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Thomas: Church preparing for ‘next leg of the relay race’

Who ever thought we would be away from each other so long? The whole thing feels surreal in so many dimensions. And what blows me away is when I realize that the whole world is going through these troubling days of pandemic! One thing for sure, we’re learning that God’s Church isn’t a building, but each one of us alive in Christ being a manifestation of Jesus to our immediate families with whom we are “home-bound,” our extended families, friends, neighbors and communities. Every day I’m thankful for the technology that allows us to virtually connect — and “air hug” from a distance — but I really miss the warmth and joy of physical touch and real hugs and handshakes!

Sometimes I get down on myself thinking that I’m not doing enough to help right now. I was sharing with another pastor the awkwardness of not being able to do more in these days of need. I know a lot of people are feeling the same way. We can pray, we can generously give, and some are working with food banks and getting groceries and medications for neighbors at risk. But a lot of us want to do more and make a bigger impact on the lives of others.

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This pastor gave me an insight I had not thought of before. Right now, we are in a relay race and this first leg of the race is for the medical workers, truck drivers, food pantry volunteers, store clerks and helpers of all the necessary items we need. For most of us, it’s not our leg of the race to run. But, our turn and leg of the race to run is coming soon! When we get back to our church facilities and gatherings, our leg of the race will be to meet “head on” the onslaught of so many needs that people will have.

Needs that go beyond the obvious of finances and health. Needs like grieving families who lost loved ones during this crisis and were banned from staying by the bedside of their loved ones in their final days of life comforting them. The needs of people unable to mourn and have closure because there was no funeral service. Needs of mental health: addictions, anxiety and depression. Needs to fill the gaps of missed graduations, proms and celebrating those “rites of passage” that are so much a part of who we are. Needs of finding employment and new careers. Needs of physical touch but lingering fears of being around people. People of God, very soon it will be the Church’s turn to run our leg of the race bringing faith, hope and life to people with the same determination and courage that those running this first leg are demonstrating now every day.

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What should congregations be doing now as we wait for our turn to run?

Preparing! We need to be fit and ready to grab the runners’ batons and sprint into action. We need to be preparing now for the outreach and ministries that we will provide to touch people’s lives. We need to be training “front line” members for service and preparing to “be the Church” — the hands and feet of Christ. Now, more than ever, we need to be preparing how “to do Church” in a whole new way! There will be no “getting back to normal” because the world around us has drastically and radically changed.

For each of us personally, the way to become spiritually fit for the next leg of this race is get into a training routine. When you go to the gym, most people don’t just roam around the facility guessing and wondering what machine they will use. They have a planned routine to work out the various body parts and muscle groups. Christians need a spiritual workout routine — getting into a rhythm of prayer, the Word of God, worship and soaking in God’s presence.

Church, our leg of the race is coming sooner than later. I know many of you are reaching out and helping the best you can. At the same time, let’s spend these days preparing and getting fit to run, and to run well our race for the sake of the people around us and for the glory of God!

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The Rev. William Thomas is pastor at Hereford United Methodist Church. He can be reached at pastor@herefordumc.org.

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