (brainstorming new ideas, discussing priorities and praying together for guidance).
* No Council Meeting was held this month.
UPDATE ON TRINITY’S OUTREACH
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” Deuteronomy 7:9
The Social Ministry Committee has been actively planning activities to help our community for the holiday season.
Micah’s Backpack: We had our first distribution on November 6th and will continue each Friday. Bags are being packed and delivered by faithful volunteers to feed the children. We are starting the year with 50 bags. The bags will be taken and distributed at Bester. Eastern Elementary will be picking their bags up at Bester as it is a Meal Machine Site. We thank the volunteers that are doing this and ask all to pray for the Micah’s children.
Food and Clothing Bank: We are evaluating options to open both of these at some point in the future.
Thanksgiving Food Boxes: This year we will again be providing both Micah’s families and some of the faithful Trinity Food Bank families We are very excited and thankful that we are able to continue this Trinity outreach opportunity.
We were able to get the turkeys and the boxes of food again this year from the Food Bank for free in that Covid funds were available to cover the cost. Thanks be to God! Trinity has always supported this project with great enthusiasm. Because the cost of the food was covered this year, we ask that you please consider donating the money you would have given one of our other Christmas projects – Operation Christmas Child or Gift cards for North Point Veterans.
In any case, we will still need help with the distribution of the boxes. We are asking the families to come into pick up their food on Sunday November 29th from 2 to 5 PM. If you are able to help with this, please contact Carol Brashears at 301-992-5016 or June Habeck at 240-291-0842
Operation Christmas Child The Christian Education Committee is sponsoring this event again this year. We had an outstanding response to this project as part of our Anniversary celebration last year and hope this will be a Christmas tradition. Contact Jane Drawbaugh at 301-491-4510 for items that are needed. Financial donations are also welcome for the committee to purchase items needed. We are currently asking for donations. Mark your donation for Operation Christmas Child.
Christmas Gift Cards for North Point Veterans Home the need this year for this Christmas project is greater than ever. It you have traditionally donated to the Thanksgiving Food Boxes we would respectfully ask you to consider donating to this project. We will begin this collection The First Sunday of Advent. Please mark you donation for this project when you send it in.
REACH Cold Weather Shelter – Our week is December 6th – 13th. Scott Paddack is looking for volunteers for our week. Trinity was a driving force for REACH and we look forward to doing it this year. Please contact Scott to help.
Governor Hogan: Maryland Prepared For Fall COVID-19 Surge, Warns Against Complacency
“Just Wear The Damn Masks”: Statewide Masking Order and Travel Advisory Remain in Full Effect
State Continues to Expand Testing, Maintains Hospital Surge Capacity Plan, Contact Tracing Force, and 60-Day PPE Stockpile
With Small Gatherings Driving New Cases, Marylanders Cautioned to Celebrate Holiday Season Safely
ANNAPOLIS, MD—In response to the nationwide fall COVID-19 surge and rising positivity rates, case rates, and hospitalizations in Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan today provided a detailed update on the state’s preparedness and urged Marylanders to follow all public health protocols.
“Thanks to the heroic efforts of so many state employees working around the clock, and because of the vigilance and support of the people of Maryland, we are in a much better position than we were this spring, and Maryland is also much better prepared than most states to be able to withstand this next surge,” said Governor Hogan. “However, I cannot stress strongly enough that we cannot afford to let our guard down. The weeks and months ahead will be difficult, and our collective actions will determine whether we can continue safely on the road to recovery.”
The governor was joined at today’s press conference by Maryland Secretary of Health Robert Neall, Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel Jerry Jones, Maryland Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Jinlene Chan, and Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 Incident Commander for the University of Maryland Medical System.
FALL SURGE PREPAREDNESS:
TESTING STRATEGY. The State of Maryland has built a successful long-term testing strategy and a strategic stockpile of test kits and supplies. State officials recently deployed rapid antigen tests to nursing homes across the state. To continue expanding these efforts, at the request of local leaders and in partnership with the Allegany County Health Department, the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) is standing up a new testing site at the Allegany County Fairgrounds.
CONTACT TRACING OPERATION. Maryland built a robust contact tracing operation, nearly 1,400 tracers strong, and has kept this operation at full strength to find patterns and identify where and how the virus is spreading.
