Out there, beyond Easter, is a journey through the looking glass. It’s always been that way, even before Covid-19 restrictions, politics, science, grief, and prayers. Out there beyond Easter, we have to apply what we’ve learned about ourselves, our communities, communal medical health, citizenship, faith, and following Jesus.
The Regional Youth Council’s Lent devotional suggested that Lent is a daily journey. And like Lent, those who claim to be an “Easter people” are involved in a daily journey. We can try to categorize, reference, and program our way into the already, but not yet, empire of God, but the Holy One isn’t easily tamed, named, or claimed. The divine spark in you knows the whisper of God and what the Holy requires. There is a lot of noise to silence. It is a daily journey filled with lows, highs, and the mundane.
Sometimes Christians think of Jesus as a kind of vaccine for the human condition. Traditions and rituals during Christmas and Easter can be a booster shot for a weak spiritual immune system.
In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the crowd sings:
Christ, you know I love you
Did you see, I waved
I believe in you and God
So tell me that I’m saved
Jesus, I am with you
Touch me, touch me Jesus
Jesus, I am on your side
Kiss me, kiss me Jesus(1)
How is your spiritual immune system these days?
This summer at camp, we will mix the same ingredients we have for years: play, prayer, study, worship, and service. Will it be different? Yes. It always is a bit different because we are not turning out industrialized, mass-produced Christians. That’s not the intent. Physical distance, masks, and the small groups will probably make camp feel different, but “camp will be camp.” Why? Because I trust the ingredients. I trust God. I trust the spiritual immune systems of directors, counselors, and the campers who will create the sacred space we call summer camp.
Following Jesus . . . it’s a daily journey. It is making choices about what I/we/you can do (should do) once vaccinated.
1. Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice, “Simon Zealotes from Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973) Universal Pictures Film Music.
2021 Reconciliation Grants
Is your congregation leading, planning, or partnering with the work of reconciliation? Would a grant help your congregation with this ministry? It’ is time to apply for a 2021 Reconciliation grant through the Commission for Faith and Action.
Click here to download the 2021 grant application. All grant applications are due by April 15th. Contact Marilynn Knott, Commission Chair, or Rev. Michael Davison if you have questions.
Grant funding is provided by the gifts of our congregations to the special Reconciliation offering each year.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma
Report to the General Board
Prepared by Pamela G. Holt, Regional Minister
December 21, 2020
Continuing to Connect, Empower, and Equip Oklahoma Disciples to Love & Serve Like Jesus In a Pandemic
No one has been exempt from this unprecedented season of a pandemic. Life began to change rapidly in mid-March and all aspects of ministry changed for clergy and congregations. The grief, from transitioning to on-line worship and deaths, is real and deep and feels unending. We’ve seen in clergy and congregations stages of denial, anger, tears, frustration, depression. It is difficult to get to the healing stages of grief because we are still in the midst of such pain.
However, this pandemic has also revealed our determination and commitment and love of serving Jesus. In mid-March, within a week, pastors and congregations figured out how to worship on-line. Worships around the Region are so creative! Some congregations cautiously figured out how to return to the sanctuary. Others continue to worship on-line. Some found worshiping outdoors to be particularly meaningful.
As time marched on, ministers and members found new ways to connect with their flock. Leadership teams stepped up to do more connecting with their people. While it is not the same and while still longing to be together, folks till have their eyes fixed on Jesus giving thanks every Sunday, taking communion virtually, and offering gifts electronically.
Oklahoma congregations have found ways to continue their ministry in the community by feeding the hungry, preparing and serving hot meals and delivering, making backpacks, making activity bags and delivering to doorsteps, hosting drive bys for a celebration of a birthday or a graduation, renovating the pre-school areas or children’s areas, providing school for struggling students, paying attention to the health care workers and chaplain colleagues, taking a special offering for their neighbors or Week of Compassion. They altered their witness and care for one another the best they could when they could not be physically present with one another, especially in sickness or in death. Oklahoma Disciples have picked up the essentials and are still witnesses to the love and grace of God. It is hard and challenging us at every level. And, it is beautiful.
