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By Rev. Matt Ashley

“I waited patiently for the Lord, who inclined to me and heard my cry.” ~Psalm 40:1~

Last week my wife Felida and I were blessed to receive the first dose of a Covid vaccine. After more than a year of waiting, a slight prick of a needle launched our immune systems’ defenses against a horrible disease. We have one more dose to receive but by early May we’ll enjoy the full measure of the vaccine’s protection.

That doesn’t mean we’ll go all the way back to life as usual. Felida and I will continue to wear masks and keep a safe distance from others in public until the science says that vaccinated persons no longer need to do so. We believe that loving our neighbors means giving up some freedoms to make sure we’re not being asymptomatic carriers who pass the virus on to someone else.

Desert Southwest Conference leadership continues to ask local churches and pastors to honor the Covid 19 safety guidelines for Phase I or Phase II on the Covid-19 page of the DSC website and in local church reopening plans. As churches begin gathering in person again, we cannot be sure that everyone who comes has had the vaccine yet, and so we need to continue the safety practices that have reduced the risk of illness for our congregants and pastors over the last year.

And yet we’re getting close. On Easter Sunday, the sun rose and the people of God gathered to celebrate the Risen Lord. Some gathered online and some gathered in person because that is our new reality. The online ministry skills we’ve gained during the pandemic are a blessing and to reach the most people we’ll have to continue using them even after we’re able to gather in person.

That presents new challenges and new work for pastors and church leaders because it takes time and skill to do online ministry well. In a recent webinar on doing hybrid in-person/online worship presented for the DSC, Jason Moore talked about the different needs of online and in-person gatherings.

For instance, music is experienced differently online and most people do not sing along with the music that’s being shared on their screens. Ideally an online service will have less music than an in-person gathering, which means doing online worship going forward will be more than just livestreaming your in-person worship. It will take an intentional effort to simultaneously meet the different needs of online and in-person worshippers.

If you’d like to learn strategies for doing hybrid online/in-person worship well, I recommend watching the recording of Jason Moore’s webinar. It’s available to pastors and lay people who are part of the DSC. If you’re interested in viewing it, please contact me and I’ll email you the link.

With the end of the pandemic will come new opportunities to launch new ministries. I encourage you to join me in watching a new Path1 webinar series for pastors and lay people called High Impact Residency. It’s intended for people who are discerning a call to plant new churches but the skills it teaches can also help your current congregation reach new people and form new ministries. Each webinar will be held the second Tuesday of every month from April through September at 11 am Pacific time.  You can find out more and register to participate at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/high-impact-residency-program-moves-online

We have waited patiently for the Lord during the pandemic and discovered that the Holy Spirit is moving even when our normal activities are ground to a halt. Easter has reminded us that we are a people of hope and that new opportunities to reach people for Jesus Christ are abundant.

There is a time to wait and a time to act, and now is a time for action.

The Lord is risen! The Spirit is moving!

Thanks for listening –
Matt

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