The state’s contact tracing operation continues to show that social gatherings are the most likely source of transmissions. The number one activity of those who have become infected with COVID-19 continues to be family gatherings, followed by house parties. View the data here.
HOSPITAL SURGE CAPACITY. Maryland met and exceeded its hospital surge capacity goal of an additional 6,000 beds, maintains a comprehensive surge capacity plan, and continues to keep the state’s alternate care sites open—including the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital.
PPE STOCKPILE. Emergency management officials have distributed more than 78 million units of PPE throughout the state, and have built up a 60-day supply of the most critical resources.
MARYLAND RESPONDS. In response to the nationwide shortage of nurses, Governor Hogan encouraged medical and public health volunteers to register for the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps. More than 15,000 people have already signed up to be part of this initiative from every jurisdiction throughout the state. To sign up, Marylanders can visit mdresponds.health.maryland.gov.
PUBLIC HEALTH GUIDANCE:
MASKS AND FACE COVERINGS. Maryland’s statewide masking order remains in full effect. Under this order, all Marylanders over the age of five are required to wear face coverings in the public spaces of all businesses across the state. Face coverings are required in outdoor public areas, whenever it is not possible to maintain physical distancing. The order continues to provide certain exceptions, including for medical conditions. Read the order here.
COMPLIANCE ENFORCEMENT. In response to increasing reports of individuals and businesses failing to comply with the law, the governor urged local leaders, county health departments, county liquor boards, and, when necessary, local law enforcement agencies to immediately step up efforts to ensure that all residents and businesses in their jurisdictions are in compliance with all public health regulations.
TELEWORK. Marylanders are encouraged to continue teleworking, and employers should make every effort to give employees the opportunity to telework.
OUT-OF-STATE TRAVEL ADVISORY. With the holiday season approaching, the travel advisory issued by state health officials has been renewed and remains in effect. Under this advisory, Marylanders are strongly advised against traveling to states with positivity rates of 10% or higher. Anyone traveling from these states should get tested and self-quarantine while awaiting results. Marylanders should avoid non-essential travel of any kind outside of the region. Read the travel advisory.
“With the holidays approaching and so many Marylanders making plans to spend time with family and friends, it is more important than ever for all of us to remain cautious and vigilant,” continued the governor. “We want Marylanders to enjoy the holiday season with your loved ones, but we want you to do it as safely as possible.”
Last week I wrote about the late Rev. Phyllis Tickle’s theory that the Church experiences paradigm shifts every 500 years. I explained that a paradigm is a way of thinking which guides just about everything we do, and when it is challenged, or worse yet cast aside to address a new reality, it can be earth-shattering. The Church is presently living in one of these shifts. Whereas up to the last quarter of the 20thcentury the Church enjoyed a position of privilege in society, it now is challenged to have any relevance at all in the unfolding 21st century. Up to the Vietnam War and the resulting distrust of institutions through the sexual scandals which rocked the Church in the 80s and 90s, the Church was central to life in the US. That can hardly be said now. Thus is a shock to those of us who remember the time when….
Our Wednesday evening sessions with Pr. Fred Lehr are helping us understand what has happened, and what we might do to stay true to our central beliefs, while at the same time be present for people in their journeys of faith. Session #4 is this Wednesday at 6PM in the sanctuary or live on our YouTube channel, Trinity Loving Community. You can find the previous sessions there as well. It’s imperative that as many of us who care about Trinity join in the discussion!
Recently, an interesting article came across my desk which I found very pertinent to the discussion. Many of you may remember the Alban Institute. It was a consulting group based in Washington, D.C. Its goal was to help congregations in their mission in general, but especially to be there for congregations experiencing conflict or crisis. After Pr. Eric’s untimely death, Trinity received help from the Alban Institute. Unfortunately, the Alban Institute went out of existence a few years ago. Its services were top-flight but extremely expensive, and few congregations could afford the Institute’s services in these challenging times. However, several former staff members joined in 2014 to form a new organization called Congregational Consulting Group. Articles about congregational life are sent out frequently.
The article I am referring to and wish to reproduce in this article (and the next few weeks) is entitled Five Assumptions Failing Us Now. It was sent by email to subscribers on September 8, 2020. The author is Susan Beaumont, one of the founders of Congregational Consulting Group. She is the author of several books and a nationally recognized expert on congregational organization. I had the privilege of taking a continuing education course with her quite a few years ago, when the Alban Institute was still in existence. The topic of that course was “learning how to supervise a staff ministry”. I am finding the skills I learned there to be helpful in my role as Senior Pastor here at Trinity.
