Family Ties March 2021

Reverend William M. Englund

Pastor Bill and Pastor Sheila at the clergy prayer march after the killing of George Floyd.

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has challenged ‘who we are’ as a church. In our 171-year-old history we have never before faced an extended crisis like this.

First Baptist Church is housed in a grand old building, but its true identity is its members. We are people who are partners working together for God.

In 2020 we have been tested. We have been forced to ‘socially distance’ from one another in order to help keep each other safe and well. Our apartness is grounded in our understanding of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This has not been easy or come naturally. Church is place of connection and loving touch.

At times, it has been frustrating deciding what to do. There never seemed to be enough reliable information about how we should proceed. There have often been conflicting messages in the media, even about the basic understandings of our circumstances. The question before us was also “how are we to be the church?”

Thanks to communication technologies new (ZOOM and the internet) and old, (telephones and ‘snail mail’) we have attempted to sustain the life of this congregation despite the physical distance between us.

I would discover as I would have telephone visits with people that networks of support had already been established among member. People were calling and checking in with each other. This was encouraging to me. It was evidence that we were the Body of Christ. Thank you to all of you who chose to reach out to fellow members.

In these times, a big concern was finances. Without regular in-person worship and fellowship opportunities we wondered “would people continue to support the church?” The financial support that members of this church have provided to maintain the staff and building has been overwhelming. In spite of all that has happened we have not had to “dip into” the endowment. And through this difficult year, the endowment has grown. Thank you to all of you who have continued to generously support the ministry of this church.

On occasions when I have been able to physically be with people, it has been heart-warming. These ‘little reunions’ have been poignant reminders of our absence from each other. Thank you all for your faithfulness and “hanging in there”. It has, at times, called for an extra measure of thoughtfulness and patience.

2020 was to be a year of forward-looking envisioning of who we were as a church and where God was leading us. With the aid of competent consultants, we were already involved in a process of discernment.

It began as a year of transition: the much-needed service to families without permanent housing that had been offered by The Family Place was now being provided by Project Home. There were details that needed to be worked out. Project Home was also busy establishing a good working relationship with a fellow tenant, Waterlily Montessori School, which was just getting underway. It promised to be a busy year. Little did we know?!

Lori and I had taken a short vacation just before things closed down at the beginning of March. We were driving back to Minnesota when the virus was beginning to make itself felt. The ground seemed to be shifting under our feet. So many things needed to be changed and adapted. I felt helpless being away.

It was at this time that I became aware of how much I would come to depend on Pastors Saul and Sheila. Their leadership from the very beginning of the Covid-19 crisis has been crucial. We are blessed to have them working on our behalf.

Sheila’s regular devotions were and continue to be thoughtful and perceptive of the situations we’re facing. They have been an important tie that has helped bind us together.

Mid-March many things came to screeching halt. We could not meet safely face-to-face. We adjusted staff schedules to limit our exposure to each other as we were wondering and planning how we would get things done. There were a couple of committees formed. Protocols were developed as a response to the prevalent threat of infection. Antiseptic and additional cleaning supplies were acquired (toilet paper was secured).

We had to make decisions about how to safely conduct funerals. We learned to sit apart and be aware of social interaction.

We leaned on Nancy Johnson and her church member internet address list to keep people connected and informed with updates about events.

We learn how to do ZOOM meetings, though often confusing at first. We began to broadcast worship services and Sunday School via Facebook. We celebrated Advent with recorded messages. A Christmas Eve service was recorded days ahead of December 24th in order for members to be able to “tune in” when they held family celebrations.

Throughout this time, associated groups – Hope Community Church, Project Home, Waterlily Montessori School and Main Idea Alcoholics Anonymous met in our building and continued to support the church financially. We thank them and are grateful for their partnership in ministry.

2021 will be a time of picking up where we left off, restarting and retooling how we are as a church. I believe, by the grace of God, that we will begin again with a stronger sense of who we are and the strength of the community. We were involved in an envisioning process before we had to discontinue face-to-face meetings in March. I hope that we will be able to resume that forward-looking planning using lessons we have learned from this “wilderness” period: who we are and how we are.

