"God has made everything beautiful in its time."
(from the Good Book, Ecclesiastes 3:11)
First it was toilet paper and bread that you couldn't find anywhere. Then it was hair color, baking yeast, spiral hams and Spam that were flying off the shelves. What will it be next? And such daily inconveniences are nothing compared to the true crisis: 649 fatalities in Ohio from the coronavirus, over 52,000 fatalities nationwide (as of April 24, 2020).
Pay checks are disappearing, one million Ohio workers have filed for unemployment. There are many whose health is threatened by this virus, and who are cut off from family and friends. It is a time of anxiety, difficulty and worry, a time when hearts are sifted and faith is tested.
And yet it is also a time of caring, a time for being mindful of others, a time finding ways to connect and support neighbors and families. It is a time to flex the muscles of faith we have been given, and to do likewise with the muscles of prayer that you have.
"Lord we do not see the beauty of this time, but we give you our lives and we lift up our prayers to you. In faith we pray that you will make these times beautiful in your time. In faith we trust you've got the whole world in your hands, from the itty bitty babies to the most senior among us. In faith we turn to you we turn and ask that you see us through it all.
“May we depend on you. And may we depend on your word. May your beauty be seen in the ways we care and are mindful of others, and in the times we connect with each other and support the neighbors and families we have. For times such as these, may we put to use the muscles of prayer and faith that you have given us. Amen.”
(Highlights of a telephone conversation this week with Mamie Grunau, our church historian and member of the Brunswick Area Historical Society.)
“Mamie, in these days of the coronavirus pandemic, what wisdom and encouragement can you offer to us youngsters who haven’t yet caught up to your 96 years upon this earth?”
Mamie: “I think of the saying, ‘This too shall pass.’ We’ve been through a lot over the years and we’re in the thick of it right now so it is hard to see that this will one day be over, but this too shall pass. Things might be different and we’ll have to make adjustments, but it shall pass. We’ll weather it together and get through it together.
“Mamie, I’ve got just the song!” I told her. With a smile in her voice she answered, “Don’t worry, that too will pass.” Then she said we needn’t worry because we would get to sing it with everyone when we get back to Sunday mornings at church.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while troubles last, and our eternal home.
And the song brought to mind the verses from the Good Book, “From everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children -- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17-18).
“What else?” I asked. And Mamie answered, “I would simply encourage everyone to be mindful of others. Even in my building where visitors aren’t allowed and it’s easy to be discouraged, still I have seen many different ways of people watching out for others and not just themselves. How else can get through this together if we’re not together? And you don’t have to be 96 years in order to learn this lesson, you can learn it at any age.”
“Mamie, guess what? I’ve got just the song,” I told her. “I thought you might” she said, with just a tinge of resignation in her voice. “It’s a beach song from Southern California," I said, "so I don’t know if it ever made it to the shores of Lake Erie. Maybe we’ll have to go with a different one.” Here's that different one:
Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love, show us
how to serve the neighbors we have from you.
“Any last words before we hang up?” And Mamie answered, “I would tell everyone not give up hope. How can a person live without hope? As long as we have hope, we can continue, come what may. You’re still a little young, but remember, ‘faith, hope and love, these three abide.’ The greatest of these is love, but faith and hope are right behind.”
We said good-bye, Mamie and I, and so I’ll leave you with words that come from elsewhere in the Good Book, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).
Let your wisdom, hope and encouragement shine forth today!
Thursdays had been usually a busy day at the Brunswick United Methodist Church – church doors would get a workout throughout the day as they open and close, open and close, open and close. The day starts with the Food Pantry Ministry in the morning and continues with Small Group Bible Study Classes in the afternoon and evening. Once a month the church hosts a free community-wide Soup Dinner so the kitchen is bustling. The TOPS and Yoga community groups also found a home here on Thursdays, and during the school year a Special Education class from the high school would hold forth in a couple of the Sunday School rooms. Finally, the Praise Teams would put the day to bed, so to say, with its rehearsal in anticipation of an upcoming Sunday worship service.
The Food Pantry ministry came up with a way to deliver drive-through foodstuffs to clients, and continues to do so every Thursday. Other ministries and activities have been suspended for the time being. Even so, staying in touch (without touching), and being in contact (while maintaining social distancing) are a critical need these days. I received and email from one of our church family earlier this week, and with his permission, share it with you all:
Pastor Tom: Although we all self-isolating, we can still reach out by phone or email to friends, family, and church family. My wife and I have been doing so the last few days. If everyone did the same, we could all stay connected and uplifted. This way everyone feels like they are not forgotten and in this alone. This is a win-win situation as it makes you feel good also. So we would like to ask every member to take time and make a few phone calls. Hope all is well with you and yours. Stay well.
