The year began with customary awesome. January’s Youth Winter Retreat always provides adventure, life transformation, and legendary tales that are shared for a lifetime. Pancake Day 2020, inspired by Pancake Day 2019, was an amazing success. For over six decades FUMC has cooked pancakes for Haywood County and each year raised tens of thousands of dollars for mission and ministry. The Pancake Day Committee asked two important questions: “How can we widen our embrace, so that everyone will come to the table?” and “What would happen if we made Pancake Day free?” We made Pancake Day free. Thousands of people came. We were stunned and deeply moved by the diversity in the room. All day, from sunrise to sunset, people of every age, color, and economic status filled the room and their stomachs with joy. We knew the kingdom of God was near.
Two and a half weeks later, we went from having everyone at the table to having no one at the table. New realities of life brought on by a global pandemic created confusion and uncertainty that required quick decisions. The staff and congregation of FUMC answered the call decisively. It’s not that there was no fear; there was simply no paralysis. To do nothing was not an option. From the very beginning, this group has had the courage to adapt and implement new ideas, knowing that failure was not only possible, it was probable. Everything we knew had to be reevaluated and reimagined. We lay every aspect of our life together to one question: “Why do we do this?” and if that thing survived that question, then we asked ourselves another one: “How in the world do we do that now?”
It has been hard. We have struggled with learning new roles and responsibilities. We have grieved the loss of really important ministries and events. Worship has been a challenge. How can we worship as a group when we’re alone in our homes? Congregational care has been painful. Our inability to visit hospitals and nursing homes and shut-ins has left us aching—full of such love and compassion, but with limited or no ways to express it. We have wept that people are struggling alone and dying alone and grieving alone. One of our great convictions—that we’re better together—was suddenly challenged by necessary isolation and social distancing.
But thanks to the amazing resolve of this group, and the presence of God in this place (which accounts for the amazing resolve of this group), we have found a way. We have found a way to be together in meaningful worship. We have found a way to meet in our small groups and Bible studies. We have found a way to genuinely care for one another. And we have found a way to care for our community and meet the needs of the people around us.
I sat at my plywood desk out in the shed, and wrote the name of each FUMC staff member on a piece of yellow paper. I remembered our year together, and it was an emotional experience. I laughed at them—and they at me. I cried for them—and they for me. I would dream something and they would dream it bigger. I would see beauty, then watch them splash it with more color. This is no ordinary group of people. I am amazed at them, and I follow them.
We have many challenges ahead. The pandemic rages on and will continue to push us apart. Our days of navigating through this are not over. Our families will continue to struggle with hard economic realities. More and more people will need help to meet basic needs for food and shelter. Our spiritual and emotional needs will also increase. The political environment is uncertain and divisive. The reality of racial inequality and injustice is no longer hidden—people of all colors and cultures are living in completely different worlds. We have much work to do. Our stewardship theme continues to inspire me: “We are created for such a time as this.” We give our lives to this hope—that the kingdom of God is near—that this world of people can come together—and splash everything with color.