Letter - Sept. 2020
Ministry in a COVID-19 world has felt in many ways like the parable of the sower as we scatter ideas and dream opportunities for disciples to grow and flourish in less than optimal circumstances. In the parable of the sower, Christian disciples are given a brand new kingdom perspective on ministry. In Jesus’ time, planting seeds happened by broadcasting seeds, dropping them accidentally and by experimenting with the best growing environments. In the parable, we are shown that while some forms of planting work well, others are miserable failures, but all along the sower is watching, tending, and searching for the best place for seeds to fall for growth. Jesus’ intent as he tells this parable is to encourage those listening to create an extravagant, wise, and adaptive new approach to making disciples of Christ. Now more than ever the church is being encouraged to think creatively about what might be possible when we follow the lead of the extravagant sower.
Our times demand flexibility and discernment to provide for the spiritual needs of many in our congregation. As we move into the fall months, we are adapting our worship and discipleship opportunities to include the following:
*Sunday morning Ministry Pods --- Beginning on October 4th at 10am, ministry groups of 20 people will be able to attend our live streaming worship in person, which will allow us to remain in compliance with the county’s indoor gathering limit of 25 individuals. To take advantage of this opportunity you must call the church office on Monday mornings to reserve your place. We are asking that you call no more than quarterly to reserve a spot as this will allow others an opportunity to participate. After you have reserved your seat, on the corresponding Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. you must meet the Health and Wellness volunteers to have your temperature checked. Please bring a face mask as they are required at all times while indoors, and sit with your household at one end of a designated pew.
*Wednesday Evening Zoom Vespers---Beginning on October 7th at 7pm, Wednesday evening Zoom vespers will replace Saturday night worship by offering an interactive time of prayer and conversation for those looking for something more relational. Look for the Zoom link in our Friday email blast as in quiet study and reflection we prepare ourselves for Sunday morning worship.
*Adult discipleship opportunities --- Look for more information in our upcoming newsletter which will include opportunities to grow and expand your faith even when it feels as though what we are living through should not support life. Our Creator God uses the most unexpected places and moments to plant within us seeds of understanding and new life!
In the end, the extravagant sower does not have it all figured out before going into the field to plant a harvest. This sower trusts in the goodness of God to supply vital nutrients to support health and life. Whenever we are called to trust God in difficult circumstances, I have found that God does not disappoint. Join with me in praying for a new season at Baldwin Community UMC where we open our hearts and minds to God, who is the Great Sower, sprinkling seeds of faith and newness of life everywhere around us. Just look!
In great expectation of things to come,
Pamela S. Gardner, Senior Pastor
Update on Continuation of Online Worship - July 23, 2020
As promised, I have been carefully watching as the number of new COVID-19 cases has dramatically risen in our area over the past several weeks. The Allegheny County Health Department’s latest order on July 17th implemented stricter measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 25 people. As of today, our county has seen a reduction in virus spread over the past few days, but the county and state mandates have not yet been lifted. Even yesterday, the White House Coronavirus Task Force spokesperson, Dr. Deborah Birx, called on Pittsburgh to take a more aggressive stance in reducing positive cases of COVID-19.
Leading the church with wisdom and grace is, at best, difficult during a pandemic. The staff and I have worked tirelessly to make sure that Baldwin Community UMC has been provided the best possible ministry while preventing spread of the virus in our congregation and community. We want you to know that we feel the disappointment, discouragement, and anger at not being able to control our circumstances or perform ministry as we have been trained to. We are not alone. In a recent survey of local congregations, we are all making the hard decisions necessary to protect the health and well being of each congregation.
And so it is with heavy hearts that we announce that to do our part to limit the spread of the virus and to comply with local and state mandates, we will only be broadcasting worship online from the sanctuary on August 2nd. There will be no in-person worship in our sanctuary until the numbers of new COVID-19 infections are more stable and our local and state governments permit indoor gatherings for the size of our congregation.
Until that time, I invite you to join me for in-person worship in an outdoor setting on Wednesday evenings. For those longing for in-person worship, this will be a midweek time to gather outdoors, greet one another at a safe distance, and worship God with a brief time of evening vespers. I will send out more details soon, including location, time, and dates.
I would invite you to join with me in praying the question, “How can I make this trying time matter for myself and those around me?” Your creative ideas are welcome as we move into the fall. Please feel free to share your ideas! Right now we are planning to offer Saturday night online worship at 7pm broadcast from the chapel, Sunday morning live stream at 10am from the sanctuary, outdoor vespers on Wednesday evenings, Adult Sunday school at 11am on Zoom, Children’s Sunday School at 9am on Zoom, youth group, small groups, book studies and more, offering ways for you to grow as a disciple of Christ. We will stay connected by reaching out to one another in love. And we will continue to serve the community through the Lord’s Pantry, the summer lunch program for kids in the community, and by filling other needs as they arise.