I looked carefully at the article itself and the group’s website to see if the material was copyrighted and saw nothing restricting its use. Moreover, it is sent free-of-charge to anyone who wishes to become a subscriber which you, too, can do by visitingcongregationalconsulting.org. I therefore am going to reproduce it, rather than simply digest it for you. I think you will find this interesting, and hopefully informative, as to why discernment is so critically important for Trinity at this moment. If I end up in jail for copyright infringement, please visit me!
Here is the introduction and the first of those five assumptions we have previously made which now are failing us. Think paradigm shift!
Growth in membership is the primary indicator of congregational health and vitality.” The pandemic is challenging this and other longstanding assumptions about engagement, belonging, and membership. We must carefully examine all of our assumptions—otherwise, we risk creating barriers to belonging for people trying to engage with us in new ways.
During the pandemic, people are finding meaningful new ways to connect with us online in worship, programs, and service. These connections do not look anything like what we previously recognized as engagement.
We are eager to return to our buildings and in-person interaction, because that is what we are designed to do. However, online church is here to stay. As we return to our buildings, many congregations will maintain an online presence because not everyone is ready or able to return to physical spaces. Even some of our longest-standing members are discovering that they prefer virtual engagement for some parts of church life.
What happens to our newly-formed online communities as we return to our buildings? Do online participants become second-class citizens? If we do not examine our unstated assumptions about belonging, we risk losing our newest constituents, or relegating them to a “lesser” status.
In the paragraphs that follow, I will challenge five long-standing assumptions about belonging, engagement and membership that are crumbling now. No doubt you can name others.
Geography dictates belonging.
Pull out a map and draw a five-mile circle around the church building. We have long believed that this circle represents the pool from which we draw our constituents. People will not drive more than 20 minutes to engage a church -right?
The pandemic has shifted our reality. In the time we have been out of our buildings many of us have discovered new constituent relationships that have nothing to do with geography.
It is delightful to consider that we are no longer limited by physical boundaries. However, this raises new questions about how we define our identity and our context. Who are we now? Who do we serve now? What, if anything, does membership mean to someone who does not interact in our physical space? Is their engagement less important to us than the people who are physically present?
The basic question being asked here is what did it mean to be a neighborhood church in former days. What does it mean to be a neighborhood church now? Was Trinity ever a neighborhood church? Should it try to be now in the pandemic era? What does this mean for evangelism?
Discipleship begins with membership
Once upon a time, new-member assimilation was the primary means by which people were drawn into discipleship and set onto a path of faith development and spiritual growth. People came to worship first, and then they joined the church. Then they were drawn into true belonging. Through participation in the life of the church—on the other side of their decision to join—people were guided inward in faith and outward in service and leadership.
Now the journey often works in reverse. People connect with us in order to serve, and service helps them to belong. People need to feel that they belong before they join. Some people are not interested in membership at all. They may or may not attend worship. People are finding ways to belong outside the bonds of membership. But certain parts of the discipleship journey—such as serving in leadership—are traditionally denied to non-members.
Many of us have failed to alter our discipleship process to reflect these shifting realities. Now we have no choice but to let this failed assumption die. We are obliged to disciple people who are finding us online. Their engagement will not look like the journey described above. What will it mean to belong for those who have no relationship to our physical space or our physical gatherings?
Worship participation is the best indicator of member engagement.
This assumption has not been true for a while, but you would not know it from the records we keep and the metrics we obsess over. When asked how large a congregation is, we describe something about the size of the membership body or the average weekend worship attendance. Both metrics have been faltering as effective measures of the engaged body. Engaged people are worshipping with less frequency and many people who belong to the congregation do not become members.
Virtual worship is posing new challenges for our reporting systems. We might be able to tell how many devices are logged on to a worship service or class, but we do not know how many people are engaged at the logged-on site. And we do not know anything about the nature of their engagement.
We need new ways of measuring and talking about engagement now. What does authentic engagement look like in a virtual world? How will we measure and track it? What are the levels of engagement that we are trying to lead people through and how does that relate to their discipleship?
