Pastor’s Message – July 21, 2020

The Church’s New Essential Work

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the leaders on our church’s task force made an observation that well describes a new, essential work of our congregation. Bill Maclean, our lay member of Annual Conference, described our newfound streaming of the worship service as a mission field and an a means of sharing the gospel. He said it so well that it was like hearing a well-spoken sermon! We all said “amen” in agreement, as many of you have since then, that we need to continue and improve our online ministry.

Insert here a round of applause for Art Shirley (I’ll pause to give you time to clap for him). Art volunteered to bring a tripod and run an iPhone for Facebook Live that first Sunday of quarantine, and every week since has faithfully researched and experimented and added to our setup. Colby Brister began working with him on the endeavor, and last week a small group of us met with a digital consultant to learn more about our options. This same consultant will train volunteers at the church when that time arrives.

What do we need most in our online ministry’s next steps? YOU!

Yes, we are hoping to build a good team of volunteers who can run the cameras. And please don’t say you’re not tech-savvy. The best volunteers for the online ministry are curious about learning something new and willing to follow directions. I feel sure many of us meet those criteria!

If you are interested in being a part of this new, essential work of our church, please let us know. If you know someone whose gifts would work well in online ministry, tell us who they are. The only way we can keep this ministry going is with the work of your hands contributing to it.

Let us keep up the good work that God has entrusted to us!

all good things to each of you,
Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – July 14, 2020

Reading, Watching, and Listening

Every month I’m hoping to set aside one week to share in this space about movies, books, and music that have especially spoken to my heart recently. These are not advertisements for you to go out and buy these items. They are not suitable for everyone, but I hope this will invite us to consider what we’re reading, watching, and listening to. God speaks to us in all kinds of ways, and great conversation can arise among us from where we’re hearing God speak.

1. Live At Home by Cageless Birds (music): The Cageless Birds are a community of artists, musicians, and teachers in western North Carolina who offer a number of resources to grow in relationship with Jesus. I love a live album of acoustic worship music that takes me into God’s presence.

2. So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (book): I’m trying to be more intentional about listening to the voices of people of color, and Oluo’s book was recommended to me by a lot of folks I respect. She is a brilliant writer who challenges me to rethink some of my own mindsets simply by listening to her experiences. (The book does contain strong language.)

3. Knives Out (movie): It’s funny, it feels like an Agatha Christie mystery novel, and I love a movie with a cool house for its main set. I doubt I’ll be using it for sermon illustrations, but it was certainly entertaining and a nice escape from reality for two hours. (The movie does contain some violence.)

Through which books, movies, shows, music, and podcasts is God speaking to you these days?

all good things to each of you,
Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – June 30, 2020

The Work We Don’t See

At last week’s staff meeting, we talked about a topic that I had been avoiding: the two lights above the choir loft, high in the ceiling, that had burned out. I did not like the idea of someone having to climb a high scaffolding to change those bulbs, but my fears were somewhat eased when I found out we could change them through the attic and not on a ladder. Still, that was a long way up for someone to climb up and then crawl across to get to the bulbs.

Paul Fowler, who came on the staff as building superintendent in January, was the “someone” who changed those bulbs last week. When we arrived for worship on Sunday morning, the light was greater and brighter. We did not see Paul’s work of crawling across the attic and changing the lights, but we saw the fruit of his work.

Over the past few months, your church staff has faithfully worked in ways you couldn’t see to continue bringing the comfort and connectedness of the church to you. They’ve rehearsed music for Wednesdays and Sundays, taken crash courses in ZOOM, mailed curriculum, answered numerous phone calls, adapted to using new, potent cleaning solutions, among other tasks. They have lived out Jesus’ command of humility, “to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4).

What quiet work that others may not see is God calling you to do this week?

I encourage you to take a moment to thank Paul, Ron, Julie, Gail, Kyle, Rachel, Polly, and Jace for the literal and spiritual light bulbs they’ve been changing and the attic spaces they’ve been navigating for the good of our church. And let us keep our eyes open to others we might thank for their unseen work. Behind every new light bulb is a faithful witness to the light of Christ.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

* We will resume in-person worship for 50 people this Sunday, July 5. Details on the reservation process are in this newsletter and on the congregational address video, which is on You Tube and Facebook.*

Pastor’s Message – June 23, 2020

All The Right Equipment

About ten years ago, I took up bike riding as a hobby. It had been an all-caps LONG time since I’d been on a bicycle, but the joy and freedom and fun came right back to me. After riding a borrowed bike for months, I decided to invest in my own. I naively believed it would be easy: walk into the bike shop with a budget, pick one within that budget, and take it home.

Then came the questions: what kind of terrain will you be riding? Road, mountain trails, or both? If you’re going to be on mountainous trails, won’t you need a GPS tracker? How many gears do you want, depending on the type of terrain? And did you know that shoelaces can get tangled in the pedals? Do you already have a helmet?

