The Wesley Park UMC Church Conference was last Thursday, November 12. It was unusual, in that for the first time the Church Conference was online. The SPRC and the Guidance Team met with the District Superintendent by Zoom to complete some of the official business of the church. Things went well. We are getting used to these kinds of virtual meetings. One of the opportunities that accompany each Church Conference is for the pastor to submit a report on what has happened over the course of the year. I share that report with you now, with love and appreciation.
Pastor Report for 2020
Rev. Dean N. Prentiss
After sending out the monthly newsletter we began to get some calls. Some birthdays and anniversaries were not included in the list. When Sara went into our database to look she found all the information was there, but one setting was off when printing the report. My reaction? “That is so 2020.” What a year this has been.
January, February, March…
2020 started normally. The counters came to count the offering every Monday. The Tuesday Guys did their work around the church every Tuesday. The Women’s Prayer Group met in the Cornerstone Room every Wednesday. The Praise Team and Chancel Choir rehearsed every Thursday. Restoration Community Church rehearsed and studied every Friday and Saturday. And, we gathered for worship in the sanctuary every Sunday. Restoration Community Church worship followed from 1-5:30 pm. A new Children’s Sunday School was off and running every Sunday morning. The Youth Group met Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. The Food Truck brought hundreds of people together the first Thursday of the month. Add to that Square Dancing on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Senior Exercise on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Scottish Society the first Wednesday, and the Acts Council with RCC the first Monday… just a day-in-the-life of Wesley Park United Methodist Church.
I should have known we were in for a different kind of year on January 5. On that first Sunday, the Wesley Park UMC Staff went to “The Great Escape” for an Epiphany Celebration. This is a place that locks you in a room, which is filled with clues that lead to your escape. It takes teamwork and calm thinking, and some luck. Our mission was to unlock the last clue before a nuclear blast destroys all of earth. We missed it by about 30 seconds. Sorry. :(
On Wednesday, March 11, it was clear this was not going to be a normal year. Covid-19 was dangerous, and it was spreading. We learned it was not safe to be in close proximity to one another. We learned how deadly this virus could be, and that it could be spread by singing or by being inside with a large group of people. And that you could be carrying it without any symptoms, and could give it to people who were vulnerable. We realized quickly that we were all vulnerable. As the reality set in that we needed to take some action, we decided we needed to be cautious. We would only have an online worship that Sunday. That was 246 days ago. We have had 35 online worship services, about 175 pieces of music recorded in home studios and beautifully and miraculously put together into one harmony. These services have been viewed over 94,000 times. The world and the church would never be the same again. We were now in the time of the pandemic.
The Joshua Task Force…
It was clear that we needed a group to help guide us through the pandemic. We needed people to know the dangers, set the policies, and oversee the steps we were taking as a church. We called this group the Joshua Task Force, named after the one who led God’s people finally into the Promised Land. The group met online and with social distance in person week after week. They studied the reports from the CDC, the Michigan Conference, and all helpful sources. They developed policies that we would follow if we were to come back to worship together again. The Kent County Positivity Rate would need to be under 5%. All groups and meetings associated with the church would need to check in with the Task Force so we knew who was meeting when. People were required to maintain six feet distance, masks required, hand washing stations, registrations for worship to aid contact tracing if necessary, limited seating, a disinfecting team working before, during, and after worship, gatekeepers at the door, nothing passed hand to hand, shortened services, radio transmitted to the parking lot for those who wanted to attend but not be at risk, etc. The services were uploaded to the Wyoming Cable Access television station. People were calling those who did not have internet and setting their phones by the computer speakers so they could listen to worship. Cards and calls went out to try to stay connected.
We were able to begin in-person worship in August. The congregation followed every policy and request. People just wanted to worship and see each other again. Those who needed to stay away could connect to worship online. We also established a phone number that people could call anytime to listen to the worship service. We continued in-person worship and online worship through October 11. We even had a parking lot communion service on World Communion Sunday. La Nueva Esperanza UMC joined us.
Due to the virus, Wesley Park made the difficult decision to postpone indefinitely all in person ministries. We let the West Michigan Feeding America Food Truck know that we could no longer host the first Thursday of the month. They have found other locations to serve and feed those who came to Wesley Park. We also decided we could not host Family Promise families until it was safe to do so. These are foundational ministries that exemplified the ways we have lived out our faith. We continue to support these and other local ministries financially each month. We trust that God will open new doors for us to walk through in due time. Thank you for your beautiful expressions of faith and ministry these many years.
In the midst of this unprecedented challenge, Wesley Park celebrated its 65th birthday. Cut out of the woods on the corner of 32nd and Michael, Wesley Park would be the first church plant of Grand Rapids Metro Ministries. We look back at the amazing people who have been part of this generous congregation. We feel blessed to call Wesley Park our Spiritual Home. We continue to be shaped into the likeness of Christ in our neighborhood. We give God thanks for each portion of this journey. The joys, and the sorrows. All of it has made us who we are today, and who God is calling us to be in the year ahead. Wesley Park has deep roots, planted in good soil, nurtured by love and grace. The challenges of 2020 cannot be denied. We are praying our way through each day and prepared for whatever we have to do to keep each other safe and loved. To God be the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.