As we navigate through these uncertain and uncharted times, we all have different experiences, thoughts, and emotions.  A few congregants of First UMC have shared some of theirs through the writings below.

Appreciation of Family - by Margaret Stickley

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. -  1 Corinthians 13:8.

It was April 2020. “Shirley is in the Winchester hospital; she is having trouble breathing.”  This was our notification that my husband Ken’s sister, Shirley, might have congestive heart failure, pneumonia, MRSA infection in her lungs or Covid-19.  She had been in skilled nursing care for more than a year, with a few hospitalizations along the way.  She tested negative for Covid-19, but with two infections raging in her body and heart disease the three  siblings agreed she should not be put through the ordeal of a ventilator. 

A widow with no children, Shirley, had chosen her younger brother, a recently retired Lutheran minister and  hospice chaplain as her power of attorney. Over three years he gradually took over decision making for her.  He arranged home care, rehab stays, then when large uncashed checks were found in her home and she was unable to keep up with bill paying he took over her finances.  The biggest decision was placing her in a nursing facility when it was clear that she was having a series of mini-strokes.

We made day trips to visit and run errands for Shirley in the nursing home.  She was usually pleasant & appreciated our attention.  David frequently traveled from Philadelphia to be sure Shirley was well cared for.  She had lots of complaints for him and was unable to understand why she could not live at home.  She could not qualify on any of David’s criteria: she must be safe, clean and well nourished.  Unable to get out of bed alone, to negotiate steps in a tri-level home and having fallen numerous times, it was an impossible situation without 24/7 assistance, which she could not afford.  Each time David came, she insisted she could stay by herself  and have someone come for a few hours each day.  David stood his ground and dealt with her abuse. “The worst decision I ever made was putting you in charge,” she railed.  The rest of family came in for criticism for not coming to live with her and take care of her.  Located from Charlotte, NC to Philadelphia the siblings were neither trained or capable of dealing with her numerous medical problems. We all had to remember that strokes were altering her personality. 

Through the many months of Shirley’s decline, David was a faithful steward of Shirley’s affairs, dealing with a fifty-year old house, its leaky roof, broken air conditioner, plumbing problems, a split maple tree, etc., while paying bills and keeping in touch with her caregivers. The rest of the family came to appreciate his skill and  dedication in dealing with all of this & keeping his sense of humor.  None of the family questioned of his decisions. We each thanked him many times.

As with so many families, it was sad that because of Covid-19 no one could be with Shirley when she passed away.  We were thankful to have a private graveside service, led by David.   Funeral,  an online estate sale, and sale of the house  followed in quick succession.  During the last three years, the family communicated more often, grew to appreciate the contribution of  the others.  Each did what he or she could to help out and we all grew closer than ever before. 

Prayer - Lord, thank you for the gift of family.  May we always appreciate, support and love those family members who are near or far way.  Amen.

Family in the time of Corona - by Maurya Batten

Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” - Proverbs 17:6

It truly is a time of uncertainty and isolation. For a large and loving family, this makes for a time of frustration and possible anxiety at not being able to gather. Having said this, we continue to do well here in the Batten family and we are so grateful to God for keeping us safe. Our place of employment is just about the only public place we enter and our family has elected to pick up curbside groceries or do drive through for take-out meals or as a treat….ice cream! However, we have truly enjoyed social distanced (either brown bag lunch or take out) events with friends in the great outdoors. 

Here is one of the highlights of our summer! On July 4th we had an extended family celebration outside. All together there are six households of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins right here together. We decided to put our heads together and get creative, so each family took an activity and then we traveled from house to house. We started in our yard with old fashioned games like sack races and ring toss with prizes! From that house, in our decorated wagon and a small boat that was pulled by a truck, we loaded up and “motored” to the next home for watermelon and popsicles! The next activity was decorating t-shirts and then a dinner of delicious hotdogs and fresh salads. We finished up by watching the Carter Mountain fireworks from the yard of one of the family houses and then onto one more home for refreshments! It was such a fun family night even if we did have to distance outside. Now we are already in the planning stages for something similar for Halloween since most likely there won’t be Trick or Treating. 

