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Ongoing Response to COVID-19

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-08

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Friday 8 May 2020
Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois 

Dear Friends,
Yesterday I posted a song from Godspell drawn from a psalm of lament, Psalm 137. That song touched a nerve. Many of you liked that tune. Jennifer Black shared this version of that Psalm by Linda Ronstadt. Give it a listen:
I’ll be preaching about lament on Sunday. JIP has a story to tell about his recent sadnesses; and a lesson to share. 
I’ve been channeling my friend John Williams, chaplain at Austin College, by thinking about sad song lyrics. I’ve shared my top eight below; coming up with ten would have bummed me out. Lament as a form of prayer gives us permission to grieve, weep, complain, holler, moan, sit on our pity pot. Lament is a way of sharing the darker parts of ourselves with God. Lament gets it off our chests into God’s able hands. 
While I’m on the subject of lament, I recently erased the dry-erase board in my office. Goodbye to notes for some of the events this spring to which I was mightily looking forward: Ebert Fest, sharing local art in Westminster Hall with you during the Boneyard Arts Festival, Cuba Sunday, and a Cuba Trip. None that that happened. We would have grown, had fun, laughed, cried. We have so many things to look forward to, but these opportunities are gone. 
Is it okay to be sorry? To feel bad? Lamentation has place in a spiritual life. 
I’ll ‘see’ you on Sunday.
Turn on your “device” and find us at:   FirstPres.Live
Pay attention to God’s activity in the world around you.
            Be amazed.
                       Tell somebody.
Matt Matthews
* * *
New fun photo challenge! Each Friday the Nurture Committee is challenging us to read an assigned scripture about Jesus and come up with a representation of the story using whatever you already have around the house and share it in photo form.
 MIRACLES-????? You choose! The Petersons chose John 2:1-11
Many people came to Jesus in need.
Some sick and some lame, and some broken indeed
And often Jesus would heal, touch or feed
News of Him spread around Israel with speed
There are many stories of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible
With your family, pick your favorite miracle story and read it together.
Take a photo that represents the miracle or write the verse and take a photo with it.
Post your photo to:
 For Instagram @fpcchampaign

Fathers and sons. A Fred Craddock story:
* * *
Your Pastor’s Favorite Songs of Lament:
1-Big River/Johnny Cash
Well I taught that weeping willow how to cry cry cry,
Taught the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
Tears I cried for that woman are gonna flood you big river,
And I’m a gonna sit right here until I die.

2-Hank Williams, Sr./I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Here that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whinning low
I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry…

3-Sad/Yours Truly 
Sad is the suffering, name brands and diamond ring.
Sad is having everything and nothing at all.
Sad is a sunset sky. The pretty girl likes the other guy. 
Sad is the seagull’s cry, flying over the bay.
Lord, have mercy on my tired, sad, sad soul
By your mercy, make your broken people whole
4-Yesterday/The Beatles
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday
5-Mister Bojangles/The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
He said I dance now at every chance and honky tonks
For drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
Cause I drinks a bit

He shook his head and as he shook his head
I heard someone ask please

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

6-The River/Bruce Springsteen
I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well Mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse?

7-Daniel/Elton John
Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
And I can see Daniel waving goodbye
Oh it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes

8-Sultans of Swing/Dire Straits
And then the man he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
“Goodnight, now it’s time to go home”
Then he makes it fast with one more thing

“We are the Sultans . . .
We are the Sultans of Swing”

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-07

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Thursday May 7th  2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
It was great hearing Jean Rene Balekita sing last night on our Wednesday Night Concert. It felt normal and good. Next Wednesday we’re going to have a evening prayer service; join us then. 
* * *
I sit on the leadership team of the Illinois Conference of Churches. We drafted the statement below this week.  With the governor’s new guidelines about “re-opening” our state, your worship team will meet early next week to discuss what that means for us. We’ll be digesting a document from the PCUSA and picking the brain of Peter Yau, our Covid-19 advisor. I’m hearing that many of you over the age of sixty will be sheltering-in-place until we get closer to a vaccine. Share your thoughts with me.  
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For more information: The Reverend Walter Carlson, [
May 5, 2020 
The Leadership Team of the Illinois Conference of Churches (ICC) believes sheltering-in-place guidelines save lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We support careful, evidence-based steps to re-open the economy.
We believe that the health and safety of our wider community rises above individual autonomy in this unprecedented global emergency. 
Limiting public excursions for anything but essential purposes and exercise and the wearing of masks in public while practicing social distancing are practical ways of showing respect for the communities where we live and serve. 
But we don’t like it.                        
Those we love and serve are hurting.
We grieve the myriad losses our communities are experiencing, not the least of which is the loss of life.  Even in the midst of this crisis, more have died in this country from the coronavirus than in the Vietnam War. Business owners, closed now for weeks, wonder how long and if they can hold on. Teachers and parents are struggling with teaching from home.  Our front-line workers have held the line steadily with grace and courage. While some families are enjoying down time and togetherness, economic and social stresses are tearing others apart.  Our state must rely on science-based directives so that we will properly protect the people who live here. 
While the CARES Act, unemployment benefits, and other programs are helping some, many people fall through the cracks. Small businesses, the homeless, the seriously disabled are struggling.  There is evidence that the fault lines of race and economic disparity that have always divided our communities may widen.  The pandemic has caused many problems for Black and Brown people because of employment as essential workers.  Many are not eligible for the stimulus money or unemployment.   Health care is not an option for part time workers while pre-existing medical conditions plague Hispanics and African Americans. 
While we do not know what science will indicate about coming back together for worship, movies, concerts, and even haircuts, we are hopeful that human kindness, not to mention the grace of God, will flourish just as wildly as springtime is blooming across our state.
We are in prayer for our beloved state and her people, particularly mindful of those whose lives and livelihoods are most endangered. 
The Leadership Team of the 
Illinois Conference of Churches, representing
approximately seven million Illinois 
Christians in 13 denominations.
Good Word:
A psalm of lament:
Psalm 137/Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Remember in Godspell Jesus and the disciples sang this song after the last supper. We return to the Psalms in life’s highs and lows. Let this break your heart. Again:–_c
Let us pray