Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ:

I remember so clearly a day back in February when the church office was buzzing. It was a Tuesday, which meant that Betty Presley and Susan Conkling were our office volunteers for the day. I stopped at the volunteer desk to visit for a moment and Susan was sharing information her daughter had given her and Leon about what was happening in China. If you’ve ever talked to Susan, you’ll know she has some of the best stories. Quite funny, too. But on this day, our conversation led us to discussing how we would manage things should this virus make its way to the States or Oklahoma.

I knew people were stock-piling toilet paper and sanitizer, canned goods and water. I knew Oklahomans loved their bread and milk when snowstorms were predicted. I knew I made it through Y2K, and I remembered the crates of water that were in my parents’ garage for what felt like years. I thought for a moment, “maybe I should be doing something at my home?” The thought passed over me, as I had a rather naïve sense of security, and I went on with my tasks. “It won’t affect us,” I thought.

It wasn’t until I traveled out of town to see family in Las Vegas that I started to feel very aware that things were not normal. McCarran airport in Las Vegas is a buzzing international airport, and I found it a ghost town. On the drive to meet family, my Uber driver took me on a portion of the Las Vegas strip. There were very few people to be seen. It was a peak time. We went out for a dinner one evening, at a high demand restaurant that is typically hard to get into and found it barren. Only three tables were full. I started to wonder if the rapture happened and I was left behind.

It wasn’t very long after my return, that everything started shutting down. I would never have believed you if you had told me we would experience the pandemic we have and that our ways of life would be so drastically altered and uncertain. To think that we have all been pushing through for four months at this point, is simply hard to fathom. Many have been homebound, unable to see family, friends and neighbors. Many have not only kept working, but seen their hours increase, especially medical teams on the front lines. Many have lost hours at work or lost their jobs completely. It’s been a slog, depleting our spiritual and emotional reserves, not to mention the financial reserves of many.

While we have begun to make efforts towards some semblance of normalcy, whatever that is, the truth is we all feel the reality that we are quite a way from experiencing life as it was in February. Could we be awakening to a new normal? What is God’s will in this post-pandemic world? Has our way of life been irreversibly altered?

There is not a handbook to surviving global pandemics. However, there is an abundance of scripture that guides us on this journey. We do have scriptural passages and narratives, history and parables, that all teach us of hope and the needed perseverance of our faith. You may feel incredibly exhausted, overwhelmed with anxiety and unanswered questions. This is to be expected. Many are feeling this way. I want to encourage you to stay the course of faith that God has placed in front of you. I, too, feel the weight of uncertainties, but I implore us all to lean on that which is eternal and always certain, the power and love of God. From here, we can draw comfort.

Every day you wake up and push through the difficulties before you, you are doing the will of the One who created you. Every day, when you love a neighbor through prayer or an act of service, when you worship, when you pray, when you sit with scripture, you are doing the will of the One who has called you Beloved. Every evening, even on the most difficult days, you have stayed your course and made it to another sunset. Siblings, in this life we will experience many days of suffering and many days of uncertainty. Yet, God’s promises never change. God’s mercies are new every morning, and God’s joy can be found in loving God and our neighbor. You are doing well. Keep the faith. If I can help you in any way, be an encourager to you or merely a sounding board, I am here. Pastoral care and spiritual direction are available to you at no cost. You are not walking this path alone, but with all of us in this community of faith.

I have enclosed for you the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer I shared in Sunday’s sermon. As we join together as a community of faith in prayer for our world and one another, I encourage you to draw strength and purpose from these words. Hold tight to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading and meditating on the scriptures, worship, fasting, and sharing your faith with others. Do all the good you can. Do no harm. Stay in love with God. Remember, you are beloved, and God is always with you.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe

The Wesley Covenant Prayer

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

John Wesley adapted this prayer from the Puritan tradition that was so important to his parents, Samuel and Suzannah, and life in the Epworth rectory. It informed his theology and preaching. He expected the people called “Methodists” to pray this prayer at the beginning of each new year as a way of remembering and renewing their baptismal covenant.

The prayer describes the life of a participant with Christ in his mission. It is a practical description of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Baptism marks the beginning of life in Christ and his ecclesia, a people who “profess to pursue holiness of heart and life; universal love filling the heart and governing the life.” The Covenant prayer helps us remember what this Jesus-way of life looks like and what loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor as our self, requires of us.

When we pray this prayer, we remember that we are baptized. We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin. We accept the freedom and power God gives to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, trust wholeheartedly in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union with the church. And we renew our promise to live as faithful members of Christ’s church and serve as his representatives in the world.

The Covenant Prayer describes missional life devoted to following Jesus and serving as Christ’s representative in the world he loves and is working to redeem. It tells us that being a Christian is more a way of life than a system of beliefs. The Covenant Prayer describes the Jesus way of self-giving and self-emptying love.

BY STEVE MANSKAR, UMC Discipleship Ministries