Please join me in praying for the health and well being of our congregation and community. Together, let us move forward in hope.
Pastor Pamela S. Gardner
Update on Reentering In-Person Worship - July 8, 2020
As August 2nd approaches, we are busy making final preparations for worship in our sanctuary. Here is what you can expect upon arriving at the church building on August 2nd:
- Please plan to park in the church lot on Doverdell Drive as the back lot will be closed. Please enter by the Asbury Hall entrance to access the elevator to the sanctuary. Feel free to pull into the church circle to drop off all passengers with mobility concerns.
- The Asbury entrance and Sanctuary doors will open at 9:30 am. Please wear your mask to worship! If you forget your mask, one will be provided for you. As you enter the building, you will be asked a series of questions (Have you been feeling sick? Have you been around others who have been sick?) and your temperature will be taken with a touch-free thermometer. Anyone with a fever of 100.5 or higher will not be allowed in the building.
- Following your check-in, we ask that you move into the sanctuary by the center aisle. Please do not linger or visit with people before being seated. Members of your household should sit together. When entering the sanctuary, select an open pew that has not been blocked off, moving to the far side aisle seats first. Once the side aisle seats are occupied, then you may choose to sit at a center aisle seat. Please find your seat and remain seated. Restrooms should be used for emergency purposes only, either in the usher’s room or downstairs outside Asbury Hall.
- Worship services will not include greeting one another, singing, communion, or collection of the offering. Offering baskets will be located at the sanctuary doors where you can easily drop your envelope in the basket as you pass by. Bulletins will be sent in our weekly email blasts on Fridays; for those wishing to have a hard copy to read from, please print your page at home as they will not be distributed at the doors.
- Worship services will last approximately 30-40 minutes. Once the worship service is over, we ask that you leave by the side aisles and avoid congregating in groups inside the building. Socializing outside the building is welcome.
- Until there is a vaccine, we will be evaluating in person worship weekly and complying with local and state health mandates. For the latest information, see https://baldwincommunityumc.com/about-us/covid-19/.
We are asking you to be respectful and kind with each other, all volunteers, and the church staff as we work to make the best of a difficult situation. We know how frustrating life has become in response to COVID-19. Our goal at Baldwin Community UMC must be to provide an outstanding role model for the surrounding community and to celebrate our unity by doing our very best to stop the spread of this virus. Thank you for your ongoing prayers, generosity, and commitment to Baldwin Community UMC!
Update on Reopening - June 5, 2020
As soon as Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home orders took effect, moving us all into our homes, I began to hear questions about when we would host in-person worship. Writing this letter today, I realize that without knowing it, Baldwin Community UMC crossed over into a new way of being in ministry as we engaged the digital world. I am deeply grateful for the hours dedicated by Pastor Ginger and Ria Fruscello as they worked to understand what was necessary to engage our existing and emerging communities. Because of their tireless work, we are now a digital church. What does this mean? We can no longer go back to the way things were before the pandemic, and the choices that we make from here on out must be to prepare and plan for what it means to be a hybrid church (digital and in person). By being adaptive in our response, Baldwin Community UMC has found a “new lane,” and we have expanded our ability to create disciples for the transformation of the world.
Even though we have been designated as in the green phase, we are not yet ready for safe gatherings. Here are a few things being worked on:
1. Technology/Media Task Force – This group was originally intended to help guide the way we imagined our next hire to address tech and media needs. We now realize that this group will help us discern steps we need to take to keep our online community engaged and active as an extension of our community. We must be able to live stream our worship service which means we have equipment to purchase and volunteers to recruit for sound, cameras, and screens.
2. Health and Wellness Task Force – Determining standards for health and safe re-entry into the building, the Health and Wellness Task Force is currently recruiting volunteers to communicate social distancing rules both in worship settings and small groups as they begin to use our building again. We will not be able to return to the building until all volunteers have been recruited, trained, and are able to keep the highest standards of safety and wellness.
3. Over the past month I have been watching the Covid-19 trends, and I will continue to monitor the spread of infection in Allegheny County. My biggest concern is that we will no longer be as vigilant in the green phase and especially around July 4th, and so I have planned to begin in-person worship several weeks beyond July 4th to ensure the health and wellbeing of all.
