January Message from Rev. Coplin

On behalf of the staff of First UMC, I wish you a 2022 blessed with God’s own abundance! For the past few days, I’ve had the opening line of a 90’s song echoing in my head: “A long December and there’s reason to believe / Maybe this year will be better than the last.” The rest of the lyrics are pretty much a mystery to me. But this week, I feel the weight of these opening words. And if you know the song, I’ll bet you’re hearing the: “Na-na-na-naah Na, na, na, nah, na-na-na-nanaah” refrain in your head, just like I am. You’re welcome.

During the earlier stages of the pandemic, our church, like the vast majority of others, devised ways of social distancing through remote worship and Zoom meetings. These decisions were sometimes controversial but churches all over were scrambling to provide a balance between physical and spiritual care for the congregation. The church with which I worked closed its doors for some weeks, as did our church here. But as the virus became better understood and as vaccines came online and were widely accepted, the world slowly returned to a faster pace: retailers and restaurants reopened, social distancing and masking mandates eased, and people returned to their normal lives as best they could. Yet, many did not return to church. I think the reasons for this are manifold, and you probably would not be surprised to know that I have opinions on the matter. However, the reason I raise the issue now is that this current reality of reduced involvement presents unique challenges for our church at the start of the new year.

We are developing our budget for 2022, which will need to adjust for a set of longer-term circumstances than we anticipated at the outset of this pandemic. In the early stages, we thought this would only take a few months during which time we could grit our teeth and hang on while it blew over. Federal stimulus funds helped us to keep our staff and the budget afloat. But this year, there is reason to believe we are entering a late-to-post pandemic phase in which there is a reduction in attendance and giving, with no stimulus. I often hear concerns for those who have not yet returned, and I share in your desire and prayers for their presence. Yet, the practical matter at hand is to figure out how to adjust accordingly.

Many of us evaluate our commitments and adjust priorities during the first week of the year. If you are in the midst of this process, I ask that you consider how our membership vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness can adapt to our current situation. Regarding gifts, a significantly smaller portion of commitment cards were returned for 2020 and2021 than in previous years. Given all of the unknowns at the time, this makes perfect sense. However, I believe we are beginning to get a clearer understanding of what life is like, both outside and inside the church, for the foreseeable future.

I am therefore asking you to prayerfully consider your commitment card when you receive it later this month and I am hoping to receive a greater percentage of our cards so that we can better plan for and serve our mission.

I think that if there is anything the past couple of years have taught us all, it’s how to lean into what’s coming. I am confident that the transition and adjustments we’ve endured since the outset of this virus and so many other challenges in recent memory have provided us opportunity to be more aware of the smaller, daily blessings of God ‘s goodness, to be more patient when systems and supply streams are strained, and to be more generous with the talents and resources with which we are blessed. These opportunities of course present themselves in times of peace and plenty, but I believe our heightened awareness of these opportunities during times of struggle and scarcity are divinely appointed. May you both receive and extend God’s peace and plenty in this new year!

The Lord bless you and keep you,

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