“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
(Galatians 5:13, NRSV)
This week begins the new schedule for Sunday mornings at First United Methodist Church of Florence. I’m excited about the opportunities we’re creating for greater connection and more meaningful Worship. For the early birds, 8:15 am Early Worship will be held in the Sanctuary. This experience will be identical to the 11:00 am Worship service, although, by fall, we expect to have a chamber choir providing special music. Many of us will miss David Phillips sharing his musical gifts; however, he will continue to provide music for the pre-recorded First Worship posted online each Sunday at 8:30 am. We’re developing on a Weeknight Alternative Worship experience (yet to be named) held offsite where David will have an expanded musical role.
I’m also excited about 9:00 am Family Worship in the Sanctuary. Family Worship began last fall as a 30-minute worship experience suited for families with young children. We provide an age-appropriate service that teaches our children about Worship and prepares them for participating in the other worship services in the church as they grow older. Since the 8:15 am Early Worship service will last for 45 minutes, those coming for the 9:00 am Family Service are encouraged to wait in the Atrium until the 8:15 am Early Worship is complete. This spacing between worship services is the trickiest part of our new schedule that may require adjusting as we move forward, so please be patient as we experiment with how best to manage this transition.
There will be coffee, water, and pastries in the Atrium for everyone to enjoy throughout the morning from 8:45 am to 11:00 am. We’re calling this Koinonia Café, based on the Greek word that roughly means fellowship, community, and shared participation. It identifies the ideal state of connection and unity that exists within the Christian church, the Body of Christ. We think this is a vital part of rebuilding our faith community after a year of social distancing and online interaction. Make time in your schedule to visit Koinonia Café where you can meet and greet each other.
On 2nd through 5th Sundays, Holy Communion will be offered in Rogers Chapel at 9:30 am. We’ll continue our tradition of serving Holy Communion in the Sanctuary on the first Sunday of the month, as well as at other special times. When we do Holy Communion in the Sanctuary on non-first Sundays, we will suspend Holy Communion in Rogers Chapel on those Sundays.
9:45 am Sunday School classes are available for all ages. If you are not currently a member of one of our Sunday School classes, they are open to anyone who would like to join. We scheduled a full hour for Sunday School because this time of learning and fellowship is a critical component of building a stronger and healthier congregation. At 10:45 am, there will be time to pick up children from Children’s Sunday School, grab a snack at Koinonia Café, and make it to 11:00 am Worship in the Sanctuary. Those who only come to 11:00 am Worship may plan to arrive early and hang out in Koinonia Café and greet any newcomers to our church. Let’s be on the lookout for guests and do all we can to make them feel wanted and welcome at our church.
I want to close with a word about practicing sensitivity in the new situation in which we find ourselves—not only with a new schedule but with a new way of interacting as we emerge from the pandemic. First, our new schedule is an experiment that we may need to tweak. If you experience a problem presented by the new schedule, let us know (nicely!), and we’ll add your experience to the list of factors we weigh as we move forward. Second, even though many of us are vaccinated and feel safe interacting with others, others are still vulnerable to COVID-19 and other diseases. Vulnerable people may prefer to wear a mask and continue social distancing. We respect your situation and will accommodate you with distancing. Please make your wishes known if someone sits too close to you. If someone asks you to distance, please respond graciously and generously. We are servants of one another, as the scripture above from Galatians 5:13 indicates.
I’m excited for the future of our congregation and for these opportunities to reconnect in meaningful ways. I hope you’ll join us throughout the summer and get involved in Worship, Sunday School, fellowship, serving, and loving one another with the love of Jesus Christ!