In-person engagement is more authentic than online engagement.
“When will we be able to get back to real worship?” This is a common question posed by those who find sacred space in physical sanctuaries. The question reveals an assumption that the virtual worship experiences we are having are less than authentic. Certainly, some people feel that way.
However, new people finding their way to us online probably do not share this assumption. They are finding something sacred in the virtual interaction and the space from which they engage that interaction—their home.
As we re-enter our buildings, it behooves us to remember that there are people who want to worship, learn, and serve with us, but they are not interested in our buildings.
The virtual experience raises another distinction to consider. Some worship experiences are pre-recorded. Others are offered live, but they are also recorded for more convenient viewing later. People can worship and learn in a time and space that is different from the time and space of the teacher. Does it matter to us whether people are engaging life in the church synchronously or asynchronously? Is an asynchronous worshiper a lesser engaged constituent?
Belonging requires owning the “whole “ church.
Historically, choosing to become a member of a congregation included a commitment to support the full ministry of the congregation. No one is expected to participate in every aspect of congregational life. However, members are expected to understand, support, and financially underwrite the full ministry of the church. If you are not a member, not much is really expected of you.
The pandemic is drawing this assumption, also, into question. Many people who have found their way to us through online worship, service projects, or online classes may have little interest in the full ministry of our congregation. However, we should not dismiss their availability or willingness to support some part of the church that is meaningful to them.
In early February, the members of Congregation Council and team leaders attended a planning retreat at Camp Mar Lou Ridge. The fruits of that retreat are the huge calendars which hang on the wall in the large church office. For the first time in ages, things were in place for worship, meetings, dinners, and events right through the end of December. Then you know what happened- the Corona virus basically appeared as a huge STOP sign, calling into question who and what Trinity should be as a congregation.
I participate in a Zoom call every Wednesday. The pastors of the Washington County Conference of the Delaware-Maryland Synod meet to talk about what is going on in their congregations and personal lives. It has been interesting over the past few months to hear how other churches have met the challenge of trying to hold things together in these challenging times, which, until just recently, precluded the possibility of worshiping together as a corporate body.
I am proud to say that Trinity is in the vanguard of making farsighted decisions which have not only made us all feel we are alive and well, but have offered a glimpse of what the future might hold for us. This was not easy. The range of options included shutting the church down. Your staff—David, Greg, Andy, and Rich—thought about all this, and decided that, instead of giving our congregants much less, we should “double down”, and make daily contact with our members and others interested in the life of LTC. So began Rich’s morning TLC message, which includes humor and links to choral music. Occasionally Rich, our administrator slips in something of personal interest to him (and maybe others). Guess what it is? He’s a railroad aficionado, and so we see pictures of locomotives and interesting places where trains run.
Two-hundred seventy people receive the morning letter via e-mail. Almost 260 receive the evening email with a more pastoral article in it. A range of people write these articles. For me, writing these has been interesting, since I am able to cover a multitude of topics which would not be possible in a monthly newsletter. Those who do not have email receive physical copies of the previous week’s items via snail mail. That number is around twenty. Our audience is far flung. Former members of Trinity who live in Australia read about us. So do some friends of Rich who live in England, as do my husband and family and friends in El Salvador. Can you guess how mail emails and physical copies of these have been sent since the pandemic began? It deserves to be in big numerals:
In addition to these contacts, your pastors have been making lots of phone calls. Most teams have met at least once during the pandemic, sometimes via Zoom, at other times informally in the hallway, occasionally meeting face-to-face and practicing social distancing in the larger areas of the building such as the parlor. I was going to say “spaced out” but that has another connotation! Perhaps the record goes to the Worship and Music Team, whose members were together every time a service was held and/or recorded. The Property Team tackled some major issues, like a leak around one of the stained-glass windows in the nave. Social Ministry continued up through the end of the school year to pack bags for children via Micah’s Backpack. Others have been meeting regularly to tackle the concerns of the food and clothing banks. Since we could not safely operate either, tons of food were taken to other places where people in need can go and benefit from it. The team is now thinking about how these important ministries can continue when things quiet down. Meantime, the bills continue to be paid. The offices are open (with restrictions) every weekday. Ricky continues to keep everything clean and in good order. Council and its Executive Team meet by Zoom regularly. There is even a “tailgate” party at the Dutch Market on Friday morning- coffee and donuts to be sure.
