Letter from Pastor Stephanie / September 19, 2020
On March 8, 2020, we held our last, anyone can come to worship, in person, no social distancing and no mask, worship service. The next week we began live-streaming for what seemed like a possible three-week period. We are now looking at Advent and part of 2021 doing the same.
Back in April and May when I would tell people that we would most likely be doing this for a year, it was met with disappointment and fear. I remember one person telling me that the thought of Advent and Christmas like this, was far too depressing to consider.
Here we are, a place where many of us haven't seen each other and may not see each other for a year. There are opportunities to worship in person, but as we face the winter in Vermont, those, too, may need to cease. In reaching out to many of you, I know that "YouTube TV" service feels like a reach. Some of you are not watching at all, some are attending other churches who are open at larger capacity, and some are waiting it out, on hold until this is all over.
That may seem like a bleak assessment of what our church, and many others are facing, and yet, that is the place many of us find ourselves in at the moment. I am not an eternal optimist. I don't naturally look at the glass half full. I don't see the silver lining or smile through the pain. If you ask Mitch, I often complain, rail against and wish for a different scenario - naturally. However, allowing God to reveal areas in my spiritual life that are detrimental to my growth has helped me to see that though those might be my natural tendencies, I can only have a different perspective with God's eyes.
We have embarked on a new sermon series on David the Shepherd King and having God's eyes for the world. What better time to seek God's perspective then in the middle of a global pandemic when worship, church, fellowship, and discipleship are nothing as we wish them to be? What do we do?
The first place to start is to tell God and others about our struggles during this time. I have heard the phrase "disconnected" a lot lately. If we are using that to describe how we feel, what do we mean by that? Go to God and give Him your frustrations, concerns, and fears. I said last week in the sermon a phrase my father used to tell me and that was to go to God and ask to have His eyes for humanity - especially someone hard to love. We can do that about this time as well. Ask God to have His eyes for the situation we are in which does not mean only pretending all is well. It does mean understanding that even what we deem difficult can be used for our spiritual growth. As leadership, we are praying, discerning, and working towards helping all of us grow in the Lord at all times, but especially these times.
I would label this time in our life D.I.Y. faith, which may be a bit of a misnomer in that none of us can grow in our faith alone. However, now is a time to own our discipleship. The ease with which we could attend church in-person and/or Sunday school, small group and study groups has been replaced by a need for more effort on our part. I have found that this "more effort" can be a place of tremendous growth in our relationships with the Lord. But it isn't automatically going to happen. For many, unfortunately, this may be a time of regression and stagnation.
Again, what can we do?
Let's start collectively, and individually, with prayer. My prayer has been, "God how can I use this time for Your glory?". This is how to begin the process of seeing the world through His eyes. Begin with ten, fifteen, thirty minutes of prayer with God a day simply asking for His direction during this time.
As we pray, can we pray for others? Sit with the directory and pray for those before and after your name. Call those whose names come before and after yours in the directory.
Find a "worship buddy" to call after the service or during the week to talk about the devotionals, worship, or what we are reading at the moment. Ask each other how God is working in your lives.
Find a "worship pod" to watch the service together safely or virtually. Currently, I have been told that there are Middlebury students doing just that at the moment.
Join a Zoom Sunday class or discipleship class especially if you haven't been in Sunday School in a long time (or never), allow God to grow you during this time.
Write letters to each other. Send a card. Reach out to someone in the church whom God has laid on your heart.
Take a socially-distant walk with someone at MBC. Open up about your struggles with what is happening and pray together.
Ask God to lead you into close, discipleship relationships with another person or another couple/family at MBC.
These are just a few ways to grow during this time. I have no idea how long we will have to continue this way or what our world and church will look like when pandemic is over. I do know that no time is wasted with God. He can and will (if we allow Him to) grow us in ways we never could imagine.
Know that the Deacons and I are praying for you daily.
