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The Church Honors our 2020 Graduates

Dear Church Family,

We’re now halfway through our current series called “Credo.” In this series, we’re using the Apostles’ Creed, an ancient statement of faith put together by the early Christians, to better understand our beliefs – our beliefs about God primarily but also our beliefs about ourselves, because what we believe about God impacts how we live.

So far in the series we’ve talked about each of the 3 persons of the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now we turn our attention to the line in the creed that talks about the church. The line goes like this:
 
The holy catholic church, the communion of saints

I’m going to let the cat out of the bag and reveal the main question that’s going to drive the entirety of the message: If you’re a Christian, do you have to be part of the church?

I don’t think it’s any secret that church involvement in Europe and America isn’t what it was a few generations ago. More and more people are opting not to be part of the church. Here I’m reminded of something Galadriel, the elf queen, says in The Fellowship of The Ring, which is the first of The Lord of the Rings movies: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.” The reality is the world has changed when it comes to church. There are many Christians out there who see church as more of a luxury or an accessory to faith than a necessity. So, this weekend we’re going to discover what sort of role the church should play in our lives as Christ-followers. I pray that by God’s grace this message will inspire you get to more involved in church – which, by the way, can still happen even in these days when we’re not having in-person gatherings!

Speaking of getting involved, have you written your encouraging note to our 7 graduating seniors? If not, what are you waiting for? Seriously, what are you waiting for? We have 7 (yes, 7!) students finishing high school this year. We’ll be celebrating these graduates on Sunday, June 7 during our virtual services, but in the meantime, we need your help. Would you please drop a note to Diana Petras (dpetras@communityoffaith.org) with a congratulatory word for these students? You can address each student individually or you can write a more general note to all of them. If at all, please send your note by next week. The students are as follows:

Eduardo Velazquez
Angel Cintron
Rachel Link
Destiny Trammel
Hannah Weber
Clayton Pollard
Abigail Thomas

The last thing I want to say is that when it comes to reopening our building, our leadership has wisely discerned that we’re not in a place where we’re ready to give out any dates. (Sorry!) As I mentioned last week, our first step is to reopen our Learning Center and then, only after we’ve worked out all the kinks, begin the process of reopening the rest of our facilities in phases. I’m sorry I don’t have more details right now, but we’ll update you as those details become available.

You may remember that last year our church did a congregation-wide study on the 3 rules that John Wesley instituted for the early Methodists. The first of those rules is: Do no harm. Physical distancing (I prefer that term to social distancing since we’re trying to stay social through virtual connections) is the way we’re not causing harm during this season. None of us want to put our community at risk. All that said, thank you for your flexibility, patience, and willingness to adapt. By God’s grace, this congregation truly is the hands and feet of Jesus in this world!

“See” you this weekend!
  
Blessings,
Chris



Mothers day and the Holy Spirit

Dear Church Family,

So far in our “Credo” sermon series, in which we are exploring the Apostles’ Creed, we’ve talked about the first 2 persons of the Trinity – the Father and the Son. Now we come to the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. The line in the creed goes like this:

 
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
 
Not very much to work with, huh? The article in the creed about the God the Father has 12 words, the article about Jesus Christ the Son has a whopping 65 words. However, the article about the Holy Spirit only has 6 words, which is somewhere between 5 and 6 percent of the entire Apostles’ Creed. So less than 6 percent of the entire Apostles’ Creed is devoted specifically to the Holy Spirit, whom we believe is coequal and coeternal with the other 2 persons of the Godhead. As a quintessential middle child, I can’t help but ask the question, “What gives?” But as we’re going to discover, the Holy Spirit is OK with this. The Holy Spirit is OK with not getting nearly as much attention as the other 2 persons of the Trinity, particularly the Jesus Christ the Son. In the message this weekend, we’ll talk about the Holy Spirit’s role within the Godhead as well as within our lives and the broader church. I can’t wait to worship with you online on Saturday at 6:30PM or Sunday morning at 8:30AM or 10:30AM. 
I’m so thankful to our Community of Faith youth who, along with Kathy Beuttenmuller, David Stump, and some adult volunteers, have spent the last couple of weeks gleaning produce from local farms to help supply our local foodbanks.  As we all know, the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to a health crisis, has had devastating economic effects, which in turn has created a number of hungry individuals and families. It’s inspiring to see our youth and their leaders step up to respond to the needs that are out there.  They are the hands and feet of Jesus!
 
Speaking of youth, we have 7 of our students graduating from high school this year, and we want to properly honor them. You’ll hear more information about how you can honor our graduates in the announcements this weekend. In worship, we’ll also be honoring moms and mom-like figures for Mother’s Day.
 