As soon as it became obvious corporate worship was out, a group of people explored the possibility of broadcasting our worship services. Neophytes all, we bought equipment, learned how to use it, even facing the challenges of our aging sound system and the awesome but daunting acoustics of our worship space, and became familiar with the dynamics of uploading big files to social media. A special word of thanks goes to Maggie Stone for all her work doing this. We continue to improve weekly as we try new things. Guess how many worship services have been broadcast? Again—big numerals:
Each service required at least eight people to preside, play music, sing, record, prepare communion elements, etc. What an effort went into making the services available this way!
While some sense of normalcy has returned, because we have had corporate worship now for three weeks, people talk about the new normal. I think the use of social media will be crucial for our future. There are lots of reasons for this, but primary among these are the fact that more people attend church via the internet than in person. Shocking, isn’t it! How Trinity becomes part of this is our challenge. If we do, our impact can reach far beyond our corner of the world in Hagerstown. We have been deficient in one area—Bible study. This is being addressed and should become a regular feature of our presence online. Soon you will read about Segment 3 of our process of discerning our Vision and Mission. Hopefully, you will choose to be part of a course which will help us figure out how to be a 21st century church.
I wish to highlight one area of ministry wherein I feel all the work mentioned above has paid off. While many churches are facing severe financial challenges because corporate worship ended so abruptly, and people are not at church to put their envelopes in the traditional gold plate, Trinity has actually seen an uptick in our weekly offerings. I think that is remarkable! But why this has happened is no mystery. We didn’t shut down. Given new challenges, we rose to the occasion by being innovative and fresh in our approach. That was a clear decision on the part of your staff, a decision that few other churches made. The uptick in giving was a direct result of our decision to do something new. Please remember that, as there are other things we can do to strengthen and grow our Loving Community- stay tuned! Bishop Bill Gohl writes a weekly article and always includes the phrase, “the church is alive!” Because of how we have all chosen to be as a community of love and communication, Trinity as a community of faith is alive and well. We miss seeing people together, united in worship, and at meetings and sharing food together—but, by God’s help, we are still Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. And we will be Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church as the future unfolds for us.
Thanks to all of you who help make this possible.
– Pastor David
Pentecoste Sunday was our first time for in-person worship. It went well. Some thirty-eight people were present. Everyone was agreeable in following the guidelines to sit only in designated places, to wear masks (except for worship leaders), to refrain from singing, receive communion in the pew, and social-distance upon arriving and finally leaving. There was a problem with the sound system, which we believe has been fixed. With the same procedures in place to keep us safe, we will continue corporate worship.
The service is live-streamed on YouTube, and available after worship time for you to see. Remember- it’s a blended service in the sanctuary at 10am. If you are at home, you may have elements of bread and wine in front of you, and feel that connection as we at Trinity’s altar receive the blessed sacrament.
As per the governor’s plan and guidelines for corporate worship published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its Delaware-Maryland Synod of which Trinity is a part, we will resume public worship on Sunday, May 31st. As per the governor’s plan, attendance is limited to 50% of the available seating. Since our nave seats several hundred, this should not be a problem (it would be nice if it were a problem!). Since it is difficult to practice social distancing in Fellowship Hall, our services for the foreseeable future will be at 10AM (a compromise time, ala the Unity services) upstairs in the sanctuary. We hope to have a blend of traditional and praise music at each or at alternating services. Here is what to expect:
- You must practice social distancing at the entrance of the main door to the church. You will be asked to remain at the end of the rail at the ramp door until the person in front of you has gone through the inner doors. If standing facing the church, these are the doors to the far left. DO NOT CONGREGATE IN THE NARTHEX OR OUTSIDE THE DOORS OF THE CHURCH!
- One usher in protective gear will be at the door to give you a bulletin and a communion kit (described below). The production of the bulletins will be done in such a way as to minimize physical contact with them. The person reproducing them will wear gloves&d place the bulletins in a box for the usher to hand to you.
- When you enter the church, you will you see tape roping off some pews, and tape marking off some areas of each pew, so as to allow separated seating for you and your family in others. so we can all keep at least 6’ feet apart. This is strongly worded in the governor’s directive.