Click here to download the entire report in pdf format.
Several congregations have asked the Regional Office to provide some guidance on returning to in-person worship. I am delighted to suggest some guidelines for your leadership to consider as you make plans.
The Oklahoma State Health Department is reporting lower numbers for COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations. Let’s just pause and celebrate that for a moment! Sadly, the COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma and nationwide are still very high.
Also, the Oklahoma State Health Department is reporting that 17% of the Oklahoma population has been vaccinated for COVID-19! Another moment to pause and celebrate!
This week, another level of the population is eligible to be vaccinated: teachers and persons with co-morbidities. Pending vaccine supply, the state should be able to move through this segment of the population rather quickly.
Despite this good news, here is the link to the CDC Guidelines for Faith Communities, updated on February 12, 2021. The CDC Guidelines are continuing to invite all faith communities to be VERY cautious, and in fact continue to recommend on-line worship or outdoor worship.
With this information from the CDC, and as the coronavirus numbers trend down and the vaccination numbers trend up, we do not want to rush. However, I believe it is a good time to begin considering plans to return to in-person worship. If you have already returned to in-person worship, I trust you are continuing to practice all safety protocols. If you have not yet returned to in-person worship, your church members might be more than wondering when in-person worship will be possible. Also, please take into consideration your perspective and comfort level as the shepherd of the flock.
Wherever your congregation is on the grid, here are some suggested questions for discussion among your leadership, remembering that best practices are still wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.
- What does the current CDC Guidelines recommend?
- What does our church insurance provider recommend?
- What is the positivity rate of COVID-19 in your community?
- What are the hospitalizations of COVID-19 in your community?
- What is the positivity rate of COVID-19 variant in your community?
- How many church members are fully vaccinated? Will just vaccinated members be returning for a first phase? Or will all be invited to return allowing members decide what is best for their safety & well being?
- What parts of worship should still be restricted? Singing. Passing the Peace. Passing the Offering Plate and Communion. Hugging/Handshaking.
- What is a target date to begin in-person worship? Still hard to determine but we are getting closer!
- Should safety protocols continue for in-person worship? Absolutely. Wearing masks, washing hands, watching distance (6 ft).
- Will your congregation continue on-line worship? I hope so!
- Lastly, what crisis will determine a need to return to on-line worship only?
First Christian Church Norman
In Person Worship Protocols
Now that the church has returned to in-person worship at both the 8:40 and 10:45 services, we continue the following protocols that are to be strictly observed…
- *Masks must be worn over the mouth and nose at all times when in the church building.
- *Greeting one another must be done from a distance and without physical contact.
- *Extended conversations are to be held outside the church building.
- *Maintain safe distancing (at least 6 feet) in the pews between households.
- *Hymns, liturgies, prayers are to be hummed and/or spoken very softly.
- *Please wash hands and wipe down surfaces in the bathroom after use.
- *If you have been engaged in high-risk activities such as large gatherings, have been instructed to quarantine or isolate, or have been identified as a close contact of an individual with COVID-19, please do not attend worship in person.
- *If you are considered at high risk for a severe COVID-19 infection (with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, chronic lung disease, immune deficiency, or needing supplemental oxygen), please do not attend worship in person. In addition, it has been found that individuals over age 65 are at higher risk for a more severe infection.
- *Even those who have received both vaccines must follow the above protocols to ensure maximum safety for all those participating in worship in the sanctuary.
Merciful God, we look for your strength and guidance at a time when the whole wold is affected by Covid-19. We pray for the vulnerable members of society, who are most impacted by the virus.
We lift up the member os the world family who are:
We bring to you all who are sheltering at home; especially those for whom home is dangerous because of violence. We pray for all who are living in areas in the world where healthcare is not available or affordable. We pray for those who don’t have access to running water, for farmers, and all other essential workers.