Some of you have asked about plans for reopening the building. Our resident Bishop, Ken Carter, has recently advised that we suspend in-person gatherings now until at least June 15. However, before we reopen our building to the general public (including for worship services), we first want to make sure our Learning Center is squared away and able to function, especially given that there are state and government requirements by which the Learning Center must abide. That said, the plan is to first open the Learning Center for probably a month or so to work out all the kinks. Then we’ll open the building for other services (worship, Bible studies, prayer groups, etc.). Even then, however, we’ll still comply with CDC guidelines, whatever those guidelines might be at that point. It’s important to note that all this is fluid right now. However, we’ll continue to update you as we learn more. In the meantime, Diana Petras (Director of Operations) and Sarah Dodson (Learning Center Director) are doing much of the leg work when it comes to preparing us for eventual reopening. For their hard work, we’re grateful! 
 
This has been a weird season, but we’re powering through by the grace and power of God. Thanks for hanging in there with us, and we look forward to worshipping God with you online this weekend!
 
Blessings,
Chris


And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord

Dear Church Family,

It’s Thursday morning as I write this email. I just finished morning prayer a few moments ago on our Facebook page, where we had 50 people join us. It’s been encouraging to see our congregation embrace new forms of connection during these days when we can’t gather in person and to still find ways to be the church. As a reminder, morning prayer is every day (Monday – Friday) at 8:30AM on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cofumc/). I’d love to “see” you there!

In addition to great music led by Julia Nicholas, our Director of Worship Arts, this weekend will include a continuation of our new series called “Credo.” In this series, we’re unpacking the Apostles’ Creed, one of the great creeds of the Church that beautifully summarizes what we as Christians believe about God. I’m probably biting off more than I can chew this weekend, because the section of the creed on which I’ll be preaching includes almost 62% of it. (I did the math myself, so hopefully it’s right!) It’s the part that speaks about Jesus.

And in Jesus Christ his [God’s] only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

If you notice, this section of the creed includes everything from the incarnation of Jesus (i.e., when the eternal Son of God took on human flesh at Christmastime) to his second coming in the future. Again, there’s a lot in here, so we’ll do our best to highlight the essentials. When it comes down to it, Jesus doesn’t simply want us to know about him. He wants us to experience him. So my prayer is that in addition to learning about him, you’ll have an experience with the risen Jesus this weekend.

I’m grateful to all our Community of Faith staff and volunteers who continue to offer awesome and life-changing ministry during these days when we can’t be together in our building. If you’d like to see what else is going on in our church and how you can connect with the work of God among us, I invite you to check out the rest of this email below.

Take care, have a great Friday, and I look forward to “seeing” you at one of our weekend services.

Blessings,
Chris 



I believe

Dear Church Family,

Happy Friday! I’m excited to begin a new preaching series with you this weekend called “Credo.” The title comes from the Latin word for “I believe.” In this series, we’ll be exploring the most important of our beliefs, which is what we believe about God. Our guide for this series will be the Apostles’ Creed, a profoundly simple (and simply profound) statement of faith crafted by the early Christians. The earliest appearance of the Apostles’ Creed occurred sometime around 150AD (though its final version didn’t take form until the 300sAD). The creed was developed as a way to safeguard, preserve, and transmit the faith to future generations.

The outline for the 6-part series will be as follows:
  1. God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth
  2. Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord
  3. The Holy Spirit
  4. The Church and the Communion of Saints
  5. The Forgiveness of Sins
  6. The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting
 
This weekend, we’re going to take a closer look at the first line: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” So make sure to catch the service online!
 
We’re now in the sixth week of offering exclusively virtual worship due to the coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to change things up a bit and keep everyone on their toes, we’re going to be leading most (if not all) of worship remotely this weekend as well as adding a few other elements in for surprise. As a reminder, you can stream the services online at our regular times through our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cofumc/) or our Community of Faith website (www.communityoffaith.org/livestream-services/).  We’ll continue to monitor things as they develop, but for now our plan is not to have in-person worship until at least the middle of May. We’ll keep you posted as things change.

The last thing I’ll remind you of is that my Philippians Bible study begins this Thursday (April 30). The study will take place every Thursday evening at 6:30PM. As with worship, we’ll livestream the study through Facebook and our website. If you’d like to attend, please send me an email, so I can get you on the list for the handout (cjones@communityoffaith.org).

For other information about what’s going on in our church and how you can stay connected with us, check out the rest of this email. Have a great day!
 