- You must always wear a mask. The only exceptions will be the worship leaders who will remain in the chancel, and separated from each other and from you by larger distances.
- There will be no offering by way of the passed plate. There will be a box at the doorway for you to place your offering on the way out. Please be careful not to touch envelopes or cash which might already be in the box.
- We will attempt to leave by rows, again to practice social distancing. Wait for an usher to direct you out. DO NOT CONGREGATE IN THE NARTHEX OR OUTSIDE THE DOORS OF THE CHURCH!
- We will have communion, but it will be taken in your pew by way of an individual serving. The elements will be in a container much resembling the liquid creamer we put in our coffee. Upon tearing off the first seal you will find a wafer. Upon removing the second seal you will find grape juice. You will be directed by the pastor when to consume the elements. Wine is preferred to grape juice, but is not available in these cups, since they are generally used in congregations which use only grape juice. Please dispose of your kit by putting it in a box at the door. I understand the communion cups are difficult to open so you might want to bring napkins in case of spillage! If you have concerns about opening the wine portion, opening and consuming only the wafer is fine.
- Only the bathroom by Memorial Hall will be available for your use. This is to minimize cleaning.
- The service will be around 45 minutes, since it is difficult to wear a mask for a longer period.
- Please take your temperature at home before coming out. If you have a temperature, obviously you should remain there, and watch the service from home.
Some people will still be reluctant to come to public worship, so the service will be live streamed.
Under no circumstances should you feel
compelled to attend the service.
We all must make individual decisions about potential exposure to the virus. If you do not come, please be part of the service by watching on our live stream. Your financial support of Trinity has been very encouraging, and we hope it will continue as the situation unfolds.
A further note—since it is difficult to practice social distancing in the office area, restrictions as to who may enter there will remain in place. We do not want the staff to be infected. Signs at the Randolph entrance will tell you how to interact with the staff.
Pastors David and Greg have not been making visits. Fortunately, no one has been hospitalized lately. Walter Bell died during the lock-down. However, his family attended to his burial and Trinity did not play a part. Rules are especially stringent at viewings and services at the funeral home. Our pastors will not make visits to homes until it is safe to do so. Hospital visits will be on a case-to-case basis. It may be possible to arrange a Zoom meeting. Funerals will have to follow guidelines established by the funeral directors, except at church- where our own guidelines will be in effect.
We are so happy that our community of faith will once again be able to meet in our beautiful sanctuary. Please, please, please observe the guidelines above so we can all be safe! We pray that the rate of infection for COVID-19 will continue to decrease and that our regular opportunities for social interaction will return.
If you have any questions about what is contained in this article, please call the church office at 301-733-2878 or email us at email@example.com. If you have other suggestions as to how we can be safe in worship, please feel free to share them.
I told you we would be using the Athanasian Creed on Sunday, The Holy Trinity. Celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost, inthis namesake feast of our congregation, we recall that God is for us Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I asked you to look at the creed and promised part 2 about the Trinity today. Here it is!
I remember the course with some chagrin, because I nearly failed it. Back then, grades at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (now United Lutheran Seminary) were pass/fail. Failure was below 70%. I eked my way through it with a 71. I would like to say that, after taking the course, I came through it with a clear understand of the Holy Trinity. Unfortunately, that is not true. I struggle each year on the Feast of the Holy Trinity (the Sunday after Pentecost) to preach a sermon which helps my listeners understand the Godhead we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This year I pawned it off on Alex Knepper, a first year student at United Lutheran Seminary. Count your blessings, deacons Inga and Peggy, for if Alex wasn’t available, it would have been one of you!
My best explanation of the Trinity is that God reveals himself (the pronoun itself is a difficulty) as the Father who creates the Son who redeems, and the Spirit which sanctifies. I have to admit that makes sense but it is a heresy called Modalism. I’m not exactly sure why it’s a heresy, but take my word for it, Dr. Jenson called a number of us in the class out on this point.
Over and over again, Jesus proclaims himself as God’s Son. His meaning is quite clear. He is part of God, and while inhabiting a human body, he is more than human, more than a prophet or a teacher. He is the Redeemer, the long-expected Messiah. Of course, Jews could not accept this. The idea itself was reprehensible. It was blaspheme, a crime punishable by death. That was the charge which got Jesus into such trouble. Jews would look at Christians and say they were no longer monotheists because they had TWO gods, not the one revealed in Hebrew scripture.