With a renewed sense of importance of community perhaps we will develop strategies for the future that we would not have imagined pre-Covid.

We necessarily have learned to be flexible. May we become a pliant vessel that the Holy Spirit can shape and mold.

Reverend Sheila Ahlbrand

This is a year that I don’t think any of us will soon forget. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic the church has been faced with challenges that we have never imagined before this time. This fall we did a sermon series on Moses and the Exodus journey and I realized that in so many ways this year has felt like time in the wilderness – a time of testing and vulnerability – but also a time of learning to trust in God as God guides us on our journey. 

            Sometimes it is easy to forget that a year ago things were very different than they are now. The church was busy and thriving in wo many ways. I was personally involved in two projects that had me very excited about the future of First Baptist. In 2019 I started a mentorship program working with four young adults from our congregation and in early 2020 I was seeing the fruits of that program as I watched these enthusiastic young people take turns teaching and leading our youth Sunday School and TLC group. It was such a joy to watch them and it gave me such hope and confidence for the future.

            I was also part of the Strategic Planning Committee that was working with the church consultants to start thinking about the future of our church. Previously we had asked people from the congregation to share their hopes and dreams for First Baptist and Eh Soe Dwe and Giri Kasuh made a beautiful bulletin board full of our hopes and dreams floating like clouds! Meanwhile the Strategic Planning Committee was looking at all of those hopes and dreams and forming teams to explore how we could make those dreams into a reality. We were planning and dreaming, asking questions and listening. We were excited!

            Other things were happening too. We had started a fellowship hour between services, greeters of all ages were enthusiastically welcoming people, I was teaching a baptism class, there was going to be a late-night Lenten meeting for young adults. Church felt like a warm and welcoming place to be – people were feeling enthusiastic and connected and there was unity growing in our communities as we worked together for the Kingdom of God . . . and then the world changed.

            I can remember hearing about the coronavirus on the news and how the people in Wuhan, China were in quarantine. It seemed like a terrible story, but something very far away that wouldn’t affect us. Then we heard about the first cases showing up in the United States. And then, I can still remember the day – March 13 – I was getting into my car after running some errands, and I heard Gov. Walz announce that he was declaring a state of emergency – in order to stop the spread of coronavirus here in Minnesota.

            Pastor Bill was out of town, so I immediately when to church and started calling church leaders for an emergency meeting the next day to decide what to do about church. There was still so little we knew at the time. But we decided to honor the governor’s warning and we cancelled church. In a subsequent meeting we decided to not have services for ten weeks in accordance with CDC guidelines. It was a heartbreaking decision. We couldn’t imagine not coming together to worship for that long. But, of course, that was only the beginning. Here we are nearly a year later and we still aren’t back to normal. As I write this over 450,00 people have died of coronavirus in the United States and over 6,300 have died here in Minnesota. Those numbers are still just difficult to comprehend – the loss of all those lives is overwhelming.

            On top of everything else this has also been a year of social unrest that has really hit close to home. After the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis there were riots and protests in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some of the riots took place less than a mile from my home. There was smoke and helicopters, shouting and uncertainty. For the first time in my memory there were city-wide curfews for people’s safety. In the aftermath of the unrest Pastor Bill and I participated in a clergy prayer march in St. Paul, walking together with clergy from many faiths down University Avenue, past wreckage of the violence. It was a powerful reminder of the racial inequity in our country and the need for healing, justice and peace – as we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

            In the middle of all of these challenges in our world we have been called to learn new ways of being the church – how to stay connected when we can’t be together, how to give encouragement to people who are facing all kinds of challenges, how to share the good news in a world that seems like it is coming apart. And we have not been perfect. We have learned, through trial and error, how to best record morning worship online. We have learned how to use Zoom so we can have meetings without being in person. We have figured out how to be there for each other in many different ways. Back in 2018 when we started raising money for the consultants we told people that “in the Bible when it talks about the church it never refers to a building, but always to people, that in the Bible people never go to church, they are the church!” That is what we have been constantly reminded of this year. Church isn’t a building – it is the people who come together as a community – and that is what we have been trying our best to do.