In Christ's Name,
Letter from Pastor Stephanie - November 3, 2020
Dear MBC Family,
This morning as I dropped children off at school, I could see the mountains snow-capped with the first snow of the season. It is always one of the most beautiful scenes and one of my favorite signs that the world is again changing. The leaves have fallen from the trees, wood has begun to be burned for heat and we begin to count the days down to Thanksgiving and Advent.
In a year of trial, sometimes it is hard to focus on the goodness of our Creator. As we face Advent, we know that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be different this year. As we anticipate Advent and await the gift of the true Shepherd King, I am so grateful for the gifts God has given us during this season…
Except for one Sunday, we have been able to live-stream Sunday morning worship every week since March. Through the live-stream of worship, we are able to reach students and people around the United States with the message of the Gospel. The seeming hardships are still potential hardships, but God has provided for MBC in so many powerful ways. Leadership has been provided to lead even in the midst of quarantine, offerings have held steady, Melinda and Susan, sharing the piano accompaniment on Sunday morning, has allowed for each of them to take a break, and all leaders’ and musicians’ health and strength have been sustained.
We have been able to continue adult Sunday school. The restrictions our building gave us have been removed by the use of Zoom, and we now have a choice of classes for adults, all of which are getting rave reviews for content and leadership.
We have dedicated teachers who oversee Sunday School check-ins for children and youth that keep our children connected, as well as other resources available through videos on our website.
I finished teaching a Monday night class from home (often with two little boys by my side), a class that I will teach again in the New Year.
Mark and Ellie have continued with youth events with Covid-restrictions upheld.
The Outdoor Praise Services yielded so many talented participants from musicians to leaders. Jane Kimble singing was such a treasure. Meredith and Jeff leading some of my favorite hymns and Matthew Dickerson singing were just a few of the many highlights. Erick Gong's leadership in these services allowed for a passionate voice for spiritual disciplines that have shaped his life.
This year has changed the construction of so many daily tasks in our life, and yet worship, time with God, and walking with Christ haven't changed in their foundation. I personally watched the "YouTube Church" the four Sundays I haven't preached and I loved it. Yes, it is different, but even with eight children, two dogs running around and Mitch at the worship to lead the live stream, I felt as if I truly worshipped. God has been so good.
The Deacons have prayerfully decided to continue with in-person, but limited number worship into the foreseeable future with considerations made for Covid cases in Vermont and any action by the Governor.
We concluded the outdoor, 4 pm services at the end of October, but we will have two more: Thanksgiving celebration (11/22) and a Christmas Eve Nativity walk.
We will also have an indoor - limited number - Christmas Eve service with KN95 masks provided, and improved ventilation. It won't have the large crowd, but we will live-stream Christmas Eve for all to be part of and worship the coming king. There will not be a Christmas morning am service this year - I will miss it, but we will look forward to that as a special treat next year.
On a personal ‘God is so good’ note…
Our family, after five years of suspecting Soren was misdiagnosed, learned through an MRI that there is nothing wrong with Soren's brain. Imagine that? A child diagnosed with an ominous condition, slated to die, given a g-tube and institutionalized for the first four months has NOTHING wrong with his brain. His condition, Marfan's Syndrome, accounts for his size and his structural issues in his mouth. My father, had he lived to hear that would have said, "Praise the Lord".
What the news left me with this week was a strange sense of how God works. I saw the original MRI and there was brain damage on it. One's brain does not change after birth. It grows, but if there is damage it doesn't get undone and yet Soren's scan is a totally different scan; one MRI, with a smooth brain, and one, perfectly normal. Freak mistake? Work of God? We, of course, are going to take the later option. What mystery to the work of God. As our family shifts our focus to little Rowan's care, we prepare for a trip to Boston Children's Hospital to the Cornelia DeLange clinic. He will have a chance to meet with the best-of-the-best who know his syndrome.
We have a lot ahead of us - all of us, but I am reminded of how God is so good even through the difficult, confusing and seemingly, dark times. God has a plan for our lives and our church. We continue to pray for the health of our church body and the growth in our relationships with the one true, Shepherd King.