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May 28, 2020


Hello, My Muskogee First Family:

It has been ten weeks since we have met in person for worship due to this nasty COVID-19 virus. Our virtual cloud church worship, through the means of the internet and Facebook, has served us well as a surrogate sanctuary. And we will continue to be streaming our 9:00am service on Facebook employing this surrogate sanctuary.

However, while this surrogate sanctuary is an adequate temporary worship space, it can never replace in-person/in-building public worship. One of the popular UMC guidelines currently circulating is John Wesley’s General Rules.

  1. Do no Harm
  2. Do Good
  3. Attend to the Ordinances of the Church

What is harmful and what is good might not need explanation although determining what is good and harmful is not nearly as easy as we think in a lot of ways and even in determining the way forward through this COVID time.

Discerning what is harmful and what is good is why Mr. Wesley included the third rule: Attend to the Ordinances of the Church.

Now, I am sure ordinances do need to be explained to us today. Ordinances is a somewhat antiquated word in our contemporary vocabulary. What Wesley meant by ordinances was the practices/observances of the church. I like to call them the spiritual practices of the church. Wesley would also label them God’s means of grace.

Wesley gives us his list of these spiritual practices/means of grace. This is his list and comments on them:

  • The public worship of God
  • The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded
  • The Supper of the Lord
  • Family and private prayer
  • Searching the Scriptures
  • Fasting or abstinence

“These are the General Rules of our societies,” Wesley adds, “all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But, then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.”

(The Book of Disciple of the UMC 2016, p. 80)

As you heard, Wesley took these General Rules seriously. So, should we.

Our Church Council has determined it is time to start gathering in-person/in-building again in public worship—attending to Wesley’s first ordinance. It is good for our souls to do so. But we seek to do so in a way that is not harmful to our bodies. We believe we can do this with certain safeguards in place given our context in Muskogee County with the current data of low COVID infection numbers especially the low fatality and hospitalization numbers.

Of course, each person and/or family will decide what is their appropriate course of action to follow as to when to gather again for public worship. We understand some fall into the more vulnerable categories and will need to observe stricter rules.

We will be using the Activity Center as our sanctuary because of the added space it affords. We have spaced out the seating in the Activity Center to accommodate the distancing recommended by the CDC guidelines. The room is airy and provides very easy access and egress. We will keep the doors open for fresh air to pass through until the weather dictates differently.

We ask everyone to bring a facemask. For those who forget or do not have a mask we will have some to handout.

We ask everyone to be sensitivity to the concerns of others. Some of more lax than others with the guidelines. We are a church family and will love God and each other to nurture our souls and bodies doing what is good for everyone.

We encourage frequent hand washing to further guard against spreading the virus.

Bulletins will not be used and offering baskets will be placed at the entrances on tables with hand sanitizer available.

Also, if one feels the slightest illness and/or has fever please quarantine at home until the illness and fever has passed.

At this time there will be no Sunday School classes or a nursery. We hope this restriction can be lifted soon.

We will continue to monitor the COVID data and will respond appropriately as we continue to worship together both publicly and virtually.

Let us continue to pray and nurture one another in God’s love in this difficult time of uncertainty.

I leave you again with the words of that old hymn: Many things about tomorrow/ I don’t seem to understand/But I know who holds tomorrow/And I know who holds my hand.

God’s peace, safety, and blessings

Rev. Mike Smith




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