Family is so precious and so important. It has been worth the planning and creative brainstorming to come up with ways to be together. 

Prayer – Lord, you have created family to be treasured. Thank you for giving us the chance to make something positive come out of a difficult circumstance. We are grateful to you for helping us to create memories! Amen.

“Rethinking Church” - by Bill Clarke

 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? - Romans 10:14

 None of us could have anticipated last February that a coronavirus pandemic would last for such a long time and require so many changes to routine activities including forcing First United Methodist Church to close its doors to congregational worship. The good news for the people of God, however, is that our Lord and savior Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And His church, FUMC, continues to worship regularly despite the conditions we find ourselves in. Indeed we have had to “Rethink” our church rapidly and adapt to on-line worship with unique musical offerings, creative sermon topics and locations, and a host of  lay volunteers participating in greetings, scripture readings and congregational prayers. The great success of these services is evidenced by the over 400 worshiping viewers each Sunday

 When was the last time you sat still and made time to really “Rethink Church? Perhaps it was when your child or spouse announced that he or she was no longer interested in accompanying you to worship. Perhaps it was when you began to feel that the pastor’s sermons just really didn’t speak to you. Perhaps it was when “change” occurred and it wasn’t the kind of change you could readily embrace? Can’t remember? Think harder! I remember needing to “Rethink Church” as a child when I realized that the “no's” I heard loud and clear each Sunday suggested that those who loved, nurtured, and took care of me were doomed to spending eternity putting out flames. And I had to “Rethink Church” when I found that the majority of my high school friends spent Wednesday and Sunday evenings having a great time in a Youth Group at a church of a different denomination. I also had to “Rethink Church” when the church we joined 43 years ago, announced an annual budget with $1000 (out of a total request for $450,000) designated to Social Outreach and the needs of others in our community. I must admit, I needed to “Rethink Church” when the idea of contemporary worship became a reality at our church. 

Several years ago the United Methodist Church  asked congregations to “Rethink Church” and  provided some provocative ideas about what “Church” might become in the future. What if “Church” were a verb instead of a noun? What if “Church” were “a movement of people empowered to transform the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ by gathering in buildings on Sunday, seeing the world as its parish, and then acting faithfully in it?” What if the Church experience extended well beyond its doors? What if the church were not just a place to come into and stay within, but a base of operations for the faithful to express that faith by moving out into communities and around the globe to be a part of God’s plan for the world’s transformation”? What if those “Open Doors” were really opened so that everyone who knocked knew that the door would be opened?

Don’t you wonder what church is going to look like when the pandemic is over and we can once again meet in person?  Who will be in the congregation that returns? Will there be new worshipers? Will we recognize people we haven’t seen for nearly a year? How will we “Rethink” this new church experience?  Will re-thinking church be like re-inventing our worship services or will we just attempt to copy what we were doing in February 2020?  What parts of our successful on-line services will we wish to continue? What will we decide is critical to our worship experiences and what will we decide is not essential? 

There are many unknowns and many important questions awaiting us when we re-gather. Re-thinking church can be a great, exciting challenge and an opportunity for spiritual growth. . May each of us seek his guidance and grace as we begin again.

Prayer - Dear Lord, You have challenged us to make disciples, but we don’t always seem to be too successful. Challenge us to rethink the way in which we  interact with those who have yet to experience your grace. “Grant us wisdom and courage”.  Amen.

There is a Time for Everything - by Andy Steeley

After the third month, waking up at 8AM to work from home had begun to lose its luster and this pandemic began to wear on me. I missed open mics, dating, finding free festies with the kids all summer long, and having anything besides Monopoly to do on a rainy day.  At this point, I would welcome any measure of comfort that presents itself.  I found it in the wisdom of Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

From the NIV:

verse 1: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

and verses 10-12: I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live

The following analysis is found in the Cambridge Companion to the Bible (2008):

"This poem is often read as an affirmation of the beauty of the life that God has given to the human race.  Nevertheless, in context the poem concerns the lack of freedom that humans have in their lives… Along with this lack of human freedom is the inability to discern a larger purpose"

It reminds me that while we are clueless of so much in God's plan and we are yet still active participants in it.  I take some comfort in knowing, therefore, that we are achieving something during this time.  Because God is in control and because he has a plan, then we must have a part in moving it forward even if simply by persevering through this time.  The world, my church, is becoming a more perfect place and this time is part of that process - and so are we.  