Blessings,
Chris


Redeeming Failure

Dear Church Family,
 
You may recall that for our “Be, Go, DO!” service last year, I preached a short message titled “The Church Has Left the Building.” In the message, I talked about the origin of the phrase “Elvis has left the building” (which was first used at a Louisiana Elvis concert in the 1950s). Then, from there, I explained how our church was leaving the building that day to go out and serve the community in various ways.
 
In truth, the church has never been about the building. Yet so often we equate the work of the church with the physical building, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong. Our building is an important tool, and I’m grateful to God for the people who built it long before I ever arrived. In addition, I praise God for the countless memories we’ve shared in this space (baptisms, weddings, youth group meetings, worship services, etc.). But at the end of the day, our building is just that — a building. And Community of Faith exists with or without it.
 
The above truth is one we’ve all come to know and understand during these unprecedented days brought about by COVID-19. While we haven’t been able to physically meet in the building now for well over a month, our ministry has continued. The other day, a gentleman from Wisconsin reached out to me to let me know that while he and I have never met in person and he’s never stepped foot in our building, he’s been blessed by the ministry of our church through our online platform. What’s more, he’s grateful that he’s been able to enjoy virtual fellowship with us. So, Community of Faith, give God thanks and praise that God continues to use our church to impact human lives even in these days when the building is closed. 
 
Let me close by saying that I look forward to “seeing” all of you at some point on Saturday or Sunday for weekend worship. Julia, of course, is going to lead us with great music, and I’m going to preach a stand-alone message called “Redeeming Failure.” In the message, we’ll carefully look at the post-resurrection encounter that Jesus had with Peter on the beach. If you’d like to get a jump start on the message, I’d encourage you to read John 21.

Have a great rest of your day as you continue to be the person God has called you to be!

Blessings,
Chris
 
p.s., I want to quickly share with you some ways to stay connected with me during this pandemic. (Information about children and youth is included further below in this email.)
 
1. Virtual Coffee with the Pastor — Join me for prayer and conversation every Sunday and Tuesday evening from 6-7PM via GoToMeeting. Download GoToMeeting (which is a free app) and (if you didn’t get it in our email blast) email me for the access code to join the meeting (cjones@communityoffaith.org).
2. Morning Prayer with Pastor Chris — Beginning Monday, April 20, join me every day (Monday-Friday) at 8:30AM for a brief time of prayer. I will host the prayer time live on our church’s Facebook page. To join, make sure to be on our Facebook page during that time or you can review it later (www.facebook.com/cofumc). You should still be able to access the page without a Facebook account.

 

3. Philippians Bible Study — I will be leading a Thursday evening Bible study starting April 30. I will host the study live from the building, and you can join either through the live-streaming page of our website (www.communityoffaith.org/livestream-services) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cofumc). Email me to get on the list for the handout.  


Early on Sunday morning

Dear Church Family,
 
In so many ways, it doesn’t feel like Easter. There are no plans to visit family. We’re not expecting a big crowd (or any crowd for that matter) at the church building this weekend. There’ll be no handshakes at the door or the smell of Easter lilies in the air. We’ll be welcoming the resurrection of our Lord from home this year, and we’ll do so in an anxiety-ridden season, a season filled with unrest and uncertainty about the future. But then again, isn’t that how followers of Jesus welcomed the first Easter? The first Easter didn’t begin with celebration. It didn’t start off with shouts of victory and alleluia. Instead, it began in darkness.
  
Listen to how John starts the Easter account.
  
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…
John 20:1a (NLT emphasis mine)
 
John reminds us that it was dark that first Easter. Light and darkness are major themes in John’s Gospel, so John is not just talking about the time of day. He is saying that reality was bleak. Jesus had been executed. The Lord of life — who had welcomed the outcast, fed the hungry, healed the blind, and cast out demons — had been tried unjustly and put on a Roman cross. There was no cause for hope. There was no reason for celebration. Life was bad. And yet God stepped into the darkness that first Easter even as God did in the story of Creation and brought forth light – he resurrected his Son from the dead.
  
Perhaps for the first time ever you and I will be experiencing Easter from the same vantage point of those first followers of Jesus. We’ll be reminded that, even while it’s dark, God is up something, and his resurrection power is at work. Thanks be to God.
 
Blessings,
Chris
 
p.s., Just a reminder that our Good Friday service is later tonight at 6:30PM. Our normal Easter Weekend Services will be as follows: Saturday at 6:30PM, and Sunday morning at 8:30AM and 10:30AM. Finally, we will have a Sunrise Service at 6:30AM on Sunday. We hope you will join us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cofumc/) or on our website (www.communityoffaith.org/livestream-services/) for all these services.
 


