Priority One

May 4 was the beginning of Phase One Reopening for the state of Arkansas. As of May 11, restaurants are allowed to open their doors to patrons at 30% of the rated capacity. Yesterday, since it was Mother's Day, Penny requested vegetable fried rice, her favorite entrée from August Moon. At our house, mom is the Queen on Mother's Day.

The kids wanted no part of a trip to Helena and opted for fried chicken from the Double Quick. I donned a cloth mask and went inside and left Penny in charge of a call-in order to August Moon. When I returned to the truck, she happily announced that our order would be ready at 1:15 pm and they would call when it was ready. When we entered the parking lot, it was a ghost town. A sign on the door stated they were closed until further notice. I checked the phone and discovered she had placed an order at August Moon…in New Orleans, LA. Not what we had in mind.

As the economy begins to gain momentum, and people in Phillips County adjust to more activity, there is an increasing level of apprehension. I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room. We all can't help but wonder, "How is Phase One going to impact the spread of COVID-19?" Last week I was keeping a close eye on positive cases in Forrest City at the Federal Corrections Institute. The CDC was back doing more testing, and positive cases among inmates increased.

Because of the increased workload and stress that we are experiencing, I have tried to make it a practice to walk in the evenings. My little dog, Charlie, gets up in my lap after dinner and begins to whine, so I don't forget. He enjoys the immunity of his leash and the latitude of invading other dogs' territories with impunity. The constitutionals give me a casual time to see how people are acting in my neighborhood and the wider community.

Two weeks ago, most people were still isolating for the most part. But as the weather warmed and isolation began to take its toll, we are becoming more prone to bump up against the barriers. I will readily admit that folks at our house are feeling the adverse effects of weeks that have now turned into months of seclusion. We miss our family, something fierce. None of my siblings have come to Marvell since Christmas. Easter and Mothers Day are usually big weekends for us.

On my evening walks, I have noticed, particularly on the weekends, that more and more people are beginning to loosen up. More people are in the shops and stores without masks at a time when we need to be having a heightened awareness of community spread. Walmart is trying to have us follow arrows through the store to limit the potential for a lessened level of social distancing.

To be honest, I will be happy to put this pandemic in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately, that may not be happening anytime soon. While I want to see my family, and that may be happening soon, every time I have a close encounter with someone I don't know, I worry that will be the ground-zero moment. Understand that contracting the virus would be dangerous for my health, not to mention my wife and kids. I fear that if I may become a vehicle for the virus to spread within the community. 

I think that there is an essential lesson for us here. If we get too focused on what we are missing, we might miss out on what we have. We have a faith community that doesn't just go to church; they know how to be the church.  The church is a people who love their neighbors and are in service to the community. This place is a church that prays for each other and is there when times are tough. We long for vibrant worship, and yet even in the pandemic, we have enjoyed a new, rich, diversity of music and worship experiences.

Perhaps Instead of longing to return to the way things used to be, we can just trust God to lead us somewhere, we may have never even considered going before. We are a real church in a virtual world doing real-world ministry in a brand new way. Think of how hard we have tried to reach the lost tribes of our generation, the "nones" and the "dones." Virtual church can provide a safe experience and allow folks to be comfortable with a house of worship without actually darkening the door of the building. Maybe this is how God starts the Great Awakening of our time. Let's make Priority One following close to Jesus and allowing God access to our lives to accomplish his work in the world.

                                                                                                                                                                       Pastor Kenny