COVID-19 Response

COVID-19 Response

AN ENOTE FROM PASTOR CHRIS

SENT APRIL 30, 2020 AT 4:00 PM.

Dear Friends,

This week, I have engaged in many different conversations, planning meetings and information sessions about COVID-19 regarding specifically the safety (or lack thereof) of offering in-person worship, especially for a church our size.

I have reviewed three different plans for re-opening by three different churches and spoken today with our District Superintendent and other pastors. There is much to consider, process and for which we must plan. 

Let me summarize by stating three things:

1. We need to delay in-person worship until mid to late June.

The Bishop and Cabinet met with medical experts at Emory University this past weekend and were informed by them of the various levels of risk and a corresponding timeline.

Subsequently, the Bishop then sent out a communication to all UMC’s in North Georgia urging we hold off in-person worship until the last Sunday in June and furthermore to pay close attention to the strict guidelines offered by medical professionals as well as those mandated by the State of Georgia.

2. We need to now be preparing a multi-step plan for how to re-open. 

There will be a “new normal” for the foreseeable future. It will be strange at times but we will adapt. God’s grace will be with us.

The stipulations and regulations for how we can offer in-person worship are both serious and require preparations in order to do our best.

We’re going to need to think through how to offer genuine worship (with our focus solely on Jesus) and do so wisely and prudently (with safety and risk-reduction in mind).

I plan to share more about this in the weeks ahead… 

3. We need to continue to be creative and determined to offer Christ.

People need the grace of God even more today because of the unique challenges we face. Now is the time as people of faith that we rise to the challenge.

Let’s punch holes in the darkness by shining the light of Christ, offering hope and help and salvation in his name. Let’s not shirk our responsibility, nor shrink from the task at hand to BE THE CHURCH. It’s through these difficulties that we are called to offer Jesus and to do so in ways that are as distinct as the times we are living. 

Take heart friends, through this God will show us new things, amazing things. God will reveal truth about ourselves, our needs, our way of life. God will show us the emptiness of things we thought were important and the importance of things we previously thought were empty.

It is a difficult time of course but by being our brother’s and sister’s keeper (and doing so in profoundly unique ways given the unprecedented circumstances) we will find ourselves better for having lived through this together. No God doesn’t cause evil and tragedy but God refuses to let them have the last word. 

With that here is some good news!

This week, both Ringgold H.S. and Heritage H.S. have agreed to allow us to host their respective Baccalaureate services. 

Congrats Class of 2020!  We will be offering them the same “video-production” kind of service that we’re currently doing for our weekly worship experience. We’ll plan it out with the administration of each school (and the student body that technically is in charge of said service) and video record it’s various aspects then edit it together.

Each Baccalaureate service will then “premier” on Facebook on specific day and time just like our worship services do and they will also be found by going to www.ringgoldumc.tv.

In fact, our hope is that each school will offer this web-address as the easiest and most direct way to watch the Baccalaureate service (in addition to Facebook).

I’m thrilled that just seven weeks into this crisis we’re able to offer something we’ve just learned to the community!  I’m proud that we can use our technical upgrades and our new skills in a way that would bless Catoosa County and the Class of 2020 and their families. 

Thank you for being the kind of church you are!

Also good news…

I continue to hear from people both in our church and in other states that are thankful for our online services.

What a blessing it is to hear from someone who has reconnected, someone who is now “in worship” every single week. What a blessing it is to hear from someone who now able to worship right along with everyone else despite their disability. What a blessing it is to here from someone who though they are traveling they still were “in worship.” What a blessing it is to hear from someone who connected with us online and said, “I can’t wait to walk in that first time.” What a blessing it is to hear from someone who said, “I’m so glad you all offer this, otherwise we wouldn’t have any kind of church at all.” 

I thought you might enjoy seeing the percentages of the various people who watched worship this past Sunday.

74.4% watched from Georgia.
  7.2% watched from Tennessee
  4.2% watched from Ohio
  4.1% watched from Indiana
  2.5% watched from Florida
  1.4% watched from Texas
  1.0% watched from Minnesota
  1.0% watched from Pennsylvania
  1.0% watched from North Carolina
   <1% watched from South Carolina
   <1% watched from Kentucky
   <1% watched from California

More good news… We have a new opportunity for connection and fellowship starting this Sunday!

We’re offering a VIRTUAL LOBBY!