It’s a miracle I ever chose a bike with all those decisions! When I got overwhelmed with all the wheels before me, the salesman brought me back to reality with two statements: “All of this is about keeping you safe while you ride. All the right equipment will keep you safe.”

Preparing to regather for in-person worship in the midst of a pandemic has felt a lot like choosing the right bicycle and equipment for an unknown road. We can ride more confidently and freely and joyfully if we know we have done everything possible to keep ourselves and fellow riders safe. In the church building, the right kind of equipment to keep us safe are things like masks, hand sanitizer, minimizing contact surfaces, and distancing in smaller groups at first that we can grow with time.

I encourage you to tune in this Thursday night at 6PM on Facebook Live and YouTube Live for a congregational address from members of our task force about what to expect as we prepare for our first in-person worship gathering of 50 or less on Sunday, July 5. Let’s get our helmets ready and ride into the beauty of God’s future.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – Plans for Regathering – June 16, 2020

What We Need To Know: Plans for Regathering

• The first Sunday when you can register for in-person worship will be Sunday, July 5, at 11AM.

• For right now, we need to limit attendance to 50 persons. However, know that the church’s task force and staff are working diligently to find creative ways for more of us to worship together safely. While we are starting with one service and 50 people, the hope is that we will be able to increase those numbers in the near future.

• For the immediate future, because we are limiting to attendance to 50 people, we ask that you not sign up for two Sundays in a row to allow everyone an opportunity to come.

• If you wish to attend an in-person gathering, we are requiring everyone to make a reservation through Eventbrite. The reservations will open on the Monday before a Sunday worship service, and the deadline to sign up will be Fridays at noon. The link will be Details about the registration process were in the letter mailed to church members and constituents.

• If you are not comfortable making the online reservation and require some help, you may reach Julie at the church office (662-494-1658).

Pastor’s Message – June 9, 2020

Making Commitments, Keeping Promises

Dearly Beloved Friends,

On June 28, we will celebrate Confirmation Sunday at 11AM with our first in-person gathering of less than 50 people. Those 50 persons will consist of the confirmands, their immediate families, and mentors. Of course, the dream team and ushers (who will undergo training next week) will be present. Our six sixth graders have waited patiently for this day, which was originally scheduled for March 29. How fitting that we slowly and carefully resume in-person gatherings with these young leaders making a public commitment to the future of our congregation and the larger Church.

One of the questions the confirmands will have to answer is: Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

As we have witnessed the evil, injustice, and oppression of racism brought to a new light in protests across the nation, this question and its answer carries a heavier weight. Along with our six brothers and sisters being confirmed, will we make a new commitment to become anti-racists? How will we keep the promise we are renewing with them to take action against what grieves the heart of God? Let us meditate on these questions and our responses.

In our local context, we are also making commitments and keeping promises for your safety and well being. July 5 will be the first Sunday that you will be invited to “sign up” to worship in-person. Marc Stewart has organized a user-friendly reservation system that Julie Gray will oversee. While we are starting with one service and 50 people, the hope is that we will be able to increase those numbers in the future. More information on that system will be available in the letter we are sending to you this week. Please read it carefully & in full when it arrives for more information. We will also be sharing another pastoral/congregational address to walk you through the details.

As the apostle Paul said so well in his closing blessing to the Corinthians , “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:13)

all good things to each of you,
Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – June 2, 2020

Highlights from Pastoral Address

If you were not able to tune in for the pastoral address last Thursday night on Facebook or You Tube, here is a summary of the highlights. The video is still available on both platforms for you to watch at your convenience. The task force and I met on Sunday to finalize a plan for regathering, and all church members and constituents will receive a letter in the next two weeks with instructions for when we regather.

You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. ~ James 3:18 (The Message)

This verse of Scripture summarizes the reasoning behind our slow and thoughtful approach to regathering. We want to be a healthy community, which means we will do everything possible to keep you healthy! Here are a few things to expect when we regather:

• We will only meet at 11AM for worship with a maximum of 50 people. Because of this limit, not everyone who wants to come will be able to do so on the same Sunday. We’re working on a plan of how best to do this.

• We will not be able to offer children’s church, a nursery, small groups, or Sunday school classes yet.

• Masks will be required for everyone in attendance. If you do not have one, we will provide one for you.

• Frequently touched objects like hymnals, pencils, and envelopes have been removed from the sanctuary.

• Ushers will meet you at the designated entrances, show you to your seat, and let you know when your row can leave.

• Some pews will be marked off not to use to ensure physical distancing.

Be on the lookout for more information, and eventually a date, for when we will regather. Thank you for being such a wonderful church, which includes but is not limited to a building!

all good things to each of you,

Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – May 26, 2020

What We Need To Know: Replacing “When” With “What”

Dearly Beloved Friends,

I now have a better understanding of what Paul, Peter, James, John, and other leaders of the early Church experienced when they wrote letters to various congregations. They were separated geographically from people whom they loved, and they had so many words of grace, love, and instruction to say in so little space.

