As we welcome this special day of Thanksgiving, I want to say I know many of you are fatigued from navigating these unusual times as well as navigating work and school and society as a whole. There is lots of guidance on celebrating Thanksgiving with safety in mind for you and your family and we encourage you to do so. Remember it is not how many gather at our tables, but how thankful our hearts remain. An attitude of gratitude is also one of the secrets to resilience that we encourage each other to practice, so Thanksgiving helps us lean into this great truth as well as enjoy time with those closest to us. Thankfulness lifts our hearts and those around us. If you cannot be with those closest to you either because of the pandemic or simply the distance, then remember there is nothing quite like a good call from a family member or friend to brighten the day.
As we continue to navigate these challenging times, we are reminded that the first Thanksgiving was not simply a big meal but a time of true thankfulness. Our forefathers and mothers had endured a very challenging winter and even lost many loved ones, but with the help of their Native American friends planted a crop that turned into a bountiful harvest, so they showed their gratitude by sharing with their new Native American friends. It was a time of unity, celebration and true thankfulness. May it be for us as well.
Edward Winslow, one of 53 colonists who survived the first winter of in Plymouth and records events of the first autumn celebration in 1621 records it this way: "our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Like so many churches and other organizations, we continue to try to navigate through the current pandemic pivoting to make needed changes for safety and recommendations of the CDC and local government and then pivoting again as we reopen safely as well as continue the innovations that began with the pandemic to provide service for the widest possible audience in the safest manner possible.
A number of friends and associates have asked me to share our plans and reasoning for our reopening plans that might inform and better equip them as they respond to their situation. Our stages and timetable made sense for our organization in our place and time and would likely need modification for yours. However, the idea of staged reopening and the principles behind it may be helpful to others, so I offer it with that in mind.
Socially Distanced and Socially Responsible Reopening Plan
IUCC Stages & Guidelines
*Online Worship will continue permanently even after we gather for in-person worship
Note: Governor Holcomb’s plan allows people to worship responsibly beginning May 8, but we recommend waiting 1 week after Stage 3 of “Back on Track” (May 24) until MAY 31 unless there is a significant change.
We are blessed with a large sanctuary as well as a large entrance area and Gathering Space which allows people to practice social distancing.
Stage 1 May 31 (Stage 3 of Gov Holcomb’s Guidelines (May 24th but will begin 1 week later) When allowed to meet in groups 100 and under and lessening restrictions for those 65 & older:
Stage 2 June 14 (Stage 4 Indiana “Back on Track”) When allowed to meet in groups 250 & under
Stage 3 July 4 and following (Indiana Stage 4.5/5 of “Back on Track”)
We continue to use Operational Risk Management (ORM) Principles in looking at above stages:
Over the past weeks our hearts were broken by the cruel death of George Floyd by a police officer. Recently we have also witnessed the death of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor both African Americans who appeared to have been targeted at least in part by race. Many communities have had several incidents of KKK fliers being distributed. As followers of Christ, we want to stand firmly and say clearly that we stand for racial equality and want to work for racial equality. We also want to say that are blessed to have the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech which we should use to work peaceably for justice and equality.
One of my heroes is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a great minister and humanitarian who took a stand for justice. He had a biblical vision that peace and justice were possible together, but the pathway there might be marked by challenge and adversity. Let us look deeply at our own lives and challenge ourselves to follow Christ's command to love our neighbor regardless of race or place, and to build bridges of peace and understanding, and to take a stand for justice anywhere and everywhere. Dr. King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Let us dare to believe that all children are God's children and dare to act as if all children were our children.
Together we can make a difference--Dr TJ
If ever there was a time for leaders to be able to navigate a crisis now is the time as we cross uncharted waters of the current pandemic. But if ever there was a leader in the past who experienced navigating unchartered areas, even if more in the desert than at sea, it is Moses. Although Moses did not have any of the online options we have found so helpful in our current situation, Moses was faced with responding to a plague, facing an unjust situation, crossing a sea in a new way, leading a group of people through a challenging wilderness and mentoring a new generation of leaders for new challenges that lay ahead. Why not create some space in your wilderness to spend some time walking in the footsteps of this great man of faith and discovering how wisdom from the past can help you grow in new ways in the present?
May God bless you on your journey. We will all get through this together –Dr TJ
Crises always show the true character of a leader. Like so many other crises, the present COVID-19 pandemic shows the true character of so many leaders. Some leaders are using this moment for personal gain or partisan politics. But other leaders are taking this moment to call on others to unite for the good of the community, the country and the wider world. Let's work together to be those who bring people together for the greater good. We are practicing "social distancing" for the greater good of all, but it is also time to offer "spiritual connection" and working toward the common good of all. Now is the time to bring people together. Now is the time for leaders to unite people rather than divide. Let's join together and work for the good of all--Dr TJ
This week we celebrated the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a great minister and humanitarian who took a stand for justice. Not unlike Moses, Dr. King was willing to face the powers of oppression and injustice and raise a voice for freedom and justice. Like Moses, he caught a vision of the Promised Land, even though he himself would not live to see its fulfilment. He had a biblical vision that peace and justice were possible together, but the pathway there might be marked by challenge and adversity. He had a deep faith in Christ that empowered him. Psalm 85.10 casts a beautiful vision:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet,
righteousness and peace will kiss.
