At the Dakotas Annual Conference of the UMC this weekend, Pastor John was recognized on stage with last year's and this year's licensed local pastors, receiving a gift from the bishop, a blessing, and even a hug. The entire service is beautiful and moving (with excellent music), but if you want to watch just the section with Pr. John, fast forward to the 1 hr 27 minute mark.
On this day 283 years ago, the father of Methodism, John Wesley, had his great conversion experience. It was here, on Aldersgate Street in London, that Wesley went from doubt over his many failed ventures in the new world to the assurance of his salvation. This was not a moment when Wesley first comes to faith; he had believed in Jesus prior. Rather, he doubted he had the faith worthy of being saved. Here are Wesley's own words from his journal describing his Aldersgate experience:
"In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
May each of you go forward this day with the same assurance.
When have you felt your heart strangely warmed by God?
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Siblings in Christ,
As announced in worship this past Sunday, last week the church council and I discussed, and the council voted, to begin easing some restrictions that we have put in place--namely, suggesting rather than "requiring" masking. We felt case and vaccine numbers were at a point where we could do this safely.
Then, just today, the CDC came out with official new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals based on real-world data and continued insights into vaccine safety and efficacy. This includes the recommendation that fully vaccinated individuals do NOT need to wear masks or distance in either outdoor or indoor settings, large or small! Quoting CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, "We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy." Normalcy. Normal. Indeed, how we have longed for this. (I literally got chills listening to the message!). Hallelujah!
A word of thanks, first. Thank you for wearing your masks these past several months. Thank you, even if you couldn't stand it. Thank you for putting others before yourself. Thank you for exemplifying the greatest commandment, to love one another, so beautifully. Thank you for confirming the type of congregation I know you to be. It means more to this pastor than you likely will ever know. And because of it, we are all still here, as we begin to venture slowly into a post-pandemic world.
So where does this leave us, Spirit of Faith? Apparently with impeccable timing in our council's vote! We will continue to move back into more familiar practices, including the return of food and fellowship after worship. We have some amazing Summer activities in the works! And we hope this news will encourage those who have been worshiping with us online to join us back in the building. We've missed you! And of course, if you feel more comfortable worshiping with us in a mask, we would love to welcome you as well!
We should all still remain mindful of those who are immune-compromised and for whom contracting COVID-19 would be a severe occurrence. Let us continue to protect and pray for those individuals.
Lastly, a pastoral note: if you haven't yet gotten vaccinated, I encourage you to do so. For yourself, and for this congregation and community. And because your church family and I love you. Today's updated guidance from the CDC comes about because of the God-given gifts and talents of researchers, doctors, scientists, vaccine-makers. Of course, we can't (and won't) require vaccination, but my hope is you will come to see this as an expression of the same commandment to "love one another" that led us to wear masks in worship for the last 7 months. As a sacrament that allows the body of Christ to gather together again, as we did before. I am glad to discuss any questions or concerns any of you may have about the vaccine from a faith perspective.
But for now...for now....this is truly a day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Thanks be to God!! AMEN!