It is in that same spirit of longing that I write this modern-day pastoral letter to you with an invitation. Many of us are asking the question of, “When?”

When can we come back to the church building?

This is the question that pulled up a virtual chair at the virtual table of our task force’s meeting last week. After prayerful discussion, we made the decision not yet to set a date for in-person gatherings in our church building. As we talked I realized the question we have been asking and need to continue asking is “what” before we ask “when.” I cannot emphasize enough the volume of decisions that we still need to make and implement before we can begin offering in-person gatherings again.

Because this space is limited, I want to issue an invitation for you to learn more. This Thursday, May 28, at 6PM, I’m going to record from the sanctuary a pastoral address that goes into more detail about (a) what needs to be done before we can regather and (b) why those decisions matter. We will be on Facebook Live at that time, but the video will be available for you to watch at your convenience on Facebook and You Tube. We’ll also put the contents of the video into writing for next week’s newsletter.

What might you do? Pray. Then, pray some more. And when you think you’re done, remember the Scripture that said, “pray without ceasing.” It was the plea of a pastor named Paul writing to a congregation he longed to see. And let us not forget that one Pentecost morning, while God’s people were praying, the Holy Spirit arrived with fresh power. Let us be such a prayerful people!

all good things to each of you,
Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – May 19, 2020

A Word from Our Staff Parish Chair and Pastor

Bishop James Swanson, Sr. and the Cabinet of the Mississippi Conference, during the Appointment Sessions, worked prayerfully together to appoint clergy to every church in our Annual Conference. As Chairperson of the Pastor Parish Relations Committee, I give thanks for the ministry of our pastor, Rev. Dr. Darian Duckworth, who has been a servant leader among us. It is my pleasure to announce that our pastor is reappointed to serve for another year. We ask for your prayers for her.
Dr. D, as we know her, as been a true leader during the trying times we have faced so far in 2020. More so than ever, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our entire church staff. Julie, Gail, Rachel, Kyle, Polly, Jace, Ron and Paul have done a tremendous job ensuring that our church continues to be a functional and vital part of all of our lives. Please continue to keep them in your prayers as move to our new “normal”.
Let us pray:
“Lord Jesus Christ, our Living Savior, we give you thanks for out church. It is a gift of grace to us. We are deeply grateful for the leadership of Rev. Darian Duckworth who has served us as pastor, teacher, leader, and friend in Christ. May your grace be upon her and her family in the spiritual adventure that lies ahead. As she continues as our pastor, we pray for her. May your grace abound in her life, giving peace, joy, and confidence in this continuing journey. May we remember to lift up the churches and pastors throughout Mississippi that share this time with us. Empower us to fulfill your mission of making disciples as WE serve you. AMEN”

Sincerely, Chris Jester, Chairperson Pastor Parish Relations Committee

I give thanks for the leadership of our staff-parish relations committee and the opportunity to serve alongside you for another year! I also wanted to echo what Chairman Chris Jester has said about the wonderful work of our church staff during this crisis. Much of their work has been unseen, and if I were to list everything that they’ve been doing to keep our church actively connected and engaged, this newsletter would not be sufficient space.
To Julie, Gail, Paul, Ron, Rachel, Kyle, Polly, and Jace: from the bottom of my heart, thank you for the faithful, good work that you are doing. I am honored to be a part of our team for another year!
all good things to each of you,

Dr. D.

Pastor’s Message – May 12, 2020

Three Things To Know: The Heart of Worship

Last Friday, Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr. shared guidelines for “incremental reopening of congregational in-person gatherings.” I love that title. For the past eight weeks I’ve tried to avoid the phrase, “reopening church,” because church has not closed. When the building does reopen for us to gather in person, church will look very different, but our heart has not changed. Our heart is the worship of our Lord Jesus.

The task force, staff, and I are reviewing these detailed guidelines to ensure that when we can gather again, we will do so safely and carefully. I do want to share with you three things the task force has already discussed.

1. Digital Presence and Virtual Worship: Even when we are able to regather in-person for worship, we want to continue offering the service through Facebook Live, You Tube, and perhaps other platforms. We want to improve on our media and equipment so that we not only keep our digital presence but also enhance it.

2. Worship Gathering as First Priority: When we do regather, at first the only in-person gathering will be the worship service. We hope to resume eventually both worship services with the 11AM service broadcast on radio and Facebook Live. Small groups, Sunday school, and other fellowship groups will remain digital until after the worship service gatherings run smoothly.

3. Guidelines and Precautions: When we do regather, we will have strict guidelines to follow to keep everyone safe. Change can be hard, especially in a space as sacred as our sanctuary, but change will be necessary. Know that these precautions are rooted in a love of God and neighbor, and we will share more with you in detail in the weeks to come.

What can we do as a congregation in the meantime? Pray! Spend time with the Lord and give thanks for his blessings. Ask for his guidance as we continue to navigate the COVID 19 crisis. And don’t forget you can still send your virtual selves to the sanctuary!

all good things to each of you,
Dr. D.