WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Wilkes Boulevard, Columbia Mo. – October 16, 1918: As a whole, the meeting was a great success, and the church was strengthened and edified, and had not the Spanish Influenza invaded our town we would have gone at least another week and the good would have certainly been more far-reaching than even that was. We have been prevented from having any service since the close of the meeting on Sunday night, Oct. 6, to baptize or receive the candidates into the church.
Kansas City – October 23, 1918
No church services have been held in Kansas City on either of the past two Sundays. The ban was removed for three days last week, during which time the theaters were crowded, but was re-imposed in time to protect the city from church contagion.
These extracts are taken from the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church from journals during the Spanish Flu of 1918, but they could easily describe summer 2020 in the South Georgia Conference. Oh my. What’s old is new again!
When presented with similar constraints and worries, how have the clergy and laity of the South Georgia Conference handled the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020? What will people read in our journals 100 years from now?
Of course, we have the benefit of technology and we are grateful for this. We have all become wizards at Zoom meetings, Facetime, muting our audio, and writing questions into a chat box. I, for one, have learned more about technology from Communications Director Kelly Roberson than I did in all four years at the University of Georgia, where answering machines were a novelty and we still hand wrote our papers.
But technology isn’t the same as in-person meeting, and that is one of the many aspects of life that has been reaffirmed with this event. Calling, texting and Zooming can never replace a quiet chat over a meal or a reassuring hug.
And this is something Rev. Ted Goshorn knew, which is why he began porch visits with the members of Eastman First United Methodist Church. Pre-arranged, safely distanced, no masks required, in-person visits where troubles and laughs can both be shared. How absolutely simple, lovely, and, yes, historical. This is a technique used by Wesley in the 1700s, Asbury in the 1800s, Bishop Moore in the 1900s, and Rev. Goshorn in the 2020s – all for the exact same reason: to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
One doesn’t have to be ordained clergy, though, to bring God’s love and purpose into a troubled community. As Methodists, our laity are called to do transforming work, and this can be seen with Kara Witherow’s recent idea. With schools set to reopen and emotions running high as to when and how this should be done, Kara has organized a prayer walk around her children’s school building, calling all people to shower the teachers, staff and students in God’s love and grace. Again, how simple and lovely and historical. No bandwidth required.
I challenge the rest of the members of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, myself most especially, to find ways we can bring Jesus’s transforming love into our communities with ideas that may be simple but have such timeless power. When our journals are read 100 years from now, may the readers know our love and grace through our words and deeds and not solely through our technological inventions.
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.