Dear Fellow Congregants of Millington First United Methodist Church

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way, church activities as well as in-person worship will be suspended until further notice. Now that I’ve obviously angered some of you, let me inform you as to how I made that decision.

I’ve been in conversation with several people and have not gotten many mixed reactions, most favored this decision – though not all. I have also tried to stay as current as possible on the current trends from various reporting agencies that deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before Thanksgiving our Bishop William McAlilly published his thoughts in a blog Bishop McAlilly’s blog can be found on the Memphis Conference website: (www.memphisconference.org) posted November 23rd in which he demonstrated concern for our church’s health and safety. Please read a few of his comments: 

“As I am sure you know, the virus is spiking in areas across our future Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference. Therefore, I felt it wise to offer further guidance to assist your decision-making based on your context.

Some of our churches are making decisions about in-person worship based on data points such as the positivity rate, which is the percent of people being tested who receive a positive result.  

Across Tennessee and Kentucky, we are seeing average positivity rates of over 13%. In Tennessee, 84% of our ICU beds are in use. These increases warrant consideration of suspending in-person worship for a season. 

The wisdom of Dr. Scott Morris of our Church Health Center is that in-person worship should be suspended in favor of virtual worship for those communities with a positivity rate of 5% or higher.” Bishop William McAlilly

Currently, Shelby County has a positivity rate of 14.5% with nearly 400 new cases being reported daily (www.covid19.tn.gov). I compared this with earlier stats during the time our church was mandated NOT to meet in April and May. In the months of April and May the positivity rate was around 4 – 5% with fewer than 200 new cases being reported each day.

The suspension of church activities is not a popular decision I know. It is not an easy decision for me either. The Discipline of the United Methodist Church places the responsibility of worship solely in the hands of the pastor; the health and safety of our members and attendees are of utmost concern to me personally.

Some feel as I do that Christmas is one of the most meaningful times of the year to be in worship. Couple that with the fact that we also missed Holy Week and Easter this year , and it seems to be TOO much. Again, I couldn’t agree more, normally.

This is not a normal time for any of us. Someone very close to me pointed out that the activities that add the most meaning to the Advent and Christmas season are not scheduled this year as it is. There will not be a Christmas cantata, no Children’s program, we managed Hanging of the Greens, but altered the service, there are no UMW Circle Christmas parties or church sponsored Christmas gatherings, and we will not be celebrating our annual Re-Affirmation of Baptism service just after the 1st of the year.

The holiday season finds us among larger crowds of people than any other time. This means there is a greater chance of exposure, and that makes gatherings like in-person worship riskier; particularly for those considered in a high-risk category. Sunday our worship count was 59 and only seven people in attendance were under 60 years of age. Our church is very high-risk. Churches and houses of worship are in the top 5% of the highest risk environments for contracting the COVID-19 virus.

I am confident that the day is coming when this pandemic will be behind us. I am encouraged with the news of at least three vaccines. My belief is that these should stem the rise of the current dangerous positivity rates we are now experiencing.

The decision to suspend church activities is my decision alone. I know that there may be some that need to assign blame; I alone shoulder the blame. Though this decision was not easy, and will not be popular, when it comes to the health and safety of this congregation, it is one I would make again. 

We will once again offer virtual worship on Sunday mornings at 9:30 A.M. via Facebook, YouTube and our church website until further notice.

Please take care and God bless,

Bro. Ronnie Peck