Come hang out in our Viritual Lobby, 9:30am-11:30am this Sunday.

Use this link Virtual Lobby

This will be our first week so it may not work exactly as we want but we’re going to try it and get better at providing a “hang out” spot on Sunday. You choose whether it is before and after worship. Use it to connect with people you haven’t seen in a while.

Lastly, I need to mention to you that Kirsten McClain, our Youth Director has shared with us her resignation. There is more to share than just this announcement and I’d like to give it more space than just the end of this e-note.

However, I will tell you Kirsten is leaving on good terms and we wish her the very best. She’ll continue working with our youth through mid-May.

Your personnel committee has acted promptly and we are already in the process of interviewing our first candidate. 

Youth Ministry is a vital part of what RUMC is about and it is critical that we are diligent in our search to find the best person for this position. 

We are widening our search.

I believe our best days of youth ministry are ahead.

Chris

P.S. Make sure to take a picture of your #signsofhope and put it on social media. Doing so turns one witness into two. Then spread the word, Ringgold United Methodist is your ONLINE CHURCH. www.ringgoldumc.tv

Sent April 3, 2020 at 4:00 pm.

Sisters and Brothers,

We have arrived in April, RESURRECTION month, and though our normal season of LENT is coming to an end, nonetheless we find ourselves remaining (for now) in the wilderness, like the Israelites who had to keep marching around the mountain of God, and like them we too wait with hope for a future promised land.

As a church, we have made and continue to make all sorts of adjustments.

Remember this phrase and please pass it on, “YOUR ONLINE CHURCH.” Please share that Ringgold United Methodist wants to be your online church! Over 600 folks joined us for worship in this past week.

People are open to God in this moment and they can’t physically come to worship but they can go to www.ringgoldumc.org and click “ONLINE CHURCH” and find all sorts of resources for faith growth and spiritual life, including our previous online worship experiences. I believe the Spirit is calling us to meet our community in this need. Please help pass the word “Ringgold United Methodist is your ONLINE CHURCH.

I want to say how proud I am of our Staff for their creativity for how they want to lead as effectively as possible (including trying to help us have some fun at times) during this otherwise serious and somber circumstance.

We are still being the church friends. Perhaps in some ways we are even more the church right now in this time than we are normally. Our congregation seems to be truly “bearing each other’s burdens” as you check on one another and participate with each other as best as possible! I want to thank you for how you have responded!

  • Thank you for participating in worship online.
  • Thank you for giving!! Thank you for checking on your neighbors and one another.
  • Thank you for praying, especially for medical personnel, including those in our church family and those you know personally.
  • Thank you for trusting God to make something good come from this.
  • Thank you for holding on.
  • Thank you for your patience and for inviting others to join us as their ONLINE CHURCH too.

I thought I would point out to you how important it was that we suspended in-person-worship when we did.

Currently, in the state of Georgia, the worst hit counties with COVID-19 are all in the Metro-Atlanta area (Fulton, Dekalb, Cobb, Gwinnett etc.) which makes sense of course given the population density, but there is one exception.

Dougherty County is a rural county isolated from the rest in South Georgia. It currently is the county with the second most infections (560) and second most deaths (30). What happened in Dougherty County?

Two different churches held congregational funeral services, one in the church building, the other held theirs in the funeral home. From those two large congregational services, the virus spread quickly and viciously through that area and continues to do so. Governor Kemp writes in his Executive order, released last night, that congregations gathering together have been linked to the spread of this disease.

All this to say, I know it’s difficult right now especially when it is usually the church, and specifically in-person-worship, where we go to find renewed strength and respite and sanctuary. Yet, we cannot at the moment. I thank you for this sacrifice and loving your neighbor as yourself by joining in with this choice to offer online worship (and Sunday School and groups, etc.) only.

We’re also working on making DVD copies of worship and delivering them to members and attendees who don’t have online access.

Going forward, we are able to continue to produce our weekly worship service, both Traditional and Contemporary as we have been. The Governor’s “Stay at Home” order exempts churches and church workers with regard to providing worship services (online) provided we follow CDC guidelines for safety. 

Furthermore, we have installed the equipment needed to go to live-streaming and our current plan is to “test” this option this coming Thursday and Friday for our special Holy Week services those nights. (Easter will be prerecorded and broadcast as we have been.) After Holy Week we’ll evaluate and determine what would be best going forward for the remainder of the month.

