The Church in the Time of Covid
The Spring and Summer of 2020 has been an unusual time to be a disciple! The Corona Virus and the Covid-19 illness are in full bloom across the country and around the globe.

If Florida and across the nation, government agencies are asking for people to self-quarantine and to refrain from gathering together in large groups. This has meant—among many, many other implications--that many churches have had to stop in-person gatherings for worship. Even after some churches have reopened, the number of people who are able to attend is severely limited. This means that we have an amazing opportunity!

Now is our chance to put into practice what have been saying for years: namely, that the church is so much more than Sunday morning. Faith formation must move out of the church building, outside of Sunday mornings, and back into our daily lives...where it belongs! We are committed to encouraging one another to continue to grow in our faith during this time and to providing resources for us all to continue to grow closer in relationship with God and one another.

Rev. Louis Telcy, Pastor
Riverview United Methodist Church
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8002 U. S. Highway 301 South, Riverview, FL  33578  813-677-5995
Singing the Lord’s Song in 
a Strange Land
Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. --James 1:3

In his book Singing The Lord's Song In A Strange Land, Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery wrote: "We shall never turn back. We've come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly, bled too profusely, and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock. We ain't going back; we're going forward."

This quote illuminates the terrain of the road and the blows in the fight for racial equality. It has not been easy. Many lives have been lost in the struggle for equality, and yet the struggle for racial equality continues. Exceptional African American women and men have taken their places in this movement to transform the face of America. The fight goes on to promote equal rights for all people, affecting change that moves us closer to our American ideals of liberty.

Rev. Lowery is one of three spiritual giants we lost recently. We also lost Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian, for whom activism was an extension of their faith. They were exceptionally courageous and committed civil rights leaders who drew upon their faith as they fought for continued equality for African Americans by urging and marshaling in long-awaited change. Blessed to have lived long full lives, they were anointed by God in the continued struggle for racial justice.

Congressman Lewis once reflected, "The civil rights movement was a religious phenomenon. When we'd go out to sit in or go out to march, I felt, and I really believe, there was a force in front of us and a force behind us, 'cause sometimes you didn't know what to do. You didn't know what to say, you didn't know how you were going to make it through the day or through the night. But somehow and some way, you believed—you had faith—that it all was going to be all right."

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune said, "Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible."

This belief in faith helped Rosa Parks take an action that was the catalyst of the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Hammer was beaten unconscious but survived and later testified in front of Congress about voter disenfranchisement. Ella Baker built an organizational infrastructure for the March on Washington. Olive Morris mentored young activists, Georgia Gilmore strategized, and Dovey Johnson Roundtree developed legal arguments.

These women and countless other unnamed women were grassroots organizers, educators, strategists, writers, marchers, and freedom fighters. They fought faithfully and passionately against the forces of racism. They simultaneously battled sexism, another form of oppression. Their resilience and effectiveness motivated by faith. So, let us be ever faithful and mindful of the past.

The abolitionist movement of 1830, 190 years ago, was fueled by the righteous demand for the immediate and full emancipation of all slaves [human people] to abolish slavery. But in 1870, the Jim Crow era legislated segregation and second-class citizenship for then-free African Americans. In 1955, African Americans began to speak out counter-culturally against discrimination in the form of persistent peaceful protest.

Rev. C. T. Vivian, who organized some of the civil rights movement's first sit-ins, never stopped speaking out for change. Jailed and beaten, he said: "Change must come, and nonviolent direct action is necessary to bring it about."

The peaceful protests were as unrelenting as the brutalization of those engaging in the 15 years of the civil rights movement. They cried out for basic human decencies, equality, safety, full rights, and citizenship that had been aggressively denied since the abolishment of slavery.

The fight for racial justice, equality, and equity continues decades later, against the backdrop of de facto segregation that still exists today.

Disproportionate police brutality continues against African American citizens. Such violence is legally defined as a civil rights violation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a subject. Under the banner of the Blacks Lives Matter Movement, we are again compelled to rise, raise our voices, leverage our privilege and influence. We act to lift the staggering weight of oppression and to ensure the safety and well-being of African Americans against the violence of systemic racism and implicit biases that pervade so many systems and institutions, including our churches.

But throughout the racial injustices over 400 years, we were not alone! Thanks be to God that the fight for freedom and social justice is diverse and inclusive of brothers and sisters of all faiths, races, and ethnicities that embraced the struggle.
Meaningful, vital resources and relationships were forged across many cross-cultural coalitions and partnerships. They worked in organizing the community, educational pursuits, and criminal justice reform. Many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice of losing their lives in the struggle. But as the Black Methodists For Church Renewal say in their motto: "Our Time Under God is now!"

This is the second call, historically and presently, to the United Methodist Church to unite in the face of racial injustice, substantiating the word UNITED.
If we are to be the truly united church, let us show our commitment by being willing to engage in training and accountability while fervently and diligently embracing the work of the Bishop's task force on Anti-Racism.

And as the lyrics in the song Lift Every Voice and Sing say: "Let us march on til victory is won!"

The Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan
(Rev. McClellan retired in 2018 after more than four decades in ministry. She was the first ordained Black woman and the first Black female District Superintendent in the Florida Conference.)
2020 – What a Year!
What a strange year 2020 has turned out to be. Do you remember that 2020 is a leap year. It started out with the usual 29 days in February. Then there were 100 days in March, six months in April, 5 years in June, and a lifetime in July! At least that’s how it felt to me!

If 2020 was a drink, I think it would have to be a colonoscopy prep! After we were hit with the coronavirus in March, we had unemployment and shutdowns in April, giant Murder Hornets in May, riots in June, and anarchy in July. We can only shudder thinking about what the rest of the year will bring.

This year, more than most others, raises the question: if God is good, why does He allow bad things to happen?

Volumes have been written by philosophers and theologians who have wrestled with this question. But as I see it, there are really only two questions we need to answer as we discuss this issue.

  • Where does pain and suffering come from?
  • Why doesn’t God put an end to pain and suffering?

The biblical answer to the first question is answered by the story of Adam and Eve. Because the first man and woman made a terrible decision, mankind was thrown out of paradise and the whole earth was cursed. From that day forward, natural disasters occurred, there was war, death and destruction, and pandemics became possible.

The evolutionary scientist would say than mankind lives in an environment where only the fittest survive. Because of incredible competition among and within species, life on earth is nasty, brutal, and short.

The answer to the second question can be found in the Bible. The apostle Peter wrote this to other persecuted Christians on the eve of his own death:

“But do not let this one fact escape your notice. Beloved, with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but He is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)

God is not limited by our timetable. Most of us would like Him to eliminate all pain and suffering immediately, but if God chose to do so, many of our friends and loved ones would fact eternity without Jesus. God is not wishing for any to perish.

That is where we come in. Our job until Jesus comes again is to be ready to share the message of God’s love with your friends, co-workers, family, and neighbors who do not know Jesus yet.

We live in a culture that wants instant gratification. Even in our battle with COVID-19, we want a vaccine and we want it now! At the beginning of the quarantine, YouTube videos showed people gently sharing with us the joys of baking banana bread. Twelve weeks later, people are rioting in the streets, toppling monuments, and ready to abolish the police!

In this environment, it is well to remember Peter’s assignment to all Christians in his letter:

“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who ask you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Ed Diaz
71:17 Ministries