Then add in the Spirit, which comes on Pentecost to the disciples and that band of followers who believed Jesus was the Messiah. Being described under many names—the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost—it seems that there is now another God. Jews would reject this notion out-of-hand.
When Mohammad received his call in the late 500s to be a prophet of God and begin a religious tradition we know as Islam, like Jews, he looked at Christianity and wondered how it could proclaim a unified God with three different persons as theology, by then well defined. He could accept Jesus as a prophet, but not equal to God. For Islam, there is but one God. That’s the cry you hear coming from minarets at prayer time in Islamic countries.
In the end, we can only understand God so far as God has revealed herself to us. We get a small peek at the vastness of God when we see the Trinity at work (I’m headed to Modalism again). The great mystery of God is that this divine thing chooses to be involved with us. The fullness of that divinity cannot be understood by us in the here and now.
The creed which bears the name of that great defender of orthodoxy in the Catholic Church, St. Athanasius, makes clear the unity of the Trinity. Where the creed comes from is a mystery itself. Some think it was a teaching lesson for Spanish priests. Its length and condemnatory language make it daunting for us to use but once a year on the only day of the year we celebrate a doctrine, rather than an event or a person. I think it’s important for us to use, since it is one of the three ecumenical creeds. Its very length and the strength of its language do make clear how important it is that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be part of our belief in a God who is at the same time mysterious and available.
Micah’s Backpack Update
How we are continuing this ministry during the school closure
As soon as we found out that schools were going to be closing in response to the coronavirus, we quickly packed another bag of food, so that before the children left school on March 12, they had 2 weeks’ worth of food to take home with them.
Since then, we have had 3 food distributions at various sites, through the Washington County Public School Meal Machine. The first distribution was done in conjunction with the school system. Churches were able to take the bags to the schools or to a distribution hub, for school vans to take the bags to the Meal Machine sites. This was a good plan but only lasted one time, because the school system was busy expanding their sites to 19 around the county, and could no longer help us with the distribution of the bags. So we actually had to put a hold on the program, until we could plan the next step. We knew for many reasons that it was not feasible for the churches to hand out the bags on their own. A Micah’s volunteer at First Christian Church, Cindy Reeder, heard of our dilemma. Cindy is also very connected with the United Way. The Micah’s Steering Committee had a meeting and with the help of the United Way, the YMCA and Potomac Case Management, Micah’s is up and running!
Here is how it is working now:
– The churches still pack the bags and deliver them to the YMCA.
– A team of volunteers from the United Way remove the bags from the sponsors’ vehicles.
– Potomac Case Management employees then take the bags to the Meal Machine Sites. These case workers are very familiar with many of the students and their families.
– They distribute the bags to the children (we give them two bags as the distribution is held once every two weeks).
The first distribution under this new model was on April 3rd, at 4 sites: Pangborn Elementary, Otterbein Church, Hager Elementary and Salem Avenue Elementary. We had 22 sponsors participate by bringing over 800 bags, so we served over 400 children.
The second distribution was held on April 16th, and we expanded to 5 sites. We had over 1000 bags brought by 24 sponsors, so this time close to 500 children were served.
THANKS BE TO GOD!
We have tried to maintain social distancing while packing at Trinity. As usual, Jeff has beendoing setting up. I have been going in as well, as have Chuck and Sharon Poland, new volunteers with the Micah’s ministry at Trinity. They have helped with the packing. Chuck has a pickup truck that will hold all of the bags. He then brings them to the YMCA to drop off. Packing and taking the bags out for distribution the same day has helped us limit the foot traffic in the building. Believe me, we will need all the Micah’s volunteers to keep things going when school gets back to normal.
God continues to bless this ministry. We are most thankful and we are most grateful for the United Way getting other organizations involved so that we may continue to give out the bags. When we thought we were going to have to shut down the program, United Way asked, “How can we help”? God is good.
Our next planned distribution will be on May 7th.
The feedback Potomac Case Management has given us is that the children are thrilled to get their bags. The school system is dong a tremendous job getting food into the hands of the children. With close to 50% of all students getting free and reduced meals, the need is great. We are so thankful the program has been able to continue during this time.
Please keep the Micah’s families in your prayers.
– Carol Brashears