Report to the Tuckerton United Methodist Church Charge Conference, October 30, 2021
In 2020 we all thought we were running a marathon. Just when we thought we were finished, someone handed us a bike and bathing suit. Then 2021 revealed that actually, it's not just a triathlon; it’s an Ironman. - Carey Nieuwhof
I think all of us felt this way as we finished 2020 and started a new year. We believed that by Advent and Christmas, things would be better, but we found ourselves pausing in-person worship as COVID cases surged in our community. As a result, the beginning of 2021 was challenging for our congregation. We saw ourselves restarting in-person worship, facing unexpected challenges, and working together to make the church’s ministry fruitful.
As Carey Nieuwhof said, we found out that 2021 was not the end of the marathon but the beginning of the ironman race. The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most grueling endurance races ever to challenge its participants. The full Ironman Triathlon is considered the pinnacle of all endurance races. It consists of swimming 2.4 miles in an ocean or lake, biking a formidable 112 miles, and topping it all off with a full, 26.2-mile marathon. While racing, participants’ faces express emotions ranging from happiness, anguish, determination, doubt, and contentment. I think we all have passed through all those emotions this year. There have been moments of joy but also moments of anger, anguish, and doubt.
Nevertheless, we continue with determination, aware of not falling into contentment. Competitors usually train from 8 to 12 months for an Ironman Triathlon. Unfortunately, we had no training for this Pandemic. Also, there is an immense physical and mental demand put on racers in every triathlon segment, requiring racers to develop both physical and psychological strength. That is why pacing is vital.
What does competing in an Ironman Triathlon have to do with our Christian lives, this season, and our church?
We will endure suffering, but we will finish strong. It has been challenging but also rewarding.
It is a privilege to serve as the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Tuckerton. I am grateful for the extraordinary giftedness of our community of faith. Our church has a strong, proud, and long history. The people that “are our church” are great faithful and committed people. But together, we are facing a new season, a new world, and people who think differently. Still, they meet the exact identified needs of busy lives, jumbled priorities, raising kids successfully, all kinds of commitments and events that take time from family life. They are looking for meaning, purpose, and help in finding and keeping God and loving one another as a part of their life. They want to “Be the difference” and “Make a difference” in this world, our community, and in relationships to one another, especially to those in need.
We face people in our congregation and our community who are revisiting their life priorities and looking to see where the church fits in their lives. We have to be open to listen to their needs and to help them connect and “Go be the Church” with us!
As we face this new season, we trust God’s spirit will continue to guide us and give us the strength to reach the finish line. We don’t know when we will make it to the finish line, but we want to make sure that we finish strong.
Personally, this season has been one of deep reflection. There have been times this year that I have felt the mental and spiritual burden of this season. I have seen my pastoral ministry transition to multiple zoom call meetings, facetime calls, grueling hours of video recording, video editing, and content creation. All of this added to pastoral care, administrative work, and Conference responsibilities. Still, I have seen Christ at work. I have seen Christ in those Zoom meetings, I have heard Christ’s voice in multiple phone calls, I have seen Christ working in the life of the church. I know Christ is with us. I know Christ is with those who are suffering, those who are feeling the burden of the pandemic. I know Christ is with those who think differently and see the world differently.
Christ is among his people. Here are a few places that I saw Christ Jesus at work during this year of ministry:
We reached a point of an average attendance of 50 people back for in-person worship in the sanctuary. Outdoor Worship Services have been a blessing to our community. Even with a few bugs, and cold or heat, we had two services with attendance of over 90 people. It is good to be worshiping in person again. As time progresses and things settle down, more people will return to in-person worship in the sanctuary. Our goal is to break the 100 average attendance next year and be back at 2019 numbers in two years.
We added new media resources, and our engagement through social media has grown, connecting more people to our church. Online Worship viewing continues to be steady after a decline in numbers. However, as more people come back to in-person worship, finding new ways to engage with new people online is challenging. Still, online worship has been a blessing as we connect TUMC to people in the US and the world. Our online worship services and sermon podcasts have been seen and heard in:
Ohio, Missouri, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Delaware, Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Boston, Puerto Rico
Peru, Kenya, Australia, Argentina, Germany, The UK, Dominican Republic, Finland, Scotland
What a blessing to share the good news of the Gospel with friends, family, and neighbors!
Although our Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebration were online, we connected with over 450 people. In addition, our Online Christmas Eve Service is our most viewed service on our Vimeo Channel and the second most viewed video on our YouTube Channel.
