From the Pastor… September
Not very long after being appointed as your pastor last year, I was approached by Steve Swanson with a request. He said, “Pastor, I want to get baptized.” Of course, I was excited to hear about this and told him to let me know when he was ready. Then he told me that he wanted to get baptized by full immersion. The thought of how I was going to pull this off made me stutter a bit as I knew we were not going to be able to fully immerse this man inside the church – so I suggested we wait until the weather warmed up and we would hold a service outside. (This is PC – Pre-Covid…who would have thought that we would be holding outdoor services for the past couple of months?) Well, Mr. Swanson was determined to make this happen and after brainstorming ideas of using inflatable pools, horse troughs, and hot tubs, he took it upon himself to ask the permission of some residents at Clear Lake to use their property to hold our service.
On August 23rd 2020, the Westville United Methodist Church – along with friends and family – gathered at Clear Lake for a service of baptism. Rob and Heidi (the owners of the property) were so excited about having the service in their back yard and they went all out in preparing the property. We had almost 60 people in attendance for this amazing event where 6 people joined me out in the lake to be fully immersed as they renewed their baptismal covenant. Those that chose to make a public declaration of their faith through baptism were – Evert Jr., his mother Karen, Karen J, Kathy K, Amy M, and Amanda K. What you may have noticed is that Steve was not mentioned. After being informed that Steve was in close proximity to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, he needed to self-quarantine for the safety and health of others. He was obviously devastated by this news as he realized that his plan of getting baptized in the lake were now ruined.
The enemy is real – and when we decide to repent of our sins and become new creations in Christ Jesus – the enemy will try to stop us and stand in our way. I think that is what happened with Steve. But out of this, Christ was victorious! Six other people rededicated their lives to serving Jesus. Six other people made the decision to repent and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Approximately 50 other people – all those in attendance – also renewed their covenant by remembering their baptism. We are stronger than the enemy. We serve a Mighty God. And Steve will be baptized in Clear Lake!
Thank you all for your faithfulness and your support. Rob and Heidi have offered their property for us to use again next year! Praise God!
From the Pastor – August 2020
In a recent conversation with a couple from the church, the question came up about how we can grow our church. How can we get more people interested in attending our services? I was reminded of the cottage meetings I held in my first month here at Westville UMC where I asked the question, “What is your hope for this church?” The most common answer was to grow our attendance. I think that every church in America would have the same hope for their church. So, what’s the answer? How do we reach our goal?
There are so many books written on the subject of increasing attendance in church. There are seminars held on the subject and other church leaders have put together the most successful programs for attracting people to their church. We could spend a lot of time and money by subscribing to these programs, hiring consultants to put a plan together for us to best reach the community…or…we could take it back to the basics. INVITE SOMEONE.
Let’s face it. Just the thought of inviting someone to church can be nerve-wrecking.There’s a lot of inner dialogue that happens. How do I bring it up in conversation? What if I come across as judgmental? What if I get rejected? What if I make them uncomfortable?The tendency is to ask a lot of “what if” questions that focus on the negative side. But what if you reminded yourself of the potential, instead?
What if God has been preparing their heart and has been waiting for me to invite them?
What if they say yes?
What if they’re hurting and find healing at church?
What if they give their life to Christ, and future generations are changed because of it?Keep those in mind, and use the tips below to overcome any fears you might have!
How do you bring it up in conversation?
Approach #1 – When you’re not sure whether they attend a church.Lead with this simple question.
“I was wondering, do you go to church anywhere?”
If they answer yes, then the follow-up conversation is easy.
“That’s great! So happy to hear you have a church home. What church do you attend?”
This approach works because it celebrates the church they’re connected to and shows them you’re not trying to recruit them to your church.If they answer no, you can follow up with an invite.
“Well, if you’re ever looking for a great place to go, I go to Westville United Methodist Church and would love to see you there!”
This language is simple, casual, and friendly in tone. It doesn’t assume they’re looking for a church and leaves the decision up to them.If they don’t ask a follow-up question or engage further, then you’ll want to leave the conversation at that. If they ask a question or share a bit of their faith journey, then it’s a good sign they’re open to hearing more.Take the opportunity to share more about your church: why you love it, how God’s used it in your life, give them an invite card, etc.
Approach #2 – When you know someone doesn’t attend a church.
Try leading with this question:
“I’m curious—did you ever go to church when you were growing up?”
The key with this question is how you follow up.This question is an easy way to start a conversation, but the real value is learning more about a person’s background with church, faith, and Christianity.There could be many reasons why someone doesn’t currently attend a church. They could’ve had a bad experience growing up. Been hurt by people. Maybe they’ve always wanted to but never made it a priority.Whatever the reason, you’re trying to understand why. So don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.