As we give pause to honor a great man who worked for a better world, let us look deeply at our own lives and challenge ourselves to follow Christ's command to love our neighbor regardless of race or place, to build bridges of peace and understanding, and to take a stand for justice anywhere and everywhere. Dr. King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Let us dare to believe that all children are God's children, and dare to act as if all children were our children.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” --Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Let us be emboldened by that great vision—Dr. TJ
How is your heart? Are you full of joy? Nothing great is accomplished without work. Labor is central to the purpose of life, however we cannot let our labor strangle our joy of faith and life. In the middle of his labor of love, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah had to be reminded that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah reminded those around him whose strength was flagging in the face of challenge, of this great secret and their strength was rekindled. At the very outset, God set down the principle of rest and relaxation—of re-creation—by resting on the seventh day of creation. It is a way for each of us to keep love of God and care for ourselves and our faith central. It is also a secret to keeping the joy of our faith and lives fresh. Give pause to rest and refocus, then give thanks for all that God has done in your life and the lives of those around you. Trust God. God loves you, and God will see you through. Open your heart to God’s love and find new strength and a rekindled joy.
(scripture of the week)
Yet this I call to mind,
And therefore, I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3.20-23
Mark 8:10 tells us that after Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 4,000 and then got into a boat with His disciples and sailed to the region of Dalmanutha. As soon as he arrives there, we are told that the Pharisees arrived and began to debate with him and demanded he perform signs. But sandwiched in between these pressure-filled scenarios Jesus goes sailing on a boat with His disciples. Jesus may have went sailing on a boat simply to get to the next destination, but it is also possible that Jesus needed a bit of a break with his close disciples before the next series of demands.
Perhaps this is a good lesson for us. We all need some time to relax with close friends and family with whom we can enjoy life. Without these moments, our lives are simply nonstop stress and the likelihood of a meltdown increases dramatically. We don’t often think of Jesus enjoying sailing on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples, and yet he doubtless enjoyed the moment.
Take time to enjoy life with family and friends. We all need it. It may be boating or hiking or road trip, whatever it is take some time and enjoy the journey. Jesus did, and so should we—Dr. TJ
Easter is a wonderful time to think about hope and renewal. As leaders we often need to recognize our need for renewal. Easter of course reminds us that God makes all things new in Christ and offers us new life and a fresh start through God’s forgiveness and grace. But many times we need to take time to reflect on the life-changing truths and allow them to take deeper root in our lives so that the fullness of transformation can take place. Just as a tree planted needs time to grow deep roots before it can grow to its full potential, so also we need to take time to allow our roots to sink into the truths that can nourish our growth and transform our lives. It seems a great divine truth that Easter overlaps spring when we celebrate trees budding and flowers blooming with colors and promise. But the budding and the bloom can’t come without the roots sinking into the soil and the time for growth. Challenge yourself to take time for renewal and discover new growth and perhaps your leadership may discover a whole new bloom.
Wishing you a blessed Easter season –Dr TJ
If I had understood as I do now
that in this little palace of my soul dwelt so great a King,
I would not have left him alone so often. - St. Teresa of Avil
Joseph’s life is an amazing story. We see him move from dreamer to leader, but not before first experiencing jealousy and betrayal as he moved from prison to palace. If anyone had a reason to complain, it was Joseph. He experienced evil returned for good, lies for integrity, but still God provided the path that opened to the fulfillment of the promise. The truth is God was preparing Joseph for his moment of ministry. On the way to our dreams, God often leads our path of destiny through challenge and adversity. But in so doing God is also refining and purifying us so that when our moment of leadership comes we are fully prepared and strengthen to face the trials and temptations of the moment. Joseph would one day rise to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt. He would need integrity and wisdom that only adversity and challenge could provide. When he finally met his brothers who had betrayed him and sold him into slavery, he was able to see God’s plan and extend forgiveness and grace. His words offer all of us a perspective of faith and wisdom:
“You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
Dr TJ Jenney, PhD
Dr. T. J. Jenney, Ph.D. is a seasoned pastor and leader who has served churches as well as served as a campus minister and chaplain for police and fire departments as well as the Air Force Auxiliary. Dr. Jenney also served as a faculty member at Purdue University, serving as an adjunct professor in Organizational Leadership. His experience includes serving as a president and CEO of non-profit organizations. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Higher Education Administration from Purdue and an M.Div and an S.T.M. from Yale University. He served as a contributing editor of William B. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (1989) and Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000), as well as written articles for journals.