God of new things, we come to you during such a kairos moment in history. We come at a time when the universal Church is being called out of the ineffectual retreat that some have found comfortable. We are called out of the echo chambers of our coffee hours and from the endless sound/fee god documents we produce, to a deeper reflection of the meaning of the cross in this day and time.
We are being called to move beyond the pageantry of Easter to the revolution it ignited in the world. Transforming God, we are in desperate need of the stimulus check. Stimulate us with fresh and new articulation which will lead your children to action. Revive your church, to a 365-days-a-year Pentecost experience. A Pentecostal experience which will blow away the spirit of complacency and stimulate the whole church to be Spirit-driven and cross-shaped. Blow upon your church as we boldly participate in confronting the evil powers of poverty, injustice, greed, and inequality and work to build a more just human community.
Finally, O God, we don’t want to go back to normal, we stand open to your metanoia, a change in the mindset in our life. We pray these things in the name of your Son, our liberating Lord and Savior.
We are excited to announce Mission Camp: Enid!
Our friends at Reach Beyond Mission have decided to cancel their multi-state program for this summer. We understand and keep this quality, Disciples related organization in our prayers. We had planned for Mission Camp Road Show to travel to Albuquerque with Reach Beyond Mission. Instead, twenty-four (24) youth will be welcomed to Central Christian Church in Enid for a week of learning about food insecurity in Enid and serving our food insecure neighbors in Enid and Garfield Co.
Rev. Tom Stanley (Minister at Central CC Enid) will direct Mission Camp and work with = six (6) adult counselors. Like our other camps, they will blend play, prayer, study, worship, and SERVICE each day of this unique opportunity. You can download the flyer and registration is OPEN!
Register for summer camp Here, or visit the Families and Youth webpage to learn more.
“Count me in.”
That’s the opposite of, “count me out.”
Either you seek to unite and be part of it. Or to divide and watch it go away.
Whatever ‘it’ might be.
We can seek to trigger those we’ve decided are our enemies, undermine the standards and burn it all down. Or we can commit to the possibility that together, we can create something that works.
It’s not that hard to realize that even if we can’t always see the gunwales on the boat, we’re all in the same one.
(Seth Godin, 02/28/21)
How do you begin or end your day? Some may have a soundtrack. I do. Sometimes, it is treadmill tunes pulling me along the 6am walk or jog. Sometimes, it is the playlist of my favorite bands while I was in high school and college.
At the end of the day, I’m another day older, and it is the sound of the ocean.
During Lent, I’ve traded the morning soundtrack for live and pre-recorded video from the International Space Station Youtube channel. (pictured above). There is a soft piano soundtrack. The view is inspirational and aspirational for me, as I handwrite a card to someone.
Lent is an intentional time of honest self-reflection. As I wander with disciples and with Jesus toward Jerusalem this year, what has come into focus are the aspirations of christians, of myself, based in the inspiration of Jesus, who most often talked about the empire of God. Jesus’ teaching about the empire (kindom or kingdom) of God was often followed by “is like.” Christian theology speaks of the “all ready” but “not yet” nature of the empire of God in which baptized believers exist and are supposed to be capable of recognizing. Christians have a kind of dual citizenship that often puts us at odds with ourselves, our behavior, and competing visions of God’s empire and Jesus’ role.
After twelve months (and counting) of pandemic time, overt political conflict, cancellations, and growing institutional and neighborly distrust where have you, have I, recognized the empire of God that Jesus described?
My lent is filled with wondering what “could” it be like or “would” it be like or “will” it be like when . . .
Leaven [Matt 13:33b, Luke 13:20b-21]
Good Samaritan [Luke 10:30-37]
Dishonest Steward [Luke 16:1-9]
Vineyard Laborers [Matt 20:1-15]
Mustard Seed [Matt 13:31b-32, Mark 4:31-32, Luke 13:19]
I leave the house without a mask in the car.
Nishan and Maria Bakalian, serving in Lebanon with the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, are two of our Global Ministries co-mission workers. In the summer of 2019, they were back in the U.S. attending Disciples summer camps sharing their stories, faith, and lives. Our Region hosted Maria and Nishan for a week of summer camp. Maria at Chi Rho/CYF at Texoma Camp and Nishan at CYF Camp at Central Camp.
