Craig’s Corner 2021 January

State of the Church 2021

Below is the report I gave to our charge conference about the events of this past year as we head into the New Year.  Some of you have already read it, but for those who haven’t, I hope it will give you encouragement as we move forward.  We’ve gone through a lot this year, but you all have been so faithful in maintaining our strong bond together.  Thank you for your support as we adapt to our ever-changing circumstances and stay safe in 2021!  

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Craig

The journey of faith goes on…

When the pandemic hit us in March, life in the church was rolling along.  Our worship team had big plans for Easter!  We had just had our Day of Remembrance Spam Musubi Cook-Off where Jill Israels’ Green Eggs and Spam was the clear winner.  And we had just introduced our Youth Director, Angel Rivero who was working with us to develop our Children’s and Youth Ministry.  We were in the middle of our Lenten sermon series on Rise of the Nones when everything came to a halt.  

I still remember watching the news and seeing the NBA postpone the rest of the season as the coronavirus began to spread at an alarming rate.  Soon after, the NCAA called off The Big Dance.  And baseball never even got started.  Schools started to close  their doors and places of worship around the world had to make difficult decisions about what to do next.  We were one of them.

We quickly transitioned to online worship.  Our first one on Facebook Live had something like 300 viewers as people everywhere were curious about what was going on.  And although the novelty wore off, we still find we have more viewers today than we did coming to worship when we were in person.  One of the ancillary benefits of online worship is we have had people join us who might never otherwise have been able to come. It also gives us a chance to reach our homebound community in a way we haven’t had a chance to do before!

We moved to using the ZOOM platform and streamed live on Facebook simultaneously.  Being on ZOOM gave us a chance to be more interactive to do prayer requests, lyric videos, a monthly sing-a-long (virtually), and do our memorial candles differently.  One of my favorite parts of online worship is how we have reimagined communion.  I miss the in-person breaking of bread, but it has been fun to see people engaging in communion with their own personality and sense of community.

I’ve been both impressed and blessed to have many people step up to help us out in worship.  A dedicated group of worship leaders has taken on new tasks like offering prayers at the beginning and during our time of offering.  So much thanks to Lee, Greg, Olivia, Cheryl, Lindsay, and Tetsuo for their help! Our pianists (Irene, Kathy, and Vicky) have been willing to adjust to this new technology and record their beautiful music and we’ve even had a couple of musicians add their talents to our pool like Kenji Israels and Rick Sakaji. We’ve had wonderful singers like Stefanie and Greg Suzuki, Naomi and Emman Mascarinas, and CJ Joshua play special music for us and lead us in song.  All of which has been coordinated by our own super-talented Naomi Sanchez-Varney!    

Speaking of Naomi and music, we have had an even more impactful year of music than we could have thought possible.  Many of our BMUC Choir members joined in the first ever Bay District Virtual Choir where Naomi coordinated the efforts of singers from all over the district.  It came out beautifully to rave reviews.  And then with Jill Israels as the committee chair, we were able to put on a Virtual Choir Blast, continuing a rich tradition in a deep and meaningful way.  Special thanks to Tak Israels for all his work in putting the video together and to everyone on the committee and the volunteers for pulling it off!  

In fact, Tak and Jill have done a ton of work behind the scenes to help our efforts come off smoothly.  They have both done so much to help me and all of you in our faith journey together.  

It’s been challenging trying to keep up our traditions while adjusting to our “new normal.”  We’ve added online giving to make it easier for people to give securely to the church.  We’ve continued to do outreach and mission work even if that meant doing it from a distance including raising over $8,000 to give to the Black community to show our support, over $1500 to the Alameda County Food Bank, and over $1700 to UMCOR for COVID relief.  Finding creative ways to do the Flowering of the Cross at Easter, 3rd Grade Bible Presentations, and holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have stretched us in new directions.  

We still gave out candy on Halloween, we’re still doing Cookies and Carols, and we’re going to try something different for our Easter Egg Hunt this year.  Our outreach efforts haven’t stopped – they’ve just had to be altered as so many things have been this year.  I’m very encouraged that both our Men’s Group and 2CWomen’s Group are both still meeting as well as our Castro Valley Bible Study (although ANYONE is welcome to join if they would like since we are meeting virtually).  It looks like we’re going to launch a once-a-month book study also for those interested beginning in February of 2021 so be on the lookout for news on that.  And we just launched our once a week Ask the Pastor segment live on Facebook!  Join me at 10am Monday mornings and feel free to ask anything you’d like – whether it’s about me, or the church, or faith, or God and I’ll do the best I can to answer.  

Every loss in the church is important.  When people leave or pass on for whatever reason, it hurts.  But one loss in particular has been felt by everyone in the church and even those outside of it.  This year we unexpectedly lost Irene Tekawa.  And while we know she is in heaven with God and we can rejoice for her, we are all

still grieving from her loss which will be felt for a long time to come. It seems like every week we find another way in which Irene impacted our church community.  Whether it was her role as Treasurer or being the chair of the Missions Committee or her role in the choir or playing the piano in worship, there are so many ways we will miss her.  When our family first arrived at BMUC, Irene was one of the first to cook us a meal.  Her salmon recipe was so good, I had to ask for it and have cooked it many times since.  Sometimes it’s in the little things that we miss people the most.  We pray for Irene’s family and for all who have lost loved ones this year.  

You are all in my prayers.  I know this isn’t an easy time for any of us, and adjusting to new ideas of what “church” is has been a challenge, but I’m so filled with joy to see so many of you sticking with it and even more to see new people engaging with us, too.  It’s been a time of hidden blessing and I hope that the lessons we’re learning today will influence how we do things tomorrow.  Things will get better.  A vaccine is on the way in record time.  And I feel blessed that all of you have not pushed back on meeting virtually until it is safe.  I leave you with these words of hope and encouragement from Hebrews:

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

God bless you all as we head into Christmas and the New Year!

明けましておめでとうございます (Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!)

Peace in Christ,