The Plan to Reopen



Dear Servants of Christ,
Yesterday morning on the staff Zoom call I remarked at how incredibly gracefully you as a congregation have handled this season in our lives as a community. Thank you for the trust you have in me and the vestry/staff as we make decisions that are best for the congregation. Thank you also for how well you are loving one another in word and deed during this time. Jody and I were blessed to join the Zoom Soaking Prayer night last Tuesday and marveled at the Body of Christ, as we moved through the stages of Zoom Soaking Prayer. The time was rich and we received much needed prayer for Jody’s allergy attack. (I am happy to report she is much better.) This is just one example of where I see you as the Body of Christ ministering to one another.
By my calculations, we have just finished our eighth Sunday of online services. The portion of weeks prior to Easter was an adjustment; after Easter I sensed people moving into the rhythm of quarantine life, and now just as we are wrapping up the school year, here comes the news of reopening. I am certain that Governor DeSantis’s announcement on May 4th struck some of you as premature and others felt it was about time.
I want to address re-opening with you today. At the prompting of Bishop Neil, the emergency operation team began meeting to discuss what our phases one to three plans would look like whenever it was appropriate. Just to remind you, Daryl Johnston, Emily Wilson, and Dr. Jim Moulthrop have graciously served with me on this team. In addition, we have sought council of others in the parish who have expertise in this area.
Linked below you will find the work of three meetings of our team, plus the input of our vestry and staff. Before you turn to that plan, I would like begin with a few points. First, please remember that we are new at all of this so expect that there will be a learning curve. From week to week, we will no doubt learn what does and doesn’t work. As you have been gracious so far, I would ask that you continue to give grace to one another.
Second, please know that the leadership team does not intend to offend anyone but enviably some of us will be offended or offend others. If you are not wearing a mask or maintaining social distance, expect to be reminded. Also, if you are not feeling well, please stay home. If someone offends you, please keep short accounts and seek to forgive.
Third, for some of you our plan will seem excessive, for others it will seem too loose. That is the difficulty we have to face. I would commend to you that making someone else feel safe to return to church can be a very practical way of expressing love for our neighbor during this season. Some of you will be looking for restrictions that you might wish were here but are not. From my days as a commercial underwriter, I learned controlling all potential liability was impossible. If you have a business, someone can potentially get harmed. Instead of trying to eliminate exposures, we were taught rather to ‘manage risk.’ I believe this plan does just that, it manages the potential risk of the virus. That fact will mean that some of you will need to hold back from phase one or two participation in church. I would even go so far as to discourage vulnerable persons within the congregation from attending in phase one and two. To that end, the staff is working hard to ensure our online experience remains quality even after the reopening begins.
Having said all that, I ask that you review the plan. There will be several opportunities to discuss and ask questions; Emily Wilson will be joining me to answer questions. You may join our Wednesday night Zoom call 6:30-7:30. The link has been sent via email; contact if you wish to be added to our emailing list.
Tentatively, we are working towards our first Phase One service to be Sunday, May 31st (Pentecost Sunday). I emphasize that this is a tentative date because the next couple of weeks will show us how the state and our county reopening affects the rate of infection. We will also have a lot of work to do to train ushers, greeters, and the parish as a whole.
God bless you all as we continue to walk this way together and I ask your prayers for our leadership at the diocesan and parish level as we seek to make decisions for the well-being of our congregation. Know that I am praying for you all, and I am always available for individual conversation.


Reopening Plan


These Faces Seem Familiar – Day 22

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. …’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:34, 40

To inherit the kingdom, I am directed to help the “least of these.” Jesus gives me some examples of those who fall into this category:

  • The hungry and thirsty – The homeless fit neatly into this group. But I don’t need to give to them because they will probably use the money to buy booze or drugs, right?
  • Strangers – Lately there have been several instances of people in town/coming to town who need a place to stay: people who were fleeing Irma, traveling ministry leaders, families of individuals receiving treatment at UF Health, old friends with young children. Yet my house is a bit messy, I don’t want to risk my children not sleeping through the night, and our dog doesn’t do well with strangers. If they understood my situation, they probably wouldn’t even want to come.
  • The naked – I give clothes to Goodwill all the time. Goodwill then provides my clothes to naked people, right? Check that one off the list!
  • The sick – I have a family with small children and it’s flu season, Jesus! It would be irresponsible for me to visit anybody at the hospital (i.e., flu den), let alone talk to my coworker who just sneezed.
  • Prisoners – Don’t those people have free food, television, and on-demand chaplains? Sounds like their needs are taken care of to me.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:41, 45-46

This follow-up warning makes me extremely uncomfortable, but probably not as uncomfortable as Jesus when He is hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick, and in prison. I feel God calling me to meet the needs of the least of these, irrespective of my family situation, health status (current or future), home size, handicaps, bank account, schedule, and especially my judgement of whether the person in question deserves help (spoiler alert: they deserve it!). So I ask you to join me as I attempt to picture the face of Jesus over the faces of those I would sooner not feed, accommodate, clothe, take care of, or visit.

For this season of my life, God has called me to help lead and direct Servant’s ministry to Littlewood Elementary School. Please understand that I am a solid introvert and that this is not something that I would ever choose for myself – it was more of a situation of a door the size of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building opening in front of me. I encourage you to not shy away from opportunities that make you uncomfortable or that you think are incompatible with your personality type. I suspect more and more that Jesus rarely calls us to actions which make us more comfortable, equally comfortable, or even slightly uncomfortable. To follow Him, we must deny ourselves and daily take up our cross. Then, from under our cross, we will more easily see His face.
Justin Smith

Justin has been a faithful sinner for the last 33 years of his life and continues to find inventive and creative reasons for putting his palm to his forehead and his foot in his mouth. He is devoted to finding ways of taking the abundance of privilege, blessings, and grace that are being dumped over him to point others to Jesus. Though he feels called to Littlewood for now, Justin’s heart also lies in helping the homeless of Gainesville. If you would like to join Servants in reaching out to the least of these at Littlewood, he would love to talk with you – drop him an email at