Wednesday, July 29 2020 by Jake Authier
I will warn you ahead of time that this is a pretty long post but please take the time to read through it all.
This has been a really strange year. It started with an impeachment hearings, moved into Covid-19 which is still on going, protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, and now we are in hurricane season. Sheltering in place, social distancing and staying away from groups is the norm. Not being able to be with family and friends has taken its toll on all of us. Zoom means something different then it did just a few months ago. Avoiding listening to the news is something a lot of us are trying to do just to keep sane. Opening and closing of churches trying to minister during this time. Can’t wait to see what the second half of the year has in store for us.
Our jobs as a church staff have changed significantly, and it has not been easy. We’ve had to learn new ways to communicate. Zoom meetings are the norm. Some Sunday school classes and small groups continue to meet online. We’ve had to develop new ways of reaching people and providing as much normalcy as possible. Children’s Ministry has had to be extremely creative to be able to provide VBS this year, online! Children’s Ministry also provides weekly Sunday school lessons that are sent out with the needed materials and links to videos designed for each age group. Developing and delivering the needed supplies for kids to be able to participate from home requires a different set of skills but they have pulled it off beautifully. Providing online services requires more planning, different production skills, people providing content remotely. Developing new programs to keep people connected to Heritage like Eric’s Monday night Bible study, Pastor John’s Tuesday night prayer time and Pastor Matt’s online Bible study on Wednesday nights. Youth ministry has held several fun nights for the youth and their parents, all socially distant; road rallies, scavenger hunts. A daily devotion series has been developed and is being sent to all of the youth. Grief Share and Divorce Care ministries continue online and we continue to contact our shut-ins as much as possible. We’ve worked with small group leaders to provide access to online studies and resources to continue their ministries. As you know, we had worked to be able to open earlier this month but we’ve had to back that off due to the spike in cases in Pinellas County. That was a huge effort to try and determine how best to open and then set up the church to meet all of the requirements. Several churches had reopened but most of those have closed down again. We are still sorting out when the Growing Place will open based on decisions by the Pinellas County School Board and our own church leadership.
It’s been a tough year for our missionaries as well. Most of their funding has dried up because so many people are out of work and businesses are closed or at a reduced capacity. Heritage had to make some difficult decisions when we first stopped meeting as a congregation. Funds were not coming in as they normally do so we notified all of the missionaries we support that we were going to have to suspend paying them for a period of time. We did pledge that we would do everything we can to make up the shortfall by the end of the year. Everyone of them responded positively and understood our predicament. I’m glad to report that after two months we were able to restore their payments. But giving continues to be down and who knows what the future holds as it relates to our being able to meet again.
There are many areas where we have continued to be the church. The first and third Tuesdays of each month we deliver food to the homeless at Safe Harbor that is run by the Sheriff’s Department. They shut us down for a month but we are back up and running, but in a different way. We typically would make the food, deliver and serve it. Now we still make it but we can only deliver it, we cannot serve. We are still providing food for an average of 350 people each time.
Our Foster to Foster closet has been officially closed but we did provide services by appointment. We are now back up and running Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9:00 – 12:00 and Wednesday evenings from 6:00 – 8:00. During this time people continued to donate to the closet and we were overwhelmed by the amount that was given. We also had a chance to make some changes and reorganize the building. That is almost complete and when it is we will hold an open house when we can all get back together again. The closet has become a favorite place for foster families to come and get clothes, toys, games, car seats, cribs, and pretty much anything else they need. We even have frozen chicken and hamburg available!
All through this time we have continued to deliver food to the three food pantries we support. The “Pop the Trunk” food drive we did back in June along with 14 other churches was a huge success. We delivered over 3 tons of food! Each week we purchase food for Church and Community Outreach and the Mattie Williams Community Center and we give The Safe House at Mount Olive a monthly amount for them to purchase what they need. There is still a great need so on August 15th we will be holding a second food drive so start saving up non-perishable foods to be delivered to Heritage that Saturday morning between 9:00 and 12:00. Keep your eye out for more information as we get closer to that day.
Earlier in the summer we were notified by one of our missionary partners, Pete Belon the leader of Cornerstone Ministries who work with the Navajo Nation, that there was a desperate need for food. The coronavirus had hit the Navajo Nation hard. Not only had the tribe been devastated by the virus but 11 pastors had died from it. It was so bad that the surrounding communities were not allowing the Navajo to enter their stores to buy provisions. Pete was arranging for a semi-trailer of food to be delivered but needed funding to make the purchase. We put out the call to our congregation and you stepped up in a big way. Heritage was able to provide the majority of the funding needed and the food was delivered and distributed. Here are a couple of pictures.
So Heritage is still being the church we have always been. We continue providing ministries in all areas and are willing to entertain ideas you might have to reach others as well as our members. Our missions teams have continued to provide services as before even if we have to adapt to the “new normal”. Our missionaries are working harder then ever to reach people for Christ. And it has been amazing to see how the staff at Heritage has worked together to keep things moving forward, many times crossing over into other areas and learning new skills in order to do it. One thing we have learned is that when we cannot meet on a regular basis as a congregation communication to you can sometimes fall through the cracks. Going forward we plan to rectify that. Bookmark the Heritage webpage (heritageumc.com) and check out what the ministries of the church are doing; read the blog that is posted; if you have questions or are interested in starting a ministry, let us know. We cannot do any of this without you. It’s because of your faithfulness and trust we are able to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. Let’s continue to be the best church for Clearwater!
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