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At Florence First United Methodist, our personal and congregational commitment is to be a thriving congregation that honors God through meaningful worship, that develops people of all ages as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and that graciously impacts the community and the world through extravagant generosity and humble service, resulting in better lives for all.

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(256) 764-5072

 

415 North Seminary Street

Florence, AL 35630

 

fumcflo@fumcflorence.org

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  • Rev. Dale Cohen

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1, NRSV)

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week as we observe Palm Sunday. We planned for the Adult Choir to present an Easter Cantata this Sunday. In the early stages of our pre-COVID-19 worship planning, we knew it would be challenging to serve Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month with the Cantata Orchestra taking up space in the chancel area of the sanctuary. We decided to delay April's communion until Easter Sunday, April 12th. That was fine with me because I think it's always important to celebrate Holy Communion on Easter anyway! Then we had to cancel the Easter Cantata due to the restrictions on group gatherings.

Since then, with moving worship online, the question of not only when, but how we celebrate Holy Communion has arisen. I struggle with celebrating Holy Communion as a scattered people. I have a deep and abiding respect for the sacraments. I never want to do anything that takes away from the theological integrity of the Lord's Supper. Nor do I wish to diminish the Body of Christ gathered at the Table of the Lord to which he invites us. But I also view the sacrament as a means whereby we connect with Jesus Christ and each other; so, withholding Holy Communion for any length of time, even due to the physical distance created by worshiping online, generates tension in need of resolution. After hours of reading and research, and several mornings in prayer seeking God's guidance, I have discerned that we will offer Holy Communion as an online experience on Easter Sunday. This decision does not indicate my spirit is entirely comfortable with doing this, nor have I resolved the matter theologically. In this circumstance, I feel called to offer an online experience of Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As the restrictions on assembling continue, we will have to re-evaluate Holy Communion moving forward.

Next week, I'll share some specific instructions on how we will handle the Communion service. You will be responsible for gathering the elements for participating at home (bread and the fruit of the vine), but there will be more to share next week

Our church has experienced a similar period of social disruption before due to a virus. William McDonald, in his History of the First United Methodist Church, Florence, Alabama, 1822-1984, wrote, "On October 26th, 1918, construction of Nitrate Plant No. 2 was completed, and plans were to begin operation by November 1st. However, this deadline was not met due to a labor shortage and a severe influenza epidemic that raged over the Shoals. Area. The local papers were filled with obituaries. Names of some First church members can be found either as victims or surviving families of those who died from the disease. It was a trying time" (p. 119).

I don't know how the flu epidemic of 1918 impacted the way worship was conducted at First Methodist then, but I can't imagine that it was business as usual. Yet, the church not only survived, it thrived. We're all uncomfortable with the changes required of us right now; however, this is also an opportunity for us to refocus and redefine who we are as a church for the 21st Century. I invite you to reach out to one another and offer love and support while also looking to God for direction and insight into how we can use this disruptive season for the good of the Kingdom of God. See you online on Sunday!

  • Rev. Dale Cohen


“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalms 130:1-2, NRSV)

I shared a few weeks ago when I was preaching on Psalm 121 that Psalms 120 through 134 are the Songs of Ascent. The people sang these songs as they traveled from all across Judea to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem for one of the three major religious festivals each year.


With the Temple sitting atop a hill, one must climb Zion’s (Jerusalem’s) hill from the variety of geographic locations from which people came, thus, the Songs of Ascent.

Psalm 130 takes the idea of ascent beyond the usual geographical reference to ascent and clearly expresses a different kind of low place from which one might start. “Out of the depths,” the psalmist begins, and we are immediately made aware he is approaching God from a low and undesirable place. “I cry to you, O Lord,” the psalmist continues, reinforcing the desperation of his current circumstance. Then the psalmist asks God not to be distracted from hearing his cries for help. As the psalm plays out, the psalmist hopes through God’s steadfast love and mercy, that God will redeem not only the psalmist’s plight but the plight of the entire nation of Israel.

As we make our way through Lent, especially under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can identify with the situation of the psalmist. Who would have ever thought our Lenten journey would include a national health emergency that threatens the lives of some of the most vulnerable of our population while also threatening our economy? There is anxiety at so many different levels as we fear for the safety of those we love, as we alter our daily routines to observe new and awkward guidelines around social interaction, and as we face shortages of much-needed food and personal items. During a season of self-reflection in preparation for celebrating our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we are compelled to more realistically measure in Whom (or in what) we trust to save us.

I am finding as I pray that, unlike the psalmist, my fear is not that God is not listening to my pleas for help; instead, my concern is that I’m the one who is distracted and failing to focus on God as the only One in whom I can trust. I devour the news listening for signs of hope. I scan the public health websites looking for progress that signals the end of this pandemic is in sight. I rely on my intellect to calm any fears that may arise as I process all the data I can input into my brain, searching for answers that aren’t there.

I pray, “I can’t wait for this to end;” whereas, the psalmist prayed, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130:5-6, NRSV)

With the psalmist, I must wait, and then trust in God’s steadfast love that has the power to redeem:

“O Israel [or, O Dale], hope in the Lord! For with the Lord, there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.” (Psalm 130:7, NRSV)

I’ll occasionally be checking in on Facebook Live, so be sure to set your notifications to alert you whenever Florence First United Methodist Church goes “live.”

  • Rev. Dale Cohen


“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1, KJV)


These words from Psalm 23:1 are some of the most familiar words in the English language. If I were to say these words out loud, it wouldn’t surprise if people joined in with reciting the rest of this much-loved Psalm.


Much has been written on the 23rd Psalm in both the academic and the devotional literature. Millions of sermons have been preached on this Psalm. So it is always with some degree of trepidation that I approach teaching on this text, as I will do this Sunday. To complicate matters, due to the suspension of public gatherings in response to COVID-19, I’ll be preaching to a mostly empty sanctuary. Preaching without the physical presence of a congregation is one of the hardest things a preacher ever does. Thankfully, there will be a few folks around, and some of our choir members will be available to share their gifts in worship so I won’t be totally alone.


I feel the internal pressure in presenting a sermon on the two-dimensional plane of video added to the challenge of saying something about this Psalm that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, who will see to it that those who hear this message will get what they need from it, despite the preacher!


In preparing for this message, I am keenly aware of how much we need the assurance this Psalm offers—especially during these challenging times. God, as our loving Shepherd, is ever-vigilant in looking out for the threats and dangers we face. If we stick closely to God, God will guide us to a place of security—even if it isn’t always a safe place. That may sound not very clear, but there is a distinct difference in being secure and in being safe. Our security is the confidence we have that no matter what happens to us, we are going to be okay. Even though we find ourselves in danger—that is in an unsafe situation—we can trust that even though the threat may seemingly destroy us, God can keep us eternally secure.


In these uncertain times, we have the security of our loving Shepherd, who will ensure that no matter what danger lies ahead, we have nothing to fear, for God will lead us through the dark valleys into a lush and fertile pasture where we will find peace.