Dear Friends,

I came across a cartoon not long ago. Two men are sitting talking to each other. It's obvious that this is the afterlife and they are in hell. The flames are all around, and there is a devil with horns and a pitchfork keeping watch nearby. One of the men says to the other, "I was under the impression that what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas."

I thought of this in relation to the season of Lent that starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Lent is traditionally a time to examine yourself, to scrutinize the complexities of your life and any sin that might be there (anyone been to Vegas lately?), and then simplify and maybe even repent in some way and turn in a new direction.

Even with the Coronavirus still very much a part of our lives, we here at Southport United Methodist Church are hoping to help you grow stronger in your faith during this Lenten journey. Let me highlight two things we are doing this week that you can be part of right away.

The first is Ash Wednesday (tomorrow, February 17). Normally we would have a fully attended service in our sanctuary, ending with communion and the imposition of ashes. We can't do that this year. But we're hoping that what we are planning will be just as, or even more, special.

We have recorded an Ash Wednesday worship service with a meaningful message from Pastor Doug that will be available on our website and on Facebook by noon tomorrow. In addition, Pastor Doug and I, and for part of the time Pastor Kok Mar of the Indiana Myanmar Christian Association that meets here in our church, will be in the church parking lot between 1-2 PM and 6-7 PM to place ashes on your hand and give you a little gift bag from the church that includes communion. We will be wearing masks and maintaining social distance, so please wear your masks too as you come to our Drive-Through Ash Wednesday.

(Frankly, we had thought about canceling the drive-through ashes because of the cold temperatures and generally snowy conditions. However, we've decided to go ahead with our plans and be out in the church parking lot with ashes. We know that many of you will decide not to come, because of the pandemic and/or the cold temperatures, and that's okay, we want everyone first and foremost to be safe and feel safe. But as we make plans to re-open for worship - see below - we wanted to be out and available as much as possible to whoever might want to join us for ashes as we begin this journey of Lent. So, to summarize, the pastors will be in the church parking lot tomorrow between 1-2 PM and 6-7 PM with ashes and a little gift bag for those who might like to come.)

Second, we are starting a new format for our Thursday evening service during Lent, beginning this Thursday, February 18. We're calling it a Teaching Service, since it will have a bit more in-depth discussion of the Bible and be somewhat interactive, but it will have all the elements of worship too, such as the music you have come to love from our Thursday night band, Godspeak. We will be looking at the gospel of Luke, my favorite gospel, and encouraging everyone to read the whole gospel during Lent. For this week, please read Luke 1:1-4:30, and think about the following questions:

Have you ever sought out the advice of an expert in something in order to know "the truth?"

How would you define repentance (considering John the Baptist's baptisms)? And how can we make our baptism real?

When you hear the phrase, "kingdom of God," what do you think about?

Would you agree that a person who grows up within a community and does great things, is not always accepted/recognized by their own community?

How do you react to "good news" that isn't for you (but you think it should be), but is for outsiders?

What is the mission/vision of SUMC? How do we accomplish it? What obstacles stand in our way?

How can we in our day, unroll the scroll of Isaiah, read the words that Jesus read, and do it?

We will be doing the first two weeks of our Thursday Teaching service online only via ZOOM. If you would like to participate, you will need to email Pastor Doug at &, so you can receive the necessary information to join. After those first two weeks, we hope to be able to offer the service in person and via ZOOM at the same time. We will start promptly at 6:30 each evening.

Finally, one additional item is to remind you of our announcement this past weekend that on Sunday, February 28, we will be returning to In Person worship at 9:00 for traditional worship and 10:30 for contemporary worship. It's been a long haul, and our focus all along has been to keep people safe and try as much as possible to keep everyone connected. We have reason to be pretty optimistic right now that things will continue to improve and the positive cases will continue to go down. But we can't let our guard down, so we will continue with mask wearing and social distancing when we are here in the church, and we will take cleaning and other precautions. And we will take a one-step-at-a-time approach to opening up additional church activities as we go through the remainder of the winter and spring. So, to repeat, we will return to In Person worship, not this coming Sunday, but the following Sunday, February 28, at 9:00 and 10:30.

So, despite everything else that is going on all around you, resolve to deepen and enrich your spiritual life this Lent - and let the church help! Each year we have the possibility of drawing just a bit closer to God. I pray this will be one of those years for you.

Grace and Hope to you,

Pastor Duane