“Have you ever thought about attending a church (again)?”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how come you don’t see yourself going to church?”
“If it’s not too personal a question, what was the bad experience you had?”
The answers to these questions will help you tailor a more personal invite at the right time. Use what you learn, and ask God for wisdom on how best to invite them to church. That could be during this conversation or another time.
Is there something about your church they’d like? Is there a specific message series you can share that speaks to a situation they’re going through? Do you apologize on behalf of other Christians or churches that have hurt them?Remember, you don’t have to invite people to church the very first time you talk to them. That can be something you work toward.
How do I avoid making a person feel judged or uncomfortable?
It’s all in the approach.Notice the “posture” the conversation starters above take. They’re casual and friendly. They don’t assume anything and don’t force any type of answer. Pay attention to the conversation and engage as much or as little as you feel the other person is comfortable with.That’s the key to inviting someone (or having a conversation about faith) without the person feeling judged or uncomfortable.And don’t forget to always invite with kindness.How you end the conversation will be how they remember your invite. So be kind, gracious, and understanding no matter the response.
What if I get rejected?
You will, but don’t let it discourage you. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s not personal.Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.A “no thanks” won’t negatively impact your life. But a “yes” could change someone’s life forever. Press through any fears of rejection and keep inviting! You’ll never get a “yes” if you never ask.
Another common fear is getting a negative reaction.In my experience, almost everyone will accept your invite graciously whether they’re interested or not.
As you invite people to church, you’ll find most of your fears are not reality. Rejection isn’t as bad as you think. People generally avoid confrontation. They’re not going to be hateful toward you or feel judged by you.
Now let’s play the what if game again.
What if they say yes?
What if they experience authentic community and love for the first time?
What if the church renews their faith and hope in Christ?
What if they find their identity in Christ and walk in greater confidence?
God wants to use you. And often, it’s through a simple invite. If we do our part, God will do His part. We just have to plant the seed.
Who will you invite this week?
July : IF IT AINT BROKE – DON’T FIX IT… written on June 26, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, an announcement was made that we were going to possibly open our sanctuary back up to in person worship on July 5th. The decision to reopen on that specific date was in accordance with Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s 5 part plan to reopen Indiana. The fifth and final phase of his plan is scheduled to be rolled out on July 4th. While, at this time, that is still the Governors plan – we…your church leadership…would like to give things a little more time.
Every week, on Wednesday, Governor Holcomb and his team, gives an update on the Indianapolis news station to inform us Hoosiers about how the pandemic is affecting the people of this great State. This past week, there were 281 new cases of COVID-19 reported bringing the total in the state to 43,140 people that have contracted the virus. In the past week, there were 9 new deaths bringing the total death count to 2,386.
The Methodist founder, John Wesley, spoke of Three Simple Rules – Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love With God. As a Methodist and as your pastor, I feel that rushing into the sanctuary for in person worship could potentially be harmful. While statistically, the percentages of new cases, deaths, and hospitalization seems to be trending down – would I be doing GOOD by potentially putting your health at risk? And as I continue my own journey with Christ and as I continue to love God with all of my heart, mind, and soul – I also love you. I could not live with myself if one of my flocks ended up contracting this virus after sitting in the sanctuary for 45 minutes. It’s just not worth the risk.
And besides…if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. I am loving the drive-in church thing – and from what I hear…you all are enjoying it too. We will continue to work on improving the worship experience for you, improving the quality of the sound. Improve the quality of the video sermons. And while we are working on that, we will also be closely monitoring the situation with the weekly updates from the government and the CDC. As of today, we are looking at August 2nd as the new projected reopening date.
Here’s what we will need from you. When we do move back into the sanctuary, we are going to need a few things. First of all, we will need to stock up on cleaning supplies. I know that right now, it’s hard to find Clorox wipes or Lysol – but if you find any kind of anti-bacterial spray or cleaning product we can use to disinfect surfaces like the pews, door handles, light switches, bathrooms, etc… And any hand sanitizer…The church will gladly accept your donations.
Next thing we will need is VOLUNTEERS. When we reopen, I would like to have volunteers to serve as ushers and to help make the worship experience as hands free as possible. These ushers will be stationed at every door to open the door for our guests so to avoid having to touch handles. Ushers will also help direct people to their seats where social distancing guidelines will likely still need to be followed.
Lastly, for now anyway (we might think of other stuff), we will need a team of volunteers to deep clean and disinfect the church every Sunday. Before and after the service – surface areas will need to be wiped down with disinfectant as a precaution.
I wish I could tell you that things are going to be back to normal soon…Reality is…I think we need to redefine what “normal” is.