            One of the things that I have done to try to bring people together as a community is to write a daily (or as close as I can!) devotional. This is something that I had thought about doing before, but it never seemed like the right time. But during the days when we went into actual lockdown, God nudged me and said, “Now is the time!” Writing these devotionals has been a way for me to feel connected with God and with all of you as we walk through this time together.

            Finally, I feel that I should also share about a personal wilderness that I faced this year. In September my 80-year-old father had a fall and went into the hospital, where they were also dealing with some other underlying issues as well. When he was released from the hospital, they sent him home instead of into rehabilitation. He called me when he got home, and it was obvious that he wasn’t able to take care of himself. There was no one else to take care of him so I had to drive down to Illinois to care for him. I thought I would be there for a week or two until we got him better help, but things did not go as planned. I ended up being there for six weeks! Near the end of that time my father had congestive heart failure and ended up dying in the hospital.

            This was a trying time, although it was also full of blessings. I am so grateful that I got to spend that time with my father, and I am so grateful for the support and encouragement I received from the people of First Baptist that made it possible for me to be there – and for the strength to make it through. It was wonderful to finally come back home and I found that getting back to the work of the church and reconnecting with all of you helped me to heal in my time of grief.

            The theme of wilderness has come up for me again and again this year. The wilderness is a time of testing – of hardship, sometimes of complaining and frustration, but I am always reminded that the wilderness was also a place where the people got stronger, where they learned to trust in God, where God provided for them and where they were prepared for what was going to happen next. This year has been hard, but God has provided for us. It feels like we have been in a state of suspension, of waiting, but I still think that there are amazing things in store for this church. I think that God has been working in us during this time in ways that we cannot understand. And when we come through this wilderness time, we will find ourselves amazed at what God has in store for us as we journey forward.

Pastor Sheila Ahlbrand

Reverend Saul Lu

In 2020 we faced the Coronavirus but thank the Lord for protecting us and keeping our health we can enter 2021 with God’s strength. Because of God’s blessing I was happy to work for First Baptist Church.

Pastor Activities:

  1. In 2020 because I caught COVID 19 I had to be hospitalized for 6 days and was able to come home after that through God’s protection.
  2. We have FBC Karen Service at 12:30pm on Facebook live. Every month, the church leaders lead the service for the first two Sundays. The youth leads another Sunday, the women’s group leads one Sunday, and if the month has five weeks, Sunday School leads the service that week.
  3. Clean the church and take care of the snow. I have helpers to help me clear out the snow around the church.
  4. Visit homebound and sick members.
  5. Have prayer service for members who are celebrating home blessing, birthdays, and any members who are going through a hard time
  6. Give communion to homebound members in December.
  7. Go to different cities for weddings, communion, funeral, baptisms, and church blessing.
  8. This year KBC USA we had a weekly prayer on Zoom every Friday.
  9. This year KBC USA we had Bible study on Zoom every Saturday.
  10. This year KBC USA we had a prayer service for COVID 19 on Zoom every Tuesday
  11. This year KBC USA we had mission training on Zoom.
  12. This year we had a Zoom meeting for the annual Midwest North Area meeting.
  13. This year during Christmas time we had caroling to bless the church members on Facebook live.
  14. We had a New Year’s prayer service the first week of 2021.

May God’s blessing be upon you all.

Pastor Saul Lu

Even in the midst—or especially in the midst—of the COVID-19 pandemic, the persistence of kingdom ministry is essential. Your gifts to America for Christ (AFC) support ABHMS’ ministries of discipleship in the quest to equip people for the work of faith-initiation (evangelism) and faith formation (Christian education). In the spring of 2020, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Johnson, ABHMS national coordinator of evangelism and discipleship, provided Got Style?® training on natural ways to share the gospel to five dozen core clergy, key church leaders and general laity from the Kachin Baptist Churches of America. Unable to gather in person, participants across the country connected online for multiple hours of inspiration and instruction.
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