For our congregation to return to our building for worship, the work of these two task force groups must be finished completely. An anticipated re-entry worship service will be held in the sanctuary on August 2nd at 10am. Anyone attending worship on this day must wear a mask and follow all social distancing precautions. Depending on your tolerance for risk, this announcement will either be a source of great disappointment or relief. We understand and affirm those who will choose to stay home and join us online where it is safest.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Pamela S. Gardner
Update on Reopening - May 14, 2020
Hello, Baldwin Community church family. We are now under stay at home orders for two months, and we miss you!
For weeks now, we have been experiencing worship online, and it’s truly not the same as being with you. Many are calling with questions about reopening the church building, since Gov. Wolf is planning to allow Allegheny County to move to the yellow phase on May 15th. Under the yellow phase, restrictions limit churches to 25 people in the building with masks and social distancing, which is problematic for a church our size. The truth is, we do want to be together again, and to worship God in the sanctuary the way we always have. But the pandemic changes everything, and at this point we feel like we are very unprepared to return safely. You need to know things are going to be different when we return, and the governor’s orders can’t take us back to the way things were before.
As you know, this virus spreads easily. The daunting responsibility that is before us is to make sure that when we gather again, we are doing all that we can to keep everyone well. A Health and Wellness Task Force is currently convening in concert with the pastors to create safety procedures and ensure that the church is ready before opening to any events, groups, or worship. Even though we have the Health and Wellness Task Force, we still need the commitment from everyone at church—every member—to hold to the restrictions that are set before us because we believe that this is part of our witness as our disciples of Christ.
Our bishop has asked that all churches use the yellow phase for planning and preparation. We agree that this is the right course of action, and we have decided we won’t be opening the building until we are in the green phase. We will continue with worship on Facebook, YouTube, and the website, meetings and classes using Zoom by internet and phone, and the staff working from home as much as possible. We believe this is the safest way forward for our congregation right now.
Once we do start to meet in person, it will not feel the same. Until there is a vaccine and adequate testing, we will wear facemasks, and still stay physically distant from one another for safety. We will not sing together, and the number of people allowed in the building will likely still be limited. The way we enter and leave the building will change to accommodate contact tracing. We will need to deploy a team of volunteers for every gathering at our facility, and they will be trained to enforce our safety procedures. It’s not going to feel like church felt just a few months ago.
Everyone is being asked to learn new things in this season. Some will be invited to learn how to log onto Zoom. Some will volunteer to record attendance at gatherings. Some will invite people to observe social distance. Right now, more than anything, we need everyone’s best adaptive spirit so that we are able to care for the health and wellness of all in the congregation and on staff.
In the meantime, we will be keeping in touch with updates and news, and we encourage you to continue to tune in to worship on Saturdays at 7:00 pm and Sundays at 10:00 am, with weekday devotions on Wednesdays at 11:00 am. May God bless you and keep you, in this time of pandemic, and always.
Pamela Gardner and Ginger Thomas
Wondrous news! End of Furloughs - April 28, 2020
The church office received news yesterday that our Payroll Protection Plan loan request was approved! What does this mean? Last evening, our Staff-Parish Committee voted to end the furlough of all staff. All staff have been notified that since the furlough was officially started on Friday and ended on Monday that no salary would be impacted by our decision last week.
We are sure that God heard our prayers during this difficult time, and we are grateful for the unexpected loan notification. Please continue to pray for our church leadership and staff throughout our statewide “stay at home” orders. Guiding our church faithfully is a heavy responsibility as we make hard decisions and keep watch over financial vulnerabilities so that we will emerge strong and vital when this is all over.
Peace! Be safe!
Rev. Pamela Gardner
Rev. Ginger Thomas
Update: Lay Shepherds- April 24, 2020
We are following the governor’s guidelines for social distancing and building closure, so as of now, we do not have a firm date for returning. Please don’t let this physical distance keep you from connecting with everyone. We have started a Lay Shepherds program in order to reach out to our members. If you are interested in helping, reach out to Pastor Pam Gardner or Ria Fruscello for more information. If you have specific needs, we are happy to help connect you to resources within and outside the church.
Pastoral Letter: Furloughs - April 22, 2020
Baldwin Community UMC friends,
Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support of our ministry! I know there are many days that I can feel your prayers and your presence as we make our way through this unexpected and unknown season. I am writing you today to share news that impacts our life together, and after my sharing would invite your ongoing prayers.
Immediately upon hearing the news regarding the Small Business Administration's plan for the Payroll Protection Plan, Pastor Ginger and John Barone organized our information and submitted a loan request. We were eligible for a loan, but as you may have heard, the money ran out before many small businesses could receive funding. Our bank has indicated to us that we will not receive funds at this time.