Prayer -  Lord, we know that you are in control even if we sometimes forget and start to complain. Be with us as we move through this complex time and bring us out as better people, ready to build your kingdom stronger and more perfect. Amen.

A Reflection of the Times - by Lisa Hanrahan

The Lord restored the fortune of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had, twofold. - Job 42:10 

As I look back over the past six months, I wonder where the time went and how is it that so many things I wanted to do during this protective isolation didn’t get done.  But then, my husband and I were some of the lucky ones: retired, good health, happy together, financially secure.  So no, my life during this time hasn’t changed much.  I still meet with family and friends using FaceTime and Zoom, and more recently even in person.  Attending church via YouTube, while definitely not the same as in person, has been meaningful and always nice to see a variety of people I wouldn’t normally see outside of church.  I’ve enjoyed participating in the recording of hymns for the virtual services and the opportunity to at least be in church for those occasions.

Planned travel during the summer was cancelled which was a disappointment but it did afford me more time to tend to my garden and enjoy how lovely the flowers have been this year though the vegetable garden was not as successful as I’d hoped.  I also had plenty of time to sew birthday dresses for three granddaughters, even if we couldn’t travel to be with them on their birthdays.  There’s been plenty of time to read and watch TV as well.  So there have been some pluses and minuses to the social restrictions.

However, it is the hostile political divide in our country, the devastatingly poor response to the pandemic causing heartbreaking illness and death, the economic calamity for so many individuals and businesses, the plight of immigrants still in detention, the disruption of the educational system, the justifiable racial protests but unjustifiable rioting and destruction of property, and the increased frequency of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding in our country that weighs heavy on my heart and mind.  And closer to home are the friends and family experiencing fear, conflict, loneliness, or loss. 

What keeps me sane is working in my gardens and running, because it is during those times that I most often think of others and pray.  Sometimes that is followed up with a card or call, though I confess, not often enough.  My day to day is not much different than before the pandemic and social distancing became the “new normal.”  So I have no words of wisdom to impart- only to hang in there!  Reach out to family and friends you may have lost touch with- send a card, make a phone call and pray. These are all the things our pastors have encouraged us to do.  The best way to get out of the doldrums is to do something for others.  Not only does it make them feel better, but you as well.  More importantly, it gives both parties hope. 

Prayer – Lord, even as Job suffered through one tragedy and affliction after another, his faith remained.  Help us to remain faithful during these uncertain times, knowing that you will always be there. Amen.

Inheritance - by Mackie Kudravetz

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Can you imagine what it would be like for someone else to go through all your things in your absence? What would it be like if you were a rather private person, who hadn’t indulged in show and tell sessions, even with your family?

This summer during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, after my mother-in-law Barbara Kudravetz passed away at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge, I found myself in charge of completely emptying the 1600+ square foot apartment she (and Dad, who passed away January 1, 2019) had lived in for sixteen years. While observing pandemic rules, we needed to complete the job in a mere thirty- six days following her death. Even visiting her in her last weeks in WCBR Health Care had been complicated by all the Covid-19 precautions; the only reason we were admitted was because she was in end of life hospice care. No one else had visitors.

After Mom gently died July 25, David and I entered her apartment in early August for the first time since March, and began mapping out a plan of action. After we did some initial straightening up and recycling of newspapers, junk mail and magazines, a weekend of family choices began the process. We have a small immediate family: two brothers, their wives, and two daughters, who already have homes filled with possessions. A blueprint for action was in the book Leaving 1203 by Marietta McCarty, who had to empty her mother’s house. Give away all you can. Find happy homes for all that stuff. Start slowly, then accelerate as the way forward becomes clear. David and his brother had the task of doing much of the emotional heavy lifting as they packed things to donate, and made tough choices about what they should save. Sometimes we just wondered: what is this? Where did it come from? Why did she keep it?