God Bless and Be with you,
As she told me the events of that afternoon at the hospital, I realized that what I was hearing, in our very own COVID-19 coronavirus days, were verses out of the Bible being brought to life. The problem was, I couldn’t find the verses.
So I did what any highly-trained seminary graduate with many years of pastoral experience does when wanting an immediate answer (if he happens to be married): “Susan,” I said, “where’s that passage with the Bible verses?”
The answer, I am happy to saw, was immediate. It’s just that the negotiations leading up to the answer happened to take a while longer. But we finally settled on three upstairs windows being washed inside and out, and also dinner out (or dinner in, in case she can’t wait for the stay-at-home guidelines to end.) I know what you might be thinking, but let me just say that across these many years, this was actually one of my more successful negotiations.
The verses I was looking for (and which cost me only one dinner and three washed windows) are II Timothy 1:3-4, and they go like this: “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”
It had been six weeks, maybe more, when they last saw each other. He was in a Brunswick care facility, she at home. The facility, like all nursing facilities, had been (and still is) off-limits to all non-residents, including family and spouses. However they caught a lucky break, if you could call it that, because he had to be taken to the hospital due to heart complications.
The hospital telephoned with the news that surgery for a pacemaker was scheduled for the next day. “If you come, you can see your husband for ONE MINUTE when he is being taken in for surgery.”
She was there of course, and the hospital was true to its word: one minute only as they prepared to wheel him away. With leads on stickers being attached across his chest and hospital staff at the gurney, she took his hand and gave it a squeeze. He opened his eyes and saw her, and as their eyes met the tears poured forth for them both. “Hi sweetheart. I didn’t think I’d ever get to see you again,” he said. They told each other “I love you,” and that was it.
She was so grateful, she said, and she also said this: “That was one minute more than everyone else in that nursing home and all the nursing homes have had these past six weeks, and who knows how much longer until we can see each other again.” With that we spoke too of the need to pray for residents and patients, for their caregivers, and for the families and spouses in this time of distancing and separation. Would you pray for them today and for someone you know in the midst of such separation?
God Bless you,
“Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”
II Timothy 1:3-4
Often in these past weeks people have remarked how the coronavirus pandemic has brought back memories of the polio epidemic in the 1950s. For some the memories also include stories their parents and grandparents told of the 1918 flu epidemic. Commentators tell us that COVID-19 will also be remembered for generations to come.
When it comes to winter, often it is the winter storms of 1977-78 that gauge the severity of all other winter storms since then; and if you are really lucky, you might even hear someone tell you about the winter of 1936-37 with its incredible snow drifts, impassable roads, and bitter temperatures. Admittedly, this past week’s winter weather hasn’t been a milestone to remember, just some blustery days that had a way of sticking with me longer than I wanted.
Sad news was received yesterday about the death of Rev. Dr. William R. Harvey who served the Brunswick UMC from 1966-1978. From the stories many of our members tell, it is clear that his years here came at a critical time in the life of the congregation, and the legacy of his time here endures to this day.
When Bill and Nancy arrived in 1966, they came straight out of Africa. Well, maybe it wasn’t that straight but they came from the Mulungwishi Theological Seminary in present day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nancy grew up a Lakewood gal, but it was Bill’s first time to live in Ohio. They had infant twin girls, a two year old daughter and a seven year old boy, all of which tells me that their time here from 1966 to 1978 was just as formative for their family as it was for the Brunswick UMC.
When the Harveys left Brunswick in 1978, they also left behind a legacy of faith, hope and love that continues to this day, even though many of us here now never got to meet them. Likewise, others are in our present lives leave legacies too, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
Who has left a legacy in your life? And what kind of legacy do you long to leave for those who will come after you? Pray too for the legacy our church will leave, that it be glorifying to God and uplifting to the people who will come after us.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.“
I Corinthians 13:13
A church member was on the phone. I asked how she was doing. “I’m doing fine. I’m watching out for myself so I can watch out for my neighbors too.
