Posted by Jenny Morgan

I had hoped that my pastor’s report for this year’s conference would be one reflecting on how we had overcome COVID-19 and are now in a post-COVID ministry. Sadly, this is not the case. This year has been plagued by much of the same COVID limitations and, at times, even stricter limitations than last year. This has been trying for everyone as returning to in-person worship and ministries has been slower than we all would have hoped for. Nonetheless, 2021 has been a good year in that the church has continued to work together to pull through this difficult time. We have been holding in-person services with only one interruption. This occurred when someone who attended a Sunday morning worship service learned afterward that they had contracted COVID at the workplace. Thankfully, our safety protocols worked and no one outside that family contracted the virus.

I would say that this year has been a year of much prayer and discernment. We have, of course, been praying not only for the reopening of ministries and programs, but also for our general community, nation and world. During this year, we have had a dedicated group of people who pray weekly over a two-page list of prayer requests from people who are sick, in need or going through difficult times. There has been a lot of mourning and loss during this season and though we have been blessed not to have lost any members to COVID, we did have several members, including both pastoral families, contract COVID and recover. Everyone also knows people who didn’t fare as well with COVID and either died or experienced long-lasting health issues because of the virus. This has affected every aspect of our ministry as we have tried to plan everything this year with the safety of our members and community in mind through the guidance of our Health and Wellness committee.

One way we have been able to stay engaged in our community is by hosting Red Cross blood drives every two months. This has been a way to see people from our community get involved as we all try to help during this time when blood donations have been so low. We have continued to offer non-perishable food at our church for families in need, though we have been limited in our ability to distribute food to the greater community. It is our hope that next year we will be able to re-establish our Backpack Buddies ministry, which provides weekly bags of food for families at John Lewis Elementary School. The church also wanted to do something for police officers, so large baskets of goodies were delivered to the Brookhaven Police Department by our Missions team. Officers were also invited to submit prayer requests so the church could pray for them.

We are currently collecting donations and giving out boxes to participate in Operation Christmas Child, something we have done for several years. We want to do as much as we can for children in need all over the world who will receive these boxes full of God’s love and packed with wonderful surprises. At Skyland, we support missionaries overseas and locally. I am glad that even during this pandemic we have been able to maintain this financial support and even project some increases for next year. We keep in touch with the missionaries we support and it has been great to hear that, despite so many challenges, they continue to do God’s work where they have been called to serve.

We are glad that most of our shut-ins have returned to in-person worship. For more than a year, we delivered MP3s to shut-ins weekly so they could listen to church services. Many of them are not tech-savvy and going online was too complicated for them.

Skyland has continued to take advantage of this time of reduced traffic through the building to make facility improvements in anticipation of much greater use in the future. Our latest project is redoing the entrances to both the chapel and main sanctuary to make them more appealing and inviting to visitors. We have also addressed much-needed maintenance and repairs that have been put off for some time due to a lack of resources. But God is our provider and sent us the necessary provisions. Our lower lot was re-paved and beautiful shrubs were planted to help us attract some of our new neighbors in the townhomes across the street. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were only about two streets of houses built. Now the townhomes are fully built out and sold and it is great to see the growing community around us. Next month, we plan to host a “Blessing of the Pets” event at the park to reach out to our new neighbors.

Though some have returned to in-person worship, many people still view services online. We stream our 11 a.m. service every week and hold most meetings via Zoom. We are looking forward to upgrading our projectors and sound systems to enhance both in-person and online worship in 2022. We have a wonderful Facebook person, Jenny Morgan, who keeps our Facebook page current with weekly posts on everything Skyland, from the children’s sermons to thankful Tuesdays when we share someone or something we are thankful for. Our online presence has continued to grow and reaches many more people than we ever imagined possible.

Financially, Skyland has been blessed with faithful tithers and regular offerings that have helped us to cover our expenses, provide ministry support, and pay all of our apportionments during this ordeal. We were also blessed to have some of our renters resume their use of our building, though often on a limited basis. To date, we are proud to report that we are in the black and continue to see strong support from our regular givers. The reduced costs in operating our facilities have also made it possible for us to save on our budgeted expenses and put some money towards long-term capital improvements. As we did last year, we feel incredibly blessed going into the last quarter of the year in a solid financial position. We are also very thankful for the faithfulness of God and our members who have given during very difficult and uncertain financial times.

We have had to curtail many of our plans for the last quarter of the year because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID, especially the new Delta variant. Despite this, we were able to have a Fall Fun Day for our congregation to gather together outside for some much-needed fellowship. We also plan to deliver the final welcome baskets to our new townhome neighbors next month. We owe a debt of gratitude to Margie Morgan who has been making baskets for nearly three years so that each new resident feels welcomed and invited to our church. We are hopeful that our efforts will lead to new visitors.

Thanksgiving and Christmas will be challenging times for the church once again this year. Our worship team is looking for ways to make events like our Christmas Eve service a reality. We will have to be creative with our planning and careful with our execution to ensure that we are able to celebrate these special times in a safe way. I am confident that, with God’s help, we will continue to proclaim Jesus Christ as the light of the world and continue to be the church we are called to be despite the circumstances. I am excited to see what God has in store for us during the rest of the year and as we begin 2022.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Miguel A. Vélez-Andújar