Of course, Covid-19 even made giving things away more difficult. We crossed our fingers and tried to stay healthy, so we wouldn’t suddenly be banned from WCBR before the job was finished.

What will the stuff you have in your home say to those who are charged with deciding what to keep, and what to give or throw away? I’m convinced that Mom kept every letter, card and gift ever given to her, as well as hundreds of photographs in countless frames, and fifty photo albums that chronicled the past. They were precious to her. Some things had to be packed carefully so we could go through them later. During quiet moments while working alone, I found treasures among things in which no one else had an interest. So many times, I wanted to ask Mom a question. Sometimes, if something special couldn’t be kept, I photographed it. I have a few regrets, but, overall, I think we did our best in the time we had.

A pandemic can’t help but bring forth thoughts of our own mortality. We leave behind evidence, both tangible and intangible, of our existence. Fond memories of family experiences, and the love we shared, are the best inheritance of all.

Prayer - Lord, please help me to get through the day ahead. Help me to be patient with those with whom I’m working, and thankful for another day of life. Help me, please, find good places to donate what we don’t need, and help me to know when it’s time to take a deep breath, stop and rest. Thank you, Lord, for all the love and memories shared by our family. Amen.

COVID Nest Eggs - by Tommy Clark

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. - Psalm 84:3

I have been bird watching during the pandemic and have sighted a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and an Indigo Bunting. Also we have a Bluebird house facing our asphalt cul-de-sac. I think the birds view the cul-de-sac as a meadow. Last year they abandoned their nest in the birdhouse with 4 beautiful blue eggs in it.

This year it was occupied again and I noticed that there was no activity around the birdhouse. When I checked, the side of the house was partially open and the nest which had been built had 4 beautiful eggs in it. Thinking that the birds had abandoned it again, I removed the nest and took it up to our carport. I then phoned my daughter in Woodbridge and let her view the nest with the eggs. As I made the call, I noticed that one of the Bluebirds had come back to the Bluebird house. I had not touched the eggs, so I quickly put the nest back in the birdhouse and made sure that the side of the house was tightly closed.

I am pleased to say that the birds came back, raised their family and they have all flown away.

Prayer – Father, we thank you for your care, even for the least of these. Help us to care for all around us in any way that we can. Guide us, lead us, be with us. Amen.

Who am I? - by Frank McMullen

24601... No, we are not the main character from Les Miserable, but our lives may indeed have changed just as much as one of the main characters, Valjean's did, but under different circumstances.

We probably looked with some anticipation toward 2020, but were immediately faced with a world pandemic of proportions unknown to any of us. Then we had murders by our police forces that set off protests, and violence not seen in this country since the 1960's. Our presidential elections are behind us, but will be contested in ways unknown to voters in elections past. We worry and fret for our country, our communities, and ourselves.

All of the above have us closeted in our homes, and when possible, brought us together with our families in ways that have us reexamining ourselves, our beliefs, what is truly important in our lives, our relationships, and yes, our belief in a God.

We may find that some of our long held beliefs do not stand up well in this present environment. The pandemic itself has broadened our realizations of other people’s living conditions, health care, work places, ability to communicate with our new virtual world, and some other circumstances we may not have focused on previously.

Have we been blind, or just not wanting to see the world as peoples of other races have seen it all their lives? This virus, while causing death and destruction has opened our eyes in ways nothing else could have done in such a short amount of time. It will take months, and maybe years to begin to recover from the effects of this pandemic, violence, political unrest.

The question might be…..will we be a better society, a better country, and better individuals?

Many feel that we should become more concerned with climate change after seeing horrendous fires in our far western states and numerous hurricanes in the Atlantic ocean causing untold damage, and loss of lives in many states.

Let us consider, what is our role now as citizens of a democratic country where all people are supposed to be equal under the law and have certain God given rights as defined in our Constitution?

Will we use this time, and  these temporary disasters to refocus ourselves to lead better lives, and be more accepting of those not exactly like us? We need to ask ourselves these and other questions as we move forward together in this new world.

Prayer – Father, we ask that you guide us skillfully through these very uncertain times. Give us wisdom and the power to move into a post COVID world, wiser, more tolerant, and with a heart for all your children. Amen.