By Robert M. Chapman, II
ALONG THE PATH
With the sun rising later and setting earlier, the promise of autumn has gently arrived. The bustling activity of summer is over. The yield of corn, watermelon, tomatoes and squash on the side of the road and at farmers’ markets is gradually being replaced with apples, pears, persimmons and pumpkins. I understand pumpkins will soon be arriving on the lawn at Chestnut. The Great Pumpkin has promised a return. This year I have noticed the birth of a little patch of pumpkins connected to the pre-school playground. With a wonderful combination of recent rains and plenty of sunshine, the leaves and the vines of the patch cannot be contained. Like a choir, they are nestled together in harmony awaiting the arrival and curiosity of the children. Also in relation to the Pre-school playground, I want to acknowledge Mac Southwell and Everett Oliver, who in the midst of the “dog days” of summer and August humidity, led a small crew of “weed pullers,” preparing the pre-school playground for the new school year. Also, Betty Owens, Bev Everitt, Anita Boucher, Ellen Steadman, Mary Hurst, and Amy and Everett Oliver have pulled their fair share of weeds this summer, while Sue and Bob Mason have given new life to the landscaping around the front sign and at the base of the three crosses. Also, a gracious thank you to our grounds crew, who once again did an amazing job this summer cutting and trimming the lawn. When these faithful hard workers are not around, along with there being less activity in the church parking lot, I have noticed the presence of more deer, a red and gray fox, opossum and “Gordy,” a little groundhog who has enjoyed eating flowers in our backyard.
As we are approach our fourth month of in-person worship, I know there is a bit of concern regarding attendance, as our Sunday mornings are not the same as we remember prior to the pandemic. I realize the rhythm and balance of our Sundays is not what we have been familiar with, or what we prefer, compared to our previous experiences of having contemporary and traditional worship services. Since our first in-person service on Jun. 20, we have church members who have not yet returned for various reasons. Before the rise of the pandemic in March 2020, we were averaging 202 worship attendees from the combined total of two services. As of Sep. 5, since our return on Jun. 20, our weekly average for our one service is 79. Despite vaccinations and the rise of the Delta variant, there are a number of people who remain uncomfortable attending, deciding not to worship. Some of the faithful are choosing to participate in worship through the live broadcast on Facebook or later on our website. There are also members who have decided to leave us, preferring to unite with other church communities. Their reasons vary, as recently I ran into a couple at Food Lion who left Chestnut due to the human sexuality debate within United Methodism. As I expressed to this couple, I sincerely hope they are happy and pleased with where they are now attending. Additionally, I encourage anyone who is not planning to return to Chestnut to contact us, as we will assist them in transferring their membership to where they now worship.
There was a brief glimpse of light and a break from masks for a few Sundays, when infection numbers decreased and we allowed vaccinated individuals to attend worship services without a mask. Then, the Delta variant arrived, causing us to once again make another significant adjustment within congregational life, requiring masks to be worn throughout the building and on Sunday mornings. Making adjustments to the worship schedule in addition to many of our activities affects so many individuals on so many different levels. A few years ago, I remember carrying much angst, stress and uncertainty in a period of just a few days. A hurricane was spinning out in the Atlantic, its forecast uncertain. We were wondering what we should do in making a call regarding the Methodist Men’s bar-b-que dinner and the fall festival. At the time, I was constantly on the phone with our good friend Ross Phillips, getting weather updates. With the unpredictability of its path, the storm threw a lot of preparation, planning and hard work into question, tipping everything off balance. Figuratively speaking, the uncertainty of the pandemic is like a spinning hurricane; however, rather than just a few days, it is relentless and forever constant. “Hurricane COVID” has been spinning around us now for 19 months. Now “Hurricane Delta,” fresh out of the Atlantic, appears to have an unpredictable path as vaccinated people are now becoming infected. Once again, everyone is having to make difficult decisions individually and on behalf of those whom they are called to lead.
If there ever were a time to keep faith and patience with each other it certainly is now, amidst this constant flux of making adjustments within the tide of “wait and see.” While there is a significant change in numbers, our heart and spirit toward discipleship and ministry have not been dimmed or deterred. With the cooperation of the weather, we managed to pull off a different kind of Vacation Bible School. Dana Dahl and the food pantry workers have remained faithful and attentive in keeping the doors open, despite a noticeable decrease in recipients. I applaud Linda White and her kitchen crew in their recent decision of cancelling Wednesday night dinners. I know this was disappointing for her, as her cooks and dishwashers spent an entire week cleaning up the kitchen from top to bottom since our shut down. And yet, we move forward. The fall festival is still being planned with adjustments, as the United Methodist Men’s bar-b-que will be take-out only. Director Connie Thompson and the cast from our Mystery Dinner Theatre continue with rehearsals with anticipation and hope of raising the curtain for a two-night performance in November. The Suzi Edwards card ministry is meeting once again, touching many lives in meaningful ways with paper, scissors and stamps. Around the corner, as mentioned in a previous article, we will have a special worship service on Sunday, Oct. 31 as we call forth the names of church members who have died since March 2020. Our rhythm of the fall continues as Anita Boucher leads us in the fall stewardship campaign, with an appropriate theme of HOPE. The finance committee will be wrestling and making difficult decisions regarding our 2022 budget and the date for our annual charge conference has been set for Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.. Like last year, it will be held on Zoom.
Negotiating all the unknowns within congregational life remains relentless, quite inconvenient, sometimes with disappointing outcomes, such as our resuming the wearing of masks. I am constantly on the phone with Nell Twiggs, as we discuss the latest “forecast” from our annual conference and mitigation strategies. I am most grateful to Nell for her research, rational mindset, forward thinking and discernment skills, along with spending an inordinate time on behalf of everyone, most recently meeting one-on-one with a representative from each group using our facilities. She has kept our safety and best interests at heart, as we resume our way back into the sanctuary and throughout the building. Thank you, Nell. May the Great Pumpkin usher in a pleasant fall to you and everyone else in the Chestnut pumpkin patch!