Our Journey to Pentecost
This month I have been surprised by how late I stay up working, creating a new home project, or binge watching a 
cooking show. I’ve also planted a garden and completed my first fictional audiobook. I’m not surprised that I am still a few minutes late to my first ZOOM meeting even though my work 
commute is now from the kitchen to the home office. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted my normal schedule, routines, rituals, and orientation.

Walter Bruggeman in his book 
Spirituality of the Psalms explains how we can navigate our seasons of orientation and disorientation as we await a new orientation to emerge. 

A Season of Disorientation is described as “much more than circumstantial discomfort. It is an inner, personal awareness, and recognition that something is changing, a profound shift is taking place. One does not know what is ending or what is beginning.”

During a season of disorientation, we learn to manage the things we can control. We also learn to surrender and trust God with the many things beyond our control. What are you experiencing in this season of disorientation? What are you learning about God, yourself, and others?

We are so proud of our Gulf Central Pastors, staff, leaders, and volunteers. Over the last eleven weeks, even though their previous orientation has been disrupted, our churches have been open and offering an online only worship experience. It has been amazing to see and hear the stories of new innovative ministries happening in the midst of this disorienting pandemic and sheltering in place. Now most meetings, Bible studies, children and youth ministries, Sunday school and small groups have shifted to various digital platforms because we want to keep people safe. Many churches continue in mission and ministry in their communities offering “to go” meals for our homeless friends and collecting food to feed families in need.

I imagine the disciples might have felt disoriented as they journeyed to the experience that we would later call Pentecost. The life and orientation they knew was disrupted by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Before Jesus’ Ascension he instructed the disciples to go to Jerusalem and “wait” until they received “power” from on high.

In a few weeks, our churches will celebrate Pentecost Sunday, May 31st 2020 online. I am praying that God continue to pour out the Holy Spirit upon us in fresh, new, powerful ways. We desire the Holy Spirit to renew and revive us for the days ahead. We desire divine wisdom and insight as we develop reopening plans for churches. We want to see Pastors refreshed and renewed for this next season of life and ministry! Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on Us!

We are on Mission Together,
Candace M Lewis
District Superintendent, 
Gulf Central District

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When We Reopen
Throughout the Florida Conference, people are talking about reopening
our churches. Should churches simply follow the same guidelines 
regarding reopening as other institutions? I believe there are practical 
principles and theological reasons why reopening our church campuses 
requires a different kind of thinking. The church should not be looking 
to sidestep the guidelines. The church should not be simply reacting 
to what others are doing. The church should be leading the way by 
modeling a method of safety for others to follow.

Two theological principles should govern the reopening of our churches 
for public worship:

A church is not primarily a building.  The church is a people on 
mission together. Unlike others, churches have not been closed; rather 
we are preparing to reenter our buildings. In this time, we have been 
the church gathered virtually and distributed in service and mission. There is no theological congruence to the way God designed the church if our next steps to “being the church” are focused only on reopening our facilities. There are a variety of ways to connect to God and our neighbors prior to the reopening of our buildings. We should remain focused on being the church and not just having church worship and ministries on campus.

The body of Christ must honor the most vulnerable parts of the body as much as any other 
(1 Corinthians 12).  In many ways, we are called to honor the vulnerable above all others. What does it say theologically about us if we open in a way that excludes the vulnerable? How do need to adapt when it is the clergyperson who is vulnerable? Didn’t we read somewhere about the first shall be last and the last shall be first? In this season, what does it mean to be, as Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, “united by your grace”? Christ’s primary call is to serve others – especially the vulnerable, the weak, and the poor. Our reopening plans are not about what is best for the management of our institution, but what is best for the common good and greater community. This is not a time to focus primarily on what we may be sacrificing by not gathering, but how we are serving and loving all our neighbors by not gathering too soon. 

As we reopen our buildings, may we seek to be in God’s time and not our own. We follow a God of hope and resurrection who knows all about making all things new (Isaiah 43:18). That is where our ultimate faith lies. Remember, the church has never closed. The church remains open, even as we don’t physically gather in our building. We do all of this so that we might fully love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31).

Rev. Alex A. Shanks
Florida Conference, United Methodist Church

(To read or download Rev. Shanks' full article about why reopening a church is different, 
please click here.)


Pentecost 2020
The Pentecost story begins with a sentence that in previous years was easily overlooked: “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 CEB). After weeks of separation due to stay-at-home orders, social distancing and quarantine, those seven words, “they were all together in one place,” have renewed significance.

While the thought of being together for Pentecost worship on May 31, 2020, sounds good, for many of us it will be impossible. We’ll have to settle instead for celebrating online, using Zoom, Facebook, YouTube or some other remote option just as we have every Sunday since March.

We won’t see the red paraments in person, join the kids in singing “Happy Birthday” to the church during children’s time, or see our friends all dressed up in red for the day. Instead, we’ll worship from home, longing for the day when in-person worship can resume and we can again be together in one place.

In Acts 2, we read the Pentecost story. With the rush of a mighty wind and individual flames of fire (the reason for all the red), the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples in a powerful way. They then “speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (vs. 4). Language barriers between the disciples and those who gathered from all over the world to celebrate Shavuot, a harvest festival also known as Pentecost, are overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each person hears the disciples speak in his or her native language.

The disciples' invitation to join them in following Jesus is well received. "God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day," the Bible tells us. The Christian movement went being from small group to a megachurch in a few moments!

At the end of the story, the Holy Spirit's power to bring people together is evident. The “community of believers” worshiped, prayed, studied, and ate together. Early believers took for granted we United Methodists are missing during these days of social distancing.

The paradox of Pentecost 2020 is that we’re giving up our together time because we recognize our connectedness. Yes, we're apart. But because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are not alone. Pentecost reminds us of our connection to God and one another.

Acts 2:47 tells us that the first church “praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.” Online worship and social distancing are a couple of ways we are following their example today. Pentecost 2020 reminds us of how good it is when we are “all together in one place.” It also highlights that even when being together isn't possible, the Holy Spirit overcomes barriers like language and social distance to connect us with one another. While we’re apart, we continue to be the church for one another, because the Holy Spirit is with us wherever we are.

Joe Iovino, Communications Director
General Conference of United Methodist Men