As you can imagine, this disappointing news meant that the leadership of our church would have to make hard decisions about staffing until after May 8th or when our Gov. Tom Wolf opens Allegheny County. As a result, last evening the Staff-Parish Relations Committee met to discuss next steps. It was decided unanimously that we would furlough the preschool teachers, the preschool assistant director, and both music directors. We hope this furlough will only last a couple months, and that Baldwin Community UMC will be able to call our music directors back immediately and our preschool workers back at the beginning of the school year.
The last few days have been difficult for all; please be in prayer. We are humbled by the grace and kindness reflected back to us by our staff as they received this news. We have a tremendous gift in our staff and we thank God for each and every one!
Rev. Pamela Gardner
Rev. Ginger Thomas
Helen Akers, Staff-Parish Relations Chairperson
New Online Worship Times - April 1, 2020
Beginning Saturday, April 4, 2020, live online worship will be streamed on the church's Facebook page:
Saturdays at 7:00 p.m.
Sundays at 10:00 a.m.
Update - March 25, 2020
The pastors and leaders of Baldwin Community United Methodist Church understand that the current pandemic is projected to get worse before it gets better. For this reason, we have decided to extend the closure of the church building through the month of April, with the exception of our hunger ministries—the Lord’s Pantry and Daily Bread. We plan to continue to follow the guidance of Gov. Tom Wolf as we seek to prioritize the health and wellbeing of our church and community. We are working on setting up a system of communication and care for the congregation, and we encourage congregation members to continue the ministry of checking on vulnerable individuals in the community. We are also working on plans to be able to celebrate Easter though we are apart. Please continue to be wise about limiting your exposure to others through hand washing, social distancing, and staying home, and begin making plans in case of illness or quarantine for your household. Let us love our neighbors in such a way that as the coronavirus spreads, our congregation can be a people who offer life-giving support when the community needs it most.
Worship with Building Closure:
Because our buildings are scheduled to be closed through April, we will not be gathering physically for worship. Don’t let this physical distance keep you from connecting with everyone. In order to help everyone keep that connection, we have an active Facebook page where we can still spend that time “together." At the regularly scheduled worship times of Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11:00 a.m., join us on the Baldwin Community United Methodist page. You can even watch it later if you miss the live feed. To access the page, you can click on the link above. Once you are on the Facebook page, make sure you have clicked to “like” it near the top of the page. The thumbs up symbol will be blue to indicate that you like it. Besides that option, you will see a button that says “following” which you can click and scroll down for options. You can even opt to see our church at the top of your news feed, if desired.
The Lord’s Pantry:
The Lord’s Pantry is making plans to continue food distribution with a few changes to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Contact Susan Eyrolles with any questions.
Pastors’ Letter -March 12, 2020:
Dear friends and members of Baldwin Community UMC,
We are staying abreast of what experts are reporting about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). What is clear is that canceling events, especially before an outbreak in the community occurs, will help people stay healthy and even save lives. For this reason, we have decided to close the church building to all activities, events, and programs beginning Monday, March 16th, including the Baldwin Community UMC Preschool and the Bright and Early Child Care program, for a period of two weeks. We understand the impact that this decision has on families and church members. Know this decision was not made lightly. We will reassess around March 29th the wisdom of reopening.
Beginning March 16th, you can stay connected to the church through emails from the church and through our Baldwin Community United Methodist Church Facebook page for the latest information from the church. We will live stream on the church Facebook page brief worship experiences at regular worship times (Saturday 5:30 p.m. and Sunday 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m.) as well as on Wednesday mornings at 11:00 a.m. for a Lenten devotion time. Though our church staff will mostly be working from home, please feel free to reach out to us by voicemail and email.
As we won’t be gathering for worship on March 22nd or 29th, we encourage you to stay connected to God. Rely on your routine of daily devotion and prayer or take the opportunity to create new routines. Make a space in your home that invites quiet and peacefulness, a place that invites you to sit quietly with God. Spend time reading scripture; the psalms can help us to talk with God and acknowledge our many emotions in this challenging time.
One of the things we will all miss most is our connection to each other. Please reach out to one another by phone call, card, or message. Hearing from you may make all the difference in someone’s day. We’ll be posting items on Facebook for you to engage with others, creating conversation and connection. We also encourage you to reach out to others who may be isolated, elderly, or vulnerable. Let’s remember that not everyone is on Facebook, so sharing news and updates with those not connected will keep us unified.
Take good care of yourself! Stay hydrated, eat regular meals, take your medications, and breathe deeply. Take time to call your friends and neighbors. Consider doing some spring cleaning or picking up some projects around the house that have been waiting to be done. And of course, wash your hands. Be in touch if you would like someone to pray for you or with you.
The whole congregation will be on our hearts and in our prayers until we gather again. What a glorious day that will be!
Pam Gardner and Ginger Thomas