Wednesday, July 21, 2021

 Hey Everyone - 

According to today's News Sentinel, active Covid cases in Knox county more than doubled in the last week from 198 on July 14 to 414 today. New cases have doubled from 20 to 44. The majority of these cases are individuals who are not vaccinated and are mostly the result of the new, more transmissible Delta variant. The director of the CDC said this week, "This is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated." Just under 49% of Knox county residents have been fully vaccinated, which is better than the state vaccination rate of 38% who are fully vaccinated and 43% who have received at least one dose.

State Senator Richard Briggs, who is also a physician, said, "To think that somehow Tennessee will be spared this next wave of the Delta variant, I think is just being very naive and being hopeful and not facing reality." Knox County Health Department lead epidemiologist, Roberta Strum, said that the KCHD is not surprised by the recent spike in cases and that cases are expected to increase.

The good news is that those who are vaccinated are not at serious risk from the Delta variant. So-called "breakthrough" infections are relatively rare, and even when they occur they do not cause serious illness. The bad news is that even the vaccinated can have breakthrough infections and can, in turn, pass the virus on to the unvaccinated. While adults have the choice whether or not to be vaccinated, no vaccine has yet been authorized for children under the age of 12, putting them at risk of infection. The even worse news is that Delta variant Covid infections among children are on the rise.

If you know someone who is not vaccinated, or if you, yourself, are not, I strongly to encourage you to click the link below and read the article from AL.com about a physician's recent Facebook post on Sunday.

"I'm Sorry, but it's too late": Alabama doctor treating unvaccinated, dying COVID patients

The Session will be monitoring Knox county Covid cases and will determine if or when it may be necessary to reinstate protective measures in worship, such as face coverings or increased physical distancing. For now, we will continue along our path of phased easing of restrictions.

The best and safest way to avoid any changes to the easing of restrictions, and the best way to protect others, especially our families with children, is to get the vaccine. PLEASE, if you have not, go and get your Covid vaccine today.

Grace and peace...

Pastor Tim

Monday, June 14, 2021

Baby James Update

 A few months ago, my brother called my mom and asked, “Are we still worried about James?” 

 

Some of you may be wondering the same thing and be hesitant to ask, so I thought I’d give a little update. Others of you may not even know that we were worried about James to begin with; so before I give an update, let me give a little background.

 

About 5 weeks before his due date, my doctor raised some concern about James’ femur measurements on an ultrasound. If you consult Doctor Google, there are all sorts of things that this might indicate. We were sent to the high-risk OB to have further measurements taken, and that is where the roller coaster began. They measured his other long bones and found that they too were measuring well behind his gestational age. The determination after all this measuring was that we were looking at a high likelihood of a skeletal dysplasia, of which there are about 400 different types; and there was no way to know which one he might have. The most common type, however, is achondroplasia – more commonly known as dwarfism.

 

Over the next few weeks, we went from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, dreading each one a little bit more because the picture seemed to get more and more grim at each one. We heard everything from, ‘it may just be his stature that is affected,’ to ‘he may not have enough room for his heart and lungs,’ to ‘you may have to make decisions about removing support after he’s born’. And all the while, they also continued to tell us, ‘it could be nothing, but all the measurements and ratios we’re seeing point to something’. The term roller coaster may actually be a gross understatement!

 

Fast forward to his birth, and there were about 20 people in the room including a pediatric team that was prepared to give him an initial once-over and whisk him away to the NICU if necessary. They took him over to the incubator for the pediatric doctor to check him out, and the doctor looked at James and then looked at Andy and said, “now what is it we’re looking for?” So, that was our first sigh of relief. A quick look showed no signs of achondroplasia, and a quick exam showed no need for a NICU stay. 

 

During our stay in the hospital, we saw a geneticist, who also said she saw nothing at first glance that looked to her like achondroplasia; but she did a cheek swab sample to be sent off for genetic testing. 

 

Over his first six months of life, we have gone back and forth with the geneticist’s office, done another cheek swab on James and one on both Andy and me as well. We have gotten a lot of confusing information, because genetics are very confusing. But, we were finally able to meet with the geneticist face to face a couple of weeks ago; and her conclusion was that she saw nothing that would keep James from leading a ‘normal’ life…another HUGE sigh of relief!

 

So, to answer the question: “Are we still worried about James?” The answer is no, by the grace of God, we are not worried about James, at least not for the same reasons that we were worried about him in the weeks leading up to his birth and in the first months of his life. Now we just have the normal worries that people have about their kids, and we will take those worries any day!