While this new normal might not be ideally what we want, my hope is that it will bring us closer to God and to be even more reliant on Him and His provisions. That, while we are closely listening to the news reports on how we should all act and what we should do to avoid getting sick – we should pay even more attention to what God is telling us – through His Word – on how we should act and what we should do to avoid eternal death.
Stay hopeful – stay faithful – and stay encouraged. God is still in control.
Greetings to you all in the name of Jesus Christ,
As I sit at my desk writing this letter, I do so with so many thoughts raging through my mind. I’ve just gotten home from visiting a dear friend and church member in the hospital. I can’t imagine how hard it is for the family to not be able to be with him due to the hospital restrictions on visitors. They were, however, able to speak with him through the use of technology where the nurse was able to connect them through a ZOOM meeting. I am also thinking about the task of officiating a wedding for two young people in our church. It will certainly not be their ideal marriage ceremony, and many people will not be able to attend as originally planned. In this case, their love for each other and their desire to become one flesh through the sacred act of marriage has more meaning than having a big wedding. They will recommit their vows when things allow for it to happen safely. On top of these two things, I am also trying to prepare the sermon for this Sunday and also address the State of the Church with all of you.
The question is obviously…When will we start gathering in the church sanctuary again for worship? In other communications, it was shared that our Bishop suggested that we wait until at least June 14th based on the Governor’s 5-part plan and the recommendation of the CDC. Here’s what it would look like if we were to gather on June 14th and we followed the guidelines that have been put in place for in-house worship.
- Ask all individuals who are 65 and above or who have an underlying at-risk health condition to stay home and watch services online
- Ensure 6 feet between individuals or family units of the same households during services
- Space and mark seating, alternating rows when possible
- Clean between each service and disinfect high-contact surfaces regularly
- Place hand sanitizers in high-contact locations (e.g. bathroom, entry, exit) and ask staff, members, and guests to sanitize their hands before entering the building
- Guests must put on a face covering before entering the building
- Place signage telling staff, members, and guests to not enter if they are symptomatic or if they have tested positive for COVID-19
- Implement non-contact greetings (no passing the peace, hugs, handshakes, etc.)
- Avoid handing out materials (no hymnals or bulletins)
- Keep coffee and other self-service stations closed (no coffee, tea, or cookies)
- Establish safety protocols for any communion and collection to avoid contact (no communion)
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS • Consider waiting to reopen the preschool and children areas until schools reopen. If open, do not place a mask on children age two (2) or under per CDC guidelines, and limit leaders in the preschool and children’s areas to those who do not have pre-existing conditions and those under age 65 (no children’s Sunday school)
- If in-person music teams are used, use proper social distancing and limited team members (corporate singing is not encouraged.)
My thought is this…with all the precautions we will need to take and the limitations we will be under – I’m afraid that it will all be a distraction and take away from our worship. And if this “new way” of worship isn’t any better than what we are currently doing with our drive-in service and recorded sermon being sent out via email, YouTube, and Facebook…then maybe we should reconsider opening up the church so soon. I understand the desire that so many of us have to be together, but I feel as though I have a responsibility to everyone to make a decision that considers not only your feelings, but your health, safety, and peace of mind. With that being said, I am suggesting that we delay the opening of our sanctuary until we can all feel safe in meeting together and we will be able to have less distractions. As of today, I would like to suggest that we postpone our in-person services until July 5, 2020 at the earliest. I would also like to hear from all of you on your thoughts. A brief survey will be sent out soon to gather information on your needs, to help me better understand how I can serve you, and to understand your feelings and concerns about our situation.
As I said earlier, I am also working on this week’s sermon. It happens to be Pentecost Sunday and the suggested text comes from Acts 2 which starts out with, “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place”. After weeks of separation due to social distancing and quarantine, those seven words, “they were all together in one place,” have renewed significance. While we might not be able to see the red paraments on the altar in person, we can still worship together outside of the church – in our cars, sitting in lawn chairs or the back of your pick-up truck – or by watching the sermon online. Let us remember in this season that the Holy Spirit draws us together and is present within us while we remain apart.
At the end of the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit shows his power by bringing over 3000 people together where they worshiped, prayed, studied, and ate together. We are all missing these things – especially the eating! Let’s think about it this way…we are giving up our time together because we recognize just how connected we actually are. Yes, we are apart. But because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are not alone. We are connected to God and to one another.
Acts 2:47 tells us that the first church “praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.” Online worship, drive-in church, and social distancing are a couple of ways we are following their example today.
While we are apart, we continue to be the church for one another, because the Holy Spirit is with us wherever we are.
Thank you for your continued support, your patience, and your understanding. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions you have.
Remember – God loves you…and I love you…and there’s not a thing you can do about it.