“You know I’m ninety years old,” she said, “as in ninety-on-the nose since my birthday is later this year. And I’ve got a lot of old folks in my apartment building who aren’t eating the way they need to, so I’m cooking a lot of soup these days and setting it outside their doors. It reminds me of our soup dinners at church, but of course we can’t be near each other and don’t get to meet new folk.”
Are they letting visitors in your building? “Oh no. It is very, very discouraged. My son telephoned and wanted to come over, and I told him, ‘Absolutely not! We’ve got people here who can’t afford to get sick.’
“He said he just wanted to see me and give me a hug. But I told him he would just have to wait. And do you know what? He came over anyway! He is stubborn, that one, and no matter what people say, I’m sure he got it from his dad and not from me. Sometimes I think my friends just like to needle me.
“He came and I made him stay in his car as we talked to each other across the parking lot. ‘I just needed to see you with my own eyes,’ he told me and I said that’s fine, we just can’t hug until this is all over.”
And that is the story of how one “ninety-on-the-nose” person lives the faith in times like these. May we each be blessed in our faith and prayers today. In your prayers, please keep in prayer the first responders and the health care people caring for the sick.
"Quick! Take a photo!” I whispered loudly. And my wife humored me, and combined it with the verse, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” from I Thessalonians 5:18. The photo and the verse were perfect matches for each other on that Sunday following the morning services.
In the photo the baby is ensconced in all the bright colors of the “KidzConnect Zone” at the Brunswick United Methodist Church, soaking up the sun streaming in through the windows. We were enjoying the warmth of the sun and the baby’s company, although quite honestly, we couldn’t be sure that she was enjoying ours, since her family had stepped away for a moment.
When she realized it was just my wife and me, still she managed not to burst into tears. Instead she put on a brave face and smiled until her family came back. (And then kept on smiling too.) Her smile and her expression captured it all.
I wonder if perhaps, that is what prayer is like. Like our little friend that day, we too want to rejoice always, and we want to be brave too, even though we are not always sure of our surroundings or what the future will bring.
Like her wondering where her family was, so too sometimes we wonder and are waiting to be reassured that our heavenly Father hasn’t walked off and forgotten about us. And like her, we are taught these things when it come to prayer:
Rejoice always (Keep smiling!),
pray without ceasing (“Hello Lord - I’m right here - don’t forget about me! And don’t let me forget about you”),
Give thanks in all circumstances (even when I need to be brave);
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (Thank you Lord that you keep us close to you.)
Do not quench the Spirit. (Don’t let us give up.) (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)
God Bless and Be with you today,
p.s. Quite by “coincidence” a pastor friend shared this same Bible passage from I Thessalonians 5:16-19 when sending out yesterday’s morning blessing to the church she serves, encouraging all with these words:
“This morning's scripture reading reminds us to be grateful and to continue to pray. Also, we shouldn't get in the way of God! This likely challenges us today, but let's all try to be grateful and realize how much better we feel, how much more productive we can be, and how much more inspired we can become to reach out to others … The reading from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 challenges us today, and I challenge all of us (including myself) to find ways to rejoice always, continue to pray, and always give thanks. This is what God desires, no question, especially in times such as these.”
“Dorcas" isn’t a name you are likely hear much outside of Amish settlements. But it’s alive and well in Holmes County and Wayne County, where I lived prior to moving to Brunswick. The Dorcas in the Bible we meet in Acts 9:36-41, where you catch on pretty quickly that she was greatly loved by those who knew her.
“She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor,” and when Simon Peter arrived, they showed him “the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them.” She was good with a needle and good with people, and they were in grief. Simon Peter arrived, knelt and prayed, and commanded her to arise. She opened her eyes and sat up. News spread, of course, and the rejoicing was great, perhaps especially by those who were the recipients of her being mindful towards them.
As far as I know, we don’t have anyone named “Dorcas” in our church, but we have many who are good with a needle. So far, about a dozen of them are on a “Dorcas Quest” - using materials at hand, and improvising when needed, they are making masks for people to use during these days of social distancing.
But more people who are deft with a needle are still needed. If you have mask making materials and want to join in, please do - the more, the merrier! There is a collection box at the church where masks can be dropped off during office hours (call ahead to be sure someone is there), with the intent of distributing them locally where needed.
Some masks work better than others, and some get more attention than others too. Maybe you've seen some memorable masks, as have I. The photo below shows that even when the materials run out, creativity still flourishes. (For our mask drive, though, we are discouraging the newspaper variety of masks.) Whether making masks or wearing them, may the light of Christ brightly through us all! - —Pastor Tom