For Christmas this year, the Region received two gifts related to Global Ministries. The first was our insurance company, the UCC Insurance Board, who made a contribution to Global Ministries in honor of the Oklahoma Region. The second was from Global Ministries who created a collection of business cards, each with a mission co-worker’s or home-based staff’s photo, name, place of service, favorite scripture, and website to read about their mission, and who also published Nothing Can Separate Us, a book of prayers written by each mission co-worker and home-based staff. As a way to connect with our siblings around the world, we will be highlighting our mission co-workers and home-based staff and joining them in prayer.
God, our rock, our refuge, our hope,
As we wander through this wilderness, doubting we will ever emerge into a place of promise and joy, the voice of fear wells up within us, overpowering your strengthening presence. We cling to you as we seek that voice resounding in our hearts and reflecting in our actions. Remind us anew that this earthly reality is one that you faced in Christ Jesus. From birth, to the cross, and through the resurrection from the dead you showed us that even death cannot stand in the way of your victory. Help us to live in your victory, as we take care to protect others from disease, some of us risking our lives to do so. Inspire us to extend a hand to those whose greatest burden may be one of affording daily bread, or paying tuition, or finding and keeping employment, or caring for someone very old or very young. May your self-giving love be perfected within us, casting out all fear. May the coverings we wear never cover the radiant beauty of Jesus emanating from hearts filled with the grace and truth of your spirit.
Nothing Can Separate Us, Global Ministries 2020.
What motivates you to learn and to grow?
(“The Daily Question”, gratefulness.org. 1/31/21)
Question. Experience. Reflection. Relationship.
There was so much happening. I was trying to take in all the moments. I spotted my family several rows up from the floor. Chancellor Tucker was talking about what it means to be a graduate of TCU. This idea, more a paraphrase than direct quote, is all I remember. “You’ve been educated to consult many sources, to weigh the validity of the information from those sources, and to ask quality questions.”
Experience can be a great teacher. Maybe it is the best teacher. If you want to be the best version or better version of yourself, pay attention to the experiences that help you become the better you. There is an entire market of “stuff,” genre of self-help, and virtual selling of experience. There are vacations, trips, and camps. I think we all have an experience that help’s us remember the best version of ourselves when times are hard, tragic, and especially when a moment is nuanced.
Self reflection is necessary. It is not always easy, but necessary. As a child, youth, and even in early adulthood, I never had a good answer for my parent’s favorite question, “Why did you do that?” Like many, I often just fell back on, “I don’t know.” even when I did know and didn’t want to admit it. My mother’s response, “Go to you room and think about what you did and how you will behave differently next time while your dad and I decide the best consequence.” She meant punishment. Once I reached junior high, I was expected to have an answer for the “why” when I emerged from my room to demonstrate that I had thought about my actions. That is when the dialogue about my actions began as well as dispensing of consequences. You never get asked, “Why did you do that?” about the good decisions. Now, why is that.
Stranded alone on a desert island, Chuck (Tom Hanks), opens a box that washed up on the beach. It contains a soccer ball. Wilson, the brand of ball and name Chuck gives him, becomes his friend. Wilson helps Chuck cope with the isolation. In a moment of confrontation, Wilson helps Chuck decide to leave the island for the sea and risk death to be found. But, they and may never being found. Chuck’s wears a pocket watch around his neck. A photo of his fiancé is inside. A relationship can comfort, challenge, create stress, suffocate, be mutual or one-sided. Some relationships are good. Some detrimental. Do you have one or two “good” relationships? A friend, companion, or community.
When Ash Wednesday arrives later this month (Feb 17th), thus begins a ritual journey that Christianity calls Lent. It can be a time of growth. First time growth or renewed growth. Join the Regional Youth Council for questions and reflection about experience and relationship on this ritual journey that disciples take following Jesus to Jerusalem. The RYC Lent devotional can be downloaded on February 15th here on the Region’s website.