Holy Week 2020

Dear Church Family,

I was 14 when 9/11 happened. I had just started my freshman year of high school and actually wasn’t even in school that day. Instead, I was at a hotel.

At the time, my dad was in business, and the company he worked for was holding a conference at the historic Don Caesar Hotel in St. Petersburg. Since his company was already paying for the hotel room, my dad thought it’d be fun if our family came along to enjoy the experience. So that’s what we did. All 5 of us – my mom, my dad, my younger brother, my older sister, and me – piled in my dad’s 1990 Toyota Corolla and drove to St. Petersburg. We stayed at the hotel Monday night, and then Tuesday morning was the conference. Only the conference never happened. Early that morning just before 9:00AM, my brother and I left the room to “get ice” (which was really just an excuse to explore the hotel unattended), and when we came back, our parents’ eyes were glued to the TV as they watched in horror our nation come under attack.

I was talking to somebody in our church recently who mentioned to me that to her the coronavirus pandemic feels a bit like 9/11. In some ways, I can relate to that feeling. Now please don’t mishear me. Obviously, these are two extremely different events. One was a planned attack, an act of pure evil carried out by deluded terrorists bent on the destruction of America, and the other is a global health pandemic for whom no one is responsible. Still, some of the effects of these two events feel similar. There’s a heightened sense of anxiety. There’s fear of the unknown. There’s a growing death toll. And all of us have this shared sense that once all this is over, things are never going to be the same moving forward. Just like 9/11 changed travel and other parts about our country, the coronavirus pandemic is going to change things and leave a lasting impression with us.

 

For now, we walk through this valley. But be assured we don’t walk it alone. First, we have each other – our sisters and brothers in the faith – and we lean on each other for emotional support, encouragement, and reassurance. But we also have our God, who calls us his children (1 John 3:1a), and who, in Jesus Christ, promises that he’ll always be with us (Matthew 28:20b). Take comfort knowing that the God of love goes before you, and that no matter how dark and scary and bleak things get, God is there, and his care and provision remain.   

I want to remind you that we’re still not holding in-person worship, and with the Governor’s recently issued stay at-home order for the entire state, that’s going to be the case now through at least until the end of April. We’ll continue to update you as information becomes available. In the meantime, join us as we host all our regular services online, either on our website (www.communityoffaith.org/livestream-services/) or on our Facebook page (wwww.facebook.com/cofumc/). 

 

In addition, keep in mind that this coming week is Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter, when we commemorate Jesus’ final days on earth). Be sure to “attend” as many of our Holy Week services as possible, which are as follows:
  • Palm Sunday weekend – Saturday, April 4 @6:30PM, and Sunday, April 5 @8:30AM and 10:30AM
  • Maundy Thursday – Thursday, April 9 @6:30PM
  • Good Friday – Friday, April 10 @6:30PM
  • Easter Sunrise – Sunday, April 12 @6:30AM
  • Easter Weekend – Saturday, April 11 @6:30PM, and Sunday, April 12 @8:30AM and 10:30AM. 

 

As one of my clergy colleagues put it, EASTER HAS NOT BEEN CANCELED. The coronavirus will not stop our celebration of the resurrection of the Son of God and God’s victory over sin, death, and evil.

Finally, I want to end this note by thanking you for your continued financial support of Community of Faith during these difficult days. Because of your faith-filled generosity, Community of Faith continues to offer life-giving ministry to God’s children, not just in the Four Corners, but because of our online ministry, to the larger world. If you’re not already aware of giving options, you can give online (www.communityoffaith/giving/), or you can mail in your offering to our address (9120 Teacher Lane Davenport, FL 33896). Thank you again.

 

Know that I continue to hold each of you in my prayers, and I’ll “see” you this weekend for one of our Palm Sunday services.

Blessings,
Chris   



the Psalmist reminds us that our help doesn’t come from anywhere or anyone, but God alone

Dear Church Family,

 

I want to begin this email with a word of Scripture.

 

1 I look up to the mountains-

   does my help come from there?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

   who made heaven and earth! 

Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT)

 

I’m finding solace in the Psalms these days, particularly the one I just referenced, in which the Psalmist reminds us that our help doesn’t come from anywhere or anyone, but God alone. Rest assured that God has not left us or abandoned us, and that God is indeed going to get us through these difficult days. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the day when we can all be together again in person. Until then, I’m grateful for the opportunities we have to connect online.