We had a great Holy Week and Easter celebration. We were able to celebrate the Easter Eve Jazz Vigil in person, and it is one of our top videos on our Facebook page. Easter was a grand celebration with the return of the Easter Egg Hunt with over 1,000 easter eggs and an attendance of over 100 people.
As Pastor, I have guided the Worship Committee through Worship design and planning. In addition, I served in Worship Services by leading, preaching, and officiating Holy Communion in the morning service and Casa de Esperanza.
I officiated a wedding this year and multiple funeral services and graveside services.
We have seen new faces in our in-person worship services, and family members have joined our family of faith.
We have 20 people participating in service each Sunday, from greeters, our Senior Choir, Praise Team, and organist.
We have families waiting to baptize their children, hoping that our congregation is a role model in their faith life. Baptisms will restart in the fall.
I guided people through Pastoral Counseling via phone calls and Zoom calls.
Joy Group continues to bless women as they restarted in-person meetings.
We have seen Yoga and Meditation groups continue to grow and expand.
I have led online Bible Studies: The Walk and Seven Words. Two more Bible Studies are scheduled for fall and Advent. They will be both in-person and online.
Casa de Esperanza continues to meet each Sunday for their Worship Service and other activities. The average attendance is six people. Their Easter Service had an attendance of 20 people and outdoor activities continue to be very popular with an attendance of 20 people. I still see many potentials for this ministry to grow and impact the Hispanic community in our neighborhood.
Mission Engagement in the community
We distributed Thanksgiving and Christmas meals via local restaurants.
The Iovine family blessed families in our community with free meals through what was their restaurant Portofino’s.
We have people who volunteered with the Tuckerton Food Pantry.
Shine and Serve Kids did their VBS.
We have celebrated Yard sales and Craft and Vendor Fairs.
We plan to participate in this year’s Decoy Show with our traditional Bake Sale.
Manna Farmers Market continues to be a blessing to our community and local farmers and vendors.
With SPRC, we ensured that our Safe Sanctuaries Policies were followed and up to date.
I officiated Funeral Services for community members.
Pushpay and our app have been a blessing during this season.
We were blessed last year with a PPP Loan and received the approval for Loan Forgiveness.
Our Capital Campaign has helped us do works on the Parsonage, Church Facilities, and Mission House. We were able to repaved and striped the parking lot.
The congregation’s generosity has blessed our church, UMCOR, Miracles Everywhere, and families in our community. We also helped families in need through the communion fund and special offerings.
We achieved 100% giving in billables and fair shared apportionments for 2020 and are on track to do the same for 2021.
I participated in zoom meetings and in-person meetings. In addition, I responded to e-mails and did administrative work.
I participated in the Online Leadership Institute of the Church of the Resurrection. I am registered to participate this year.
I supervised our staff and met with them during the year.
Things to look forward to:
We will ask congregants to share their stories and voice their ideas on how our church can be fruitful and relevant to new generations.
We will have new creative ways to worship and incorporate arts in our worship services.
We plan to have more participation in worship services.
We will provide an integrated process that moves guests into the life of the church (Discipleship Pathway).
We will provide small groups intended to care for those in need.
We will continue to grow in worship attendance.
We will continue to see ways we can give back to the community and create new ministries that will make an impact on people’s lives.
We want to increase our giving and accomplish our goals.
Our main goals are to enhance our missions and community outreach. Our congregation has a strong love and compassion for each other, visitor, and our community. Our resilience was tested during the pandemic as it was for everyone, but we managed through it and we are coming back stronger. We want to develop leaders so current leaders can have the ability to serve in other ways in the Church. We want to encourage congregants to serve and step up in leadership and grow in our journey as a fruitful and vital congregation. It will be critical that we continue to explore and understand how our church can be more diverse and relevant to new generations. In doing so, we will be effective in community ministry and hands-on missions.
In this season, I celebrate:
- That our church continues to do ministry in a pandemic.
- That we continue to work hard to be financially stable.
- Tuckerton UMC is a beacon of hope to a community that needs hope.
Challenges we face:
- Relevancy to new generations
- Financial challenges
- Leadership Development
In this season, I give thanks for all God is doing in and through the life of the Church. I am deeply grateful to our leadership as we have worked together to keep our ministry fruitful. I am thankful to my wife and son, who have been supportive through this challenging time.
We will endure and finish strong. We have been called to the most intense and challenging race of our lives. God is preparing a place in His Kingdom for those who have endured and finished the race strong. At the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, “I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.”
I give thanks to our Lord for his blessings. I trust God will continue to guide us through this challenging season.
Thank you for your commitment and dedication to God and Tuckerton United Methodist Church.
With a grateful heart!
Rev. Jason Rios