At this point it seems the first Sunday in May is the earliest we might hope to be able to gather for in-person-worship and even then, my sense is, it will be limited to 50 or less. In that case, the Staff and I have planned contingency options. However, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Meanwhile, here are some things you might have missed… 

I look forward to your response to this week’s worship experience as we consider Giving Up Having Things Our Way. It’s a special message I wrote and recorded specifically in light of the recent developments of this week. I pray you’ll be blessed by it and that you’ll invite those you know to experience it too.

(I enjoy watching worship on my TV. We all can sit in the living room and experience worship together that way. Mine is a smart TV and is connected to the internet. I can find worship by going to You Tube and looking up the Ringgold United Methodist Church channel.)

Chris
P.S. We ended March very close to receiving our budgeted missional need as a church. Wow!  Can you help us start April strong? You can mail your check to P.O. Box 99 Ringgold, Ga 30736, or give online. Perhaps this is a time you would want to go ahead and set up an automatic draft each week or each month; use this linkThis is how I give and I find it helpful.  Ms. Karen, our Office Administrator has offered to help anyone that needs it to set up your giving. Call the church at 770.935.4777 Monday – Thursday 10am-1pm.

Rev. Chris Bryant
Senior Pastor
chris@ringgoldumc.org

Sent March 13, 2020 at 3:00 pm.

I believe in Jesus.
I believe in science.
I don’t know everything… far from it.

An important confession now-a-days for any pastor.

We are living in extraordinary times, which calls for extraordinary people as well as peculiar action in unprecedented circumstances.

May God’s grace continue to be with us in a mighty way.

The Staff and I have been discussing the Coronavirus situation for weeks now trying our best to stay ahead and stay prepared. You might remember that we had hand-sanitizer in the pews on Sunday, March 1st!

We have discussed various contingencies plans which included taking extra precautions leading up to worship this weekend. We have spent hours upon hours thinking through how to provide and subsequently communicate the safest environment possible.

My plan was to share those measures with you while also encouraging those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and those who are sick for any reason to stay home and catch the sermon online on Sunday afternoon.

However, the last 30 hours have been a proverbial whirlwind. Things have changed and have updated rapidly.

In short, public health officials are strongly urging us to stay home to mitigate the spread of this virus. There is serious concern that a great number of people are potentially infected and don’t realize it or haven’t qualified to test for it.

As I’m sure you know, Catoosa public schools have been closed and will not be occupied for the next three weeks.

The Governor of GA yesterday asked specifically that persons sixty-years-old and older stay home, avoiding public activities including religious services.

Our Bishop has subsequently asked that all UMC’s offer online worship services only.

With this in mind, after a great deal of prayer, research and conversation we are cancelling all regular RUMC activities immediately until Monday, March 23.

We will however, be offering online worship. I am changing my message specifically in light of the great anxiety and “turbulence” we’ve witnessed (and maybe experienced) this week. I want to share with you how God might call us to use our faith in these uncertain times.

More details will be following regarding online worship and other opportunities as we try to respond as a church to the needs of this community.

I and other Staff will be in contact with you through email and social media, both in word and video.

Let me tell you, this decision has been very difficult for numerous reasons but it is not about fear.

It is about a sense of duty to be part of the solution as our community and nation struggles to get ahead and mitigate the effects of this virus.

It is an attempt to minimize the number of people who transmit the virus (even unknowingly as some persons who are infected have not shown any signs they were sick) and ultimately prevent the worst outcomes of this illness.

One way to “love our neighbor” in an unprecedented time as this, is to not “infect” our neighbor.

Please remember those in the medical field in your prayers, especially those who are in our own congregation who are putting themselves in harm’s way in order to offer the healing ministry of Christ and protect the rest of us.

Remember them as they endure long hours and potentially very difficult circumstances.

We remain in contact with various leaders and officials in order to respond as best as possible in the days and weeks ahead. We are praying in Jesus’ name to do so with both wisdom and courage.

I appreciate you checking on others by phone to make sure they’re ok and to keep them informed especially if they don’t have internet access. Use the CDC and/or WHO websites to keep up-to-date regarding this evolving situation.

May we be prudent. May we be faithful.

We will get through this. This is temporary.

I fully expect RUMC to be the great and leading church it has always been through and past this moment in time.

Rev. Chris Bryant
Senior Pastor
chris@ringgoldumc.org