 

This update got much longer than anticipated, so thank you for caring enough to read it, and thank you for being a part of the loving community that is helping Andy and me to raise our boys by loving and supporting all of us. We are so, so grateful. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


Here is the text of the video message for those who prefer to read, rather than watch. You can also find a PDF of the text by clicking the red button on the home page of our website, www.2ndpres.org


May 19th, 2021

Greetings friends,

As I’m sure you are aware by now, the CDC updated its COVID-19 guidelines last week regarding the wearing of face coverings indoors for those who are fully vaccinated. At its regularly stated meeting last night, the Session spent time reflecting on this change and what it means for our congregation and our policies regarding the usage of face coverings. After very careful, thoughtful, and prayerful discussion, the Session has made the following decisions:

1. Beginning today, May 19th, face coverings will be optional for those who are fully vaccinated while in the church building for meetings, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, or other activities, excluding worship. We do request and encourage you to still maintain a safe physical distance from one another and the staff, especially if you choose not to wear a face covering.

2. We are continuing to ask everyone to wear a face covering during worship, as well as practice physical distancing and refrain from physical contact, regardless of vaccination status, through the end of June.

3. Beginning Sunday, July 4th, face coverings will be optional during worship for those who are fully vaccinated.

I would like to explain some of the reasoning behind this new, bifurcated policy, so you can understand why the Session chose to make the decision they did.

We have said all along that we should follow the science, and we should follow the science now. We have known for several weeks that it is relatively safe to be unmasked while outdoors, even for the unvaccinated. Now, the science tells us that even indoors with groups of people, those who are vaccinated are not likely to transmit the coronavirus to others, nor are they likely to contract it themselves. Even if the vaccinated do contract the virus, the protection from serious illness is quite strong.

By allowing those who are vaccinated to make the choice about whether or not to wear a face covering, we are showing that we not only believe in personal responsibility, but in the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. We also hope this will encourage those who have not yet gotten the vaccine to do so in order to return to “normal” activities sooner, rather than later.

As Christians, we are called to also follow the law of love. We have said all along that wearing face coverings, keeping our distance, refraining from physical contact, washing our hands, and staying home when sick are the ways that we show love to our neighbor. We believe wearing face coverings for a few more weeks in worship is a way to continue to do that.

The reality is people are processing the new recommendations differently. There are some who are ready to go without face coverings immediately. For others, face coverings have become like a security blanket and they will need some time before they feel safe removing them. For still others, those who are immunocompromised or unvaccinated or just very cautious, face coverings will continue to be a way of life for the foreseeable future.

We wish the CDC had given us a few weeks to prepare for the transition that was announced last week, but they didn’t. We, however, have the chance to do just that. By asking the entire congregation to continue to wear face coverings during worship for the next 6 Sundays, regardless of vaccination status, we give those who need it a little extra time to mentally prepare for the next phase in returning to normalcy. We realize that some of you will think this is too long, but we are asking you to consider the needs of others by practicing patience and forbearance.

When the Christians in Corinth were experiencing divisions over the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols, as well as unequal access to the Lord’s Supper, Paul encouraged them to seek unity. Everything is permitted, he writes in 1 Corinthians 10, but not everything is beneficial; everything is permitted, but not everything builds others up. Paul encourages the Corinthians to think first of the needs of the community. No one should look to their own advantage, he says, but they should look out for each other. We believe that wearing face coverings in worship for just a few more weeks is the best way for us to look out for each other.

Our Vision Statement says that we are a “welcoming” community and we want to be sure that we are truly welcoming of all, regardless of vaccination status. We don’t want to put people in the difficult position of feeling uncomfortable or having to lie about their vaccination status, we don’t want people to feel unsafe during worship, and we don’t want the focus to be on who is and who is not wearing a mask. As Pastor Sarah said so well on Sunday, “If our focus is on who is and who isn’t vaccinated, our focus isn’t where it should be, on God.” We want to continue to focus on God during worship and we believe all of us continuing to wear face coverings is the way to do that for now.

Finally, I want to say a word about how we should treat one another regarding the issue of face coverings, whether in the building for activities now, or in worship starting July 4th. Wearing a face covering is a matter of personal choiceregardless of vaccination status. It is not a political statement, it is not an ideological statement, it is not a judgment statement. It as an article of clothing – no more, no less. Some people choose to wear a tie to worship, others choose not to. Some people choose to wear short sleeves, others choose to wear a sweater. Some people wear pants, and some people wear dresses, and some people wear shorts.

