We can all agree that the past five weeks have been some of the most challenging times in our lifetimes. There have been social, economic, educational, and relational fallout associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that Arkansas has been spared the worst, particularly when compared to other adjacent states like Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee. Up until April 20, Shelby County Tennessee had more cases than all of Arkansas.

COVID-19 is a real global pandemic. The entire globe has been and, in large part, continues to be deeply affected by a virus that currently has no cure and as yet no vaccine. There are only a few very isolated places that have yet to be touched by this illness.

Many of us have hunkered down, hoping to avoid contracting the illness and potentially spreading it to our family or community. The supply chain was severely strained for a time, but thankfully we have not endured having to go without food or necessary supplies. Panic buying created some shortages of paper products and sanitizing products for a time, but careful shoppers made do.

For a time, we feared that the geographic proximity to Mississippi, given the higher rates of infection there, created a hazard for people in Phillips County and particularly the gateway community of Helena. Thanks to our community health partners at UAMS, Phillips County benefited from three separate screening and testing clinics. To date, Phillips County currently lists four confirmed cases and one death.

One thing has become apparent in our nation-wide struggle against the disease; our healthcare workers are ready to go hand to hand with the worst that COVID-19 can throw at us. First responders continue to serve every day. Clerks, stockers, pharmacists, and other essential services get up, go to work, and make it possible for us to maintain some semblance of normalcy. People with ordinary jobs perform in extraordinary ways, and many of them have done so in peril of their lives. They have redefined what it means to be a hero.

Hopefully, in a few weeks, we will begin to take tentative steps toward what Governor Hutchinson is calling Phase One. ADH is watching for “hotspots” in the state in hopes to head off any potential for a second wave of infections. The outlook is guardedly optimistic, for now at least. Yet be aware that Phase One makes no exceptions for in-person worship services.

There is also a decided shift in the polarization of our society. We’ve seen far less political posturing and far more cooperation from both parties in Washington. Suddenly where you land on the conservative/liberal continuum is of much less importance that what concrete steps we are making toward a better outcome in this country.

When I went on vacation in early March (the spring break we will refer to as the COVID Cabin) General Conference 2020, was peeking around the corner. United Methodists worldwide expected a schism resulting in two or more Methodist Denominations. COVID-19 changed everything. Now we are more interested in how to meet the challenges of providing online worship experiences and meeting with one another in virtual spaces. Forty years of technological advancement deployed out of sheer desperation. In five weeks, our entire perspective regarding what constitutes church changed.

We distribute food at the Open Door on a drive-thru basis. Our dream is to be able to worship together in our cars. Hopefully, we will drive in, roll down the windows, and make a joyful noise to the Lord. When we do eventually return to the sanctuary, there will need to be adjustments to how we accomplish various elements of worship while adhering to best practices. The challenge is first to establish what those best practices are. It’s a lot to wrap our minds around.

Jesus began a new movement out in the boonies of Galilee, on the lake shore, and in places, no self-respecting Jew would go. For the first five hundred years, the Christian church worshiped in new communities, with new people, and in new ways. Herod’s Temple, synagogues, homes, lake shores, lecture halls, and even catacombs were places where one could hear and respond to the gospel. The church is not a building; the church is a people. The foundational event of the Christian church is the resurrection. When what appeared to be the ultimate defeat of the Messiah on the cross became God’s decisive victory over sin and the grave.  It’s all a matter of perspective.     
Pastor Kenny