 

Some of you have asked me what you can be doing during these tough days to support the church. I would encourage you to do at least three things:


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Jesus as the Good Shepherd

Dear Church Family,
 
Though we’re not able to be together in person, we as a congregation are finding other ways to stay connected. For example, we livestreamed my Lenten Bible study last night. (If you’d like to join the next session, which will take place on Thursday, March 26 at 6:30PM, please send me an email at cjones@communityoffaith.org. I’ll send you the link as well as a copy of the handout.) We’re also going to upload a prerecorded service and livestream it at our regular weekend worship times of 6:30PM on Saturday and 8:30AM and 10:30AM on Sunday.  Feel free to join the service via Facebook (www.facebook.com/cofumc/ ) or on our website (www.communityoffaith.org/livestream-services/). We need each other now more than ever, so take advantage of every opportunity you can to stay in touch with us virtually. And, if we can help along the way, let us know! Though the building is closed, the work of the church continues.  
 
As you’re well aware, this is a vulnerable time for so many of us, which is bound to have an impact on the church. That’s why your ongoing financial support of Community of Faith is so critical. If you haven’t set up an online giving account, now is the time to do so (www.communityoffaith.org/giving). Or, if you prefer, you can mail in your offering to our address (9120 Teacher Lane, Davenport, FL 33897). The other day, one of our church members came by the office and dropped off a larger than normal offering. When I called her to thank for her sacrificial generosity, she said to me something to the effect of, “I know it’s going to be hard for so many people during these weeks. However, my income isn’t affected. Therefore, if I can go above and beyond to fill in the gap, I’m going to do it and encourage others to do the same.” I was inspired by this woman’s comment and blown away by her commitment to look beyond herself to the needs of others. Again, your financial support of Community of Faith is what keeps our ministry running. Thank you for your faith-filled giving!  

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An Important Note from Pastor Chris regarding COVID-19 (the Coronavirus)

Dear Church Family,
 
I’ve shared with nearly every person with whom I’ve talked over the past week that these are unique times in which we’re living. I’m sure you’ll agree. Every day we’re learning new information regarding the development of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. One thing seems to be clear: as much as we might desire otherwise, the coronavirus isn’t going to go away apart from swift and decisive action on our part. This action includes ceasing all forms of public gatherings. For this reason, Community of Faith (at the strong recommendation of the Center for Disease Control and our Florida area Bishop) will no longer host in-person worship services at least until the end of March. In addition, we will no longer host the Easter Egg Hunt and are suspending building activities such as Bible studies and other programs. Please know I struggle as I write these words because I value our corporate time together. However, the health and safety of our community is of utmost concern. 
 
In place of in-person worship, we will pre-record our service for the weekend and then upload the service on livestream on Saturday night at 6:30PM and on Sunday morning at 8:30AM and 10:30AM. In addition, we are going to explore other ways of staying connected virtually. For example, I will livestream my Thursday evening Bible study at 6:30PM, and Kathy Beuttenmuller (Director of Children’s and Families Ministries) and David Stump (Youth Director) are going to send devotional type videos. The latter will ensure the ongoing spiritual development of our kids, students, and their families. If you’d like to be included on their list, please email them directly (kbeuttenmuller@communityoffaith.orgdstump@communityoffaith.org).

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I can do all this through him who gives me strength

Dear Church Family,

The other day, I enjoyed a phone conversation with a dad in our congregation whose son is going to be baptized and confirmed this weekend. This father told me how much Community of Faith has meant to his family over the past 2 years since they’ve been attending, and how excited he is for his son to take this next big step in his journey of faith.

This weekend at our Sunday 10:30AM service, we have 6 youth who will be confirmed, 3 of whom will also be baptized. I’m so grateful for Kathy Beuttenmuller (Director of Children’s and Family Ministries), David Stump (Youth Director), and all our children and youth volunteers who continue to invest in our young people, making sure our church is reaching the next generation for Christ. What’s more, I’m grateful for all of you who donate to Team 3:16, our youth scholarship fund, which makes sure our youth can fully participate in all the events of the ministry (camp, mission trips, etc.). You’ll hear more about Team 3:16 this weekend as well as other ways to support our youth.

Thank you, Community of Faith, for being the kind of congregation that you are. I’m proud to be your pastor.


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7 – the biblical number of completion

Dear Church Family,

Seven. That’s the biblical number of completion/wholeness, and it seems to be the special number for our church this Lent.

Last weekend in worship, for example, we kicked off a new series focusing on the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel. Then in our Thursday evening Bible study, we’re unpacking the seven last words/phrases of Jesus from the cross. (By the way, 81 people have signed up to attend that study!) I hope that this series and study are meaningful to you as you seek to enrich your journey with God this season.


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