And some people will choose to wear a face covering while others will not. We wouldn’t say to someone, “Why are you wearing a sweater? It’s summer! You don’t have to wear that.” We wouldn’t come to a committee meeting and say, “Why are you wearing blue jeans? No one else is wearing blue jeans.” In the same way, we shouldn’t say to someone, “Why are you wearing a mask? You know we don’t have to wear those anymore, right?” Nor should we say to someone, “You’re not wearing a mask! How dare you be so thoughtless.”

Let’s put our trust in one another and have the confidence that each person will choose what’s best for themselves and for those around them. Let us be respectful and understanding of each person’s right to wear whatever they choose, face coverings included. The science says it’s safe not to; psychology says some will want to; the Bible says to practice love and forbearance in our relationships with others.

One last thing regarding some of the other decisions that have been made regarding worship. You will notice this Sunday that hymnbooks and Bibles have been returned to the pews. Since the science says transmission of the virus through contact with objects is negligible, and since we have only one worship service a week and these books will not be touched by multiple people in a short span of time, we feel it is safe for those who choose to use them again to do so. The Scripture readings and words to the hymns will continue to be on the screen, both for those at home and for those in the sanctuary who prefer not to use a hymnbook or Bible, but the hymn lyrics will no longer be printed in the bulletin.

Also, for the time being we will continue to celebrate communion using the self-contained, self-serve cups, and we will continue to refrain from passing the offering plates and the pew pads. The Worship Committee and the Session will continue to discuss these, and other issues, throughout the summer.

I continue to lift all of you up in prayer as we navigate the ever-changing nature of this pandemic. I rejoice with those of you who have been able to visit with family and friends again, and I sympathize with those of you who are still being extra cautious. It’s been great to see some of you in person in the building and in worship again, and it’s been uplifting to see that there are still many who are joining us virtually for worship and Bible study. I pray that each of you feel the presence of God in your lives and know the peace of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in your midst.

Grace and peace…

Pastor Tim


Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Tale of Two Young Men

On Sunday, April 11th, a young man was stopped in Oak Ridge for a window tint violation. After initial contact with an Oak Ridge police officer, the young man fled from his vehicle on foot toward the First United Methodist Church building. The police officer chased the suspect and saw him enter the church building, just as worshipers were leaving the 10 a.m. service.

The police discovered the young man was wanted in Ohio for drug and weapons charges and was to be considered armed and dangerous. The police evacuated church members and established a perimeter. They called in the Anderson County Sherriff’s K-9 unit. They waited for the dogs to arrive and then began a search of the building which lasted nearly 2 hours. The dogs discovered the young man hiding in a bathroom closet. The door was opened and the suspect was arrested without incident. No one was injured.

The very next day in Knoxville, another young man hid in a bathroom. This young man was not wanted on any charges. He had no criminal record. He was not threatening anyone, nor had he fled from the authorities. He was in trouble and he was scared. He had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s mother told him she was calling the police. The young man did what our culture has taught him to do, he got a gun to protect himself.

The Knoxville Police arrived at Austin-East Magnet School, where the young man was hiding. Within 20 minutes they had ascertained that the young man was in a bathroom. They entered the bathroom. Eleven seconds later the young man was dead.

One scared young man hid in a bathroom and was arrested without incident. Another scared young man hid in a bathroom and didn’t come out alive. One was white. One was brown.

In the days since Anthony Thompson, Jr. was shot by police at Austin-East Magnet School, Knoxvillians have demanded to see the video to know what happened in that bathroom. The District Attorney, the Mayor, the Police Chief, and many in the Knoxville Community have been asking one question: Was the shooting justified? But that is the wrong question.

The question we should be asking is: Why were the officers in that bathroom in the first place?

They had options. They did not have to go into that bathroom and confront Mr. Thompson. They could have called the K-9 unit, like the officers in Oak Ridge. They could have asked a trusted guidance counselor or teacher to go into the bathroom and speak with Mr. Thompson to help him understand that there was a way out of the trouble he was in. They could have called in trained crisis de-escalators or even hostage negotiators. They could have called in Mr. Thompson’s mother or a member of his family to talk him out of the bathroom peacefully. They had time. They could have waited.

Mr. Thompson was not threatening anyone. He was not an immediate danger to anyone. He was just a scared teenager. The police had other options than to enter that bathroom while tensions were running high. The police knew one side of the story. Who was there to speak for Mr. Thompson? Who was there to tell his side of the story? Who had his best interests in mind?

Two young men hid in a bathroom. One was a known felon. One was a scared teenager. One was white. One was brown.