“From the desk of…” Rev. Dr. Matthew E. Jackson, January 4, 2021

Well, Greetings to all in this new year of 2021! Even though it was a “Covid-19- challenged” holiday season, we are trusting there were some brighter moments and everyone had ample time to connect with loved ones and friends. And a huge “thanks” for all the holidays cards and gifts shared with our family (the Jackson’s)… it was nice to be remembered that way!
As for First Church, the Advent season gave us opportunities to revisit various aspects of the holiday season – particularly that of lighting the Advent wreath each of the four weeks and being reminded of the Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy we claim leading up to Christmas Eve. And from the responses offered by some members of the church, the Christmas Eve service was a “wonderful moment” as we journeyed through the Scripture’s version of “The Real Story,” Gail Horsefield’s “Reflection of Christmas Past,” and the children’s version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas with Reporters (interspersed)!”
We closed out the month of December and the year 2020, with a “Holiday Hymn and Carol Sing” offered by Mary Beth Courtright (our Music Director Extraordinaire), and Karin Foley (mega-soprano).
Ah… but to kick off the new year of 2021, the first Sunday in January we celebrated our usual Holy Communion and a discussion (and challenge?) regarding potential new year’s resolutions – specifically that of taking on the daily reading of the Bible (aspiring to be completed in one year). This is being written on January 4th and so far I am only 2 days behind in my new year’s resolution for “Daily Reading the Bible”!!! Well, there is always tomorrow.
On a more serious note… Covid-19 is still dominating every decision and move. Reports are that we have yet to feel the brunt of the Christmas upticks and it isn’t plausible to even begin to think about the New Year’s upticks which are yet to surface. The entire medical system is being maxed to its fullest, so keep all the first line responders in your prayers.
FCP is continuing to operate on an abbreviated schedule, with worship remaining virtual. Also the church office is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8am to Noon and during office hours we continue with limited access to the building by all visitors and vendors.
The CNK preschool is maintaining operations on its abbreviated schedule as well, with limited access by parents, other family members, and vendors from 8am-3pm. For added safety precautions, CNK parents bring their child/children to the Fellowship Foyer entrance door and the student is handed off to their teacher. When the school day is over, the reverse is in play – parents come to the entrance and the teacher releases the student
 to the parent. 
So, let me try to address this matter of precautions, etc. with every respect and consideration for all concerned.
Back on December 6, 2020, we began the season of Advent by sending out a notice to all members about the state of Covid-19 cases being reported by the Pembroke Public Health Department. We shared the following: 11/30/20 cases = 6; 12/1/20 cases = 3; 12/2/20 cases – 11; and 12/3/20 cases equaled 4. We also tried to explain the position in which “…every public gathering is placed as the COVID-19 virus continues to permeate every aspect of our daily lives… Regarding public health issues, these are some of, it not, the most trying times in generations. We are daily and weekly reviewing public health reports and making decisions in the most timely possible. And while every Sunday it is the intention to gather live in the Sanctuary, it is not always possible, and may be announced “last minute” due to circumstances not of our preference.” Presently, as to the decisions to keep the church worship services virtual and refrain from “live services” in the Sanctuary, the Diaconate is making the determination then passes their recommendations to the Church Council.
Please note: As this is being written (January 4, 2021) in checking the latest Pembroke Public Health Department update, here are the following reported cases since Christmas day, December 25, 2020:
 December 25, 2020 – cases reported equal  7
 December 26, 2020 – cases reported equal 10
 December 27, 2020 – cases reported equal 10
 December 28, 2020 – cases reported equal 26
 December 29, 2020 – cases reported equal 16
 December 30, 2020 - cases reported equal 28
 December 31, 2020 – cases reported equal 21
 January 1, 2021 -   cases reported equal 17
 January 2, 2021 -   cases reported equal 20
 January 3, 2021 -   cases reported equal 21
 January 4, 2021 -   cases reported equal 11
Presently, regularly scheduled board/team meetings are being held via Zoom, again with the intention to “err on the side of caution”…

-Diaconate meets the second Tuesday each month at 7:30pm 
-Trustees meet the third Tuesday of each month at 7:30pm
-Church Council meet the fourth Tuesday each month at 7pm 
-Missions meet second Monday of each month at 10:30am
-By-Laws meet every other Monday morning at 10:30am
-Search meets every other Monday morning at 8:30am
-Pastoral Relations meets quarterly (next meeting TBA) 
-Thrift Shop is open Friday and Saturdays, 11am-3pm

 [Note: A decision was made last Saturday (Dec. 26th) by the Thrift Shop members to close the shop for the month of January/or until the Covid numbers drop significantly. We will do some marketing on various local sites and any interest generated on specialty items will be seen by appointment only.]
Over the recent months, many of you have expressed your disappointments over not having live services on Sunday (as we did for October and into November). There is a very special sharing of God’s Spirit when we gather to worship in the Sanctuary, and by FCP having to go virtual, many of you have expressed that “emptiness” in your routines. There is also the struggles from not seeing one another each Sunday morning, even if only to share a smile and friendly wave when coming and going. Add to that complications from “virtual church” - missing the camaraderie of just being together (under one roof and in the same room) as well as having to skip fellowship hour after worship, all due to Covid-19… yes, we are well aware of the challenges and are trying to “shore up some of those loose ends.” However, with 187 new Covid-19 cases since Christmas Day, it is not likely we will be returning to live services in the Sanctuary for a while. So, we pray you will do your very best to stay safe and warm, and rest assured we’ll be together virtually in spirit every Sunday morning at 10am until it’s “declared safe to be out and about and physically united again!”
Likewise, please be assured that as a member of First Church, and until worship and meetings are back to gathering at the church, you are always welcomed to share any questions, concerns, or suggestions, etc., by sending an email or hardcopy letter to the Chair of any board/team, the Church Council, or directly to the church office, and request it be read to or shared with the respective board/team. If you need specific names, email addresses, etc., please do not hesitate to call the church office during office hours on Mon/Wed/Fri from 8am to Noon and Kristen (church secretary) will provide you with specifics.  And everyone is free to contact the church office to speak directly with me, Pastor Matt, again during the office hours of Mon/Wed/Fri, 8am-Noon. Every effort is being made to address issues thoroughly, communicate information, and return calls as expeditiously and timely as possible.
Having said that, and in another attempt to keep people informed and connected, Kristen will be initiating calls to members, during each work week, as a way to “check in” and keep the people of the church “feeling connected.” Hopefully, if there are any questions or concerns, you will feel free to share when she calls or when you return her voice mail.
 As to future plans – Make note: LENT begins with ASH WEDNESDAY, February 17th 2021 with Holy Week beginning March 28-April 3, 2021 and culminating on EASTER SUNDAY… April 4, 2021. We will keep you updated as plans unfold for the Season of Lent, usually a very personal time for people of the Christian faith and particularly FCP! 
 Well, that is about it for now. Again, thank you for cards and gifts shared with us (the Jacksons). Covid-19 left its mark on our usual Christmas Open House, however we will see how long the virus lingers and when restrictions are lifted, we will do our best to reschedule it as and when appropriate.
Stay safe, keep tuning in on Sunday mornings at 10am for our “virtual service,” and be assured we look forward to being together as soon as the “all clear” is sounded. Until then, may we all count our blessings, be grateful, and settle into the Peace of Christ.
 Pastor Matt 

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