“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.”—Emily Dickinson
Through congregational vitality, boundless hope and passionate faith, United Methodist leaders are cultivating passionate disciples of Jesus Christ. Morristown UMC is one of those leaders.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the church , has been ramping up its efforts to broaden outreach so that people across their community and the world feel included and valued. Morristown UMC knew that that the Christmas season would be different for their community this year, so they ramped up their efforts with a walk through nativity display that was safe, full of life and rich in different cultures.
Called “Walk to the Manger: A Pathway to Love,” the walking presentation of the stations of the nativity one week before Christmas welcomed people from the community to enjoy a narthex transformed into a light tunnel led by a three-foot illuminated star.
“Our goal is to keep people connected to the season and the church family and beyond. We want them to know that everyone is invited,” said Rev. Luana Cook Scott, who is in her first year as senior pastor at Morristown. Luana, who has served at both urban and rural churches, made the recent decision for her church to tithe a portion of the PPP funding toward shared ministry.
“We believe the connection we have is so important, and for those who can afford it should give back,” she said.
Upon arrival to the “Walk to the Manger,” pre-registered guests received printed bulletins with scripture in three languages—English, Spanish and Korean—to reflect the diversity of the congregation and the community and were greeted in the doorway by the 900 lights that represented the lost lives due to COVID in Morris County.
The pews were removed to allow social distancing, accessibility for the handicapped and give room for the sequential displays. Jennifer Yang played the organ and a liturgist read scripture in Braille.
The many displays included a Columbian Bethlehem scene made by a church family and quilts from Appalachia. The smell of frankincense also wafted throughout the sanctuary. The last display, immediately before the exit was a celebration of Easter.
“We tried to infuse culture wherever we could,” said Scott who also noted that outside the church, stretching for four blocks to allow for social distancing, were carolers who sang Christmas carols.
“We wanted to meet the needs of our community the best way we could,” said Scott, who praised the efforts of the new church administrator, Regina Heater, a fellow alumna of Drew Theological School. Heater has worked tirelessly to expand and strengthen their ministries, including creating an entire Advent playlist (https://adobe.ly/2LWT0FU) to be played and shared.
This new creation was a nice compliment to Morristown UMC’s One Candle virtual Advent event, part of a worldwide program that focuses on the power of one candle to unite neighbors for hope, for peace, for joy, for love and for Christ-with-us.
“We light a candle to remember they can be a witness during difficult times,” said Scott who added that a liturgy accompanies each lighting. Starting around Thanksgiving, signs were distributed to congregants to display in recognition of the ministry.
“I have been amazed by the participation,” said Scott.
A West Virginia native and champion…and warrior…of social justice, Scott has a passion to create pathways for all. “I strive to be the pastor I never had, one who can relate to “unchurched” people and can find common ground on which to tell the story of God’s love.”
Looking forward to 2021 with hope and a renewed and bold spirit, the church is introducing “Exploring Music with Maestra Sarah,” a new YouTube series launching this spring and hosted by Sarah Michal, director of music ministries. Geared primarily toward the youngest members of the church, it will also include content for parents and anyone who wants to practice experiencing music and God in their daily life.