I’m sporting a new t-shirt these days, given to me by Jennifer Meuljik. It says “Mill Plain UMC Strong, no matter the distance.” I love it, not only because it was an unexpected gift, but also because it is true.
Who would have thought, six months ago, that we would spend half a year out of our building with no return date in sight? That we would celebrate Easter virtually? I have no idea if we’ll be back in the building by Christmas, but I am starting to imagine how we can celebrate Christmas virtually. I hope I won’t have to use those plans but I think it is best to be prepared. It hurts.
Who would have imagined a faith that is based on incarnation, God made flesh, when we cannot be together in the flesh. No handshakes or hugs, no bread broken and shared, no donuts and coffee, no voices raised in song. It hurts.
One of Mill Plains strengths has been our engagement with hands-on ministries: tutoring and lunch buddies at Hearthwood School, staffing the Winter Hospitality Overflow shelters, lunch served at Share House, Reading Explorer’s (a summer literacy program for children). None of those things are possible right now. It hurts.
Mill Plain UMC left the building last March. And you know what? We are still the church, and we are still strong! Worship continues, just virtually. We have raised more than $5,000 towards our $12,000 goal to buy the equipment to be able to livestream our service, even before we return to the building and certainly afterwards, because we have discovered that virtual worship allows us to reach people who can not come to the building due to work, ill health or travel. Education continues with Zoom Sunday School and youth group, Bible studies and book groups. Pastoral care continues, now by phone rather than in-person visits. It feels strange not to go to the hospital when someone is ill. Yet in other ways, because we have established a phone tree to connect with people every 10 days or so, we are doing a better job of staying in touch than we did when we worshiped in the building. Mission continues. We will continue to host the Food Bank Fresh at least through September. This ministry reaches people right in our neighborhood who are food insecure. Twice this summer we also gave out grocery gift cards, thanks to money from our mission committee and a small grant from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. People were amazed and grateful. In place of the Reading Explorer’s program, we passed out activity packets for children which had books, science activities complete with all needed supplies and snacks. Children were excited. Our Little Free Pantry gets used every day and we added a Book Exchange where people can get books or leave them for others.
No question about it, Mill Plain UMC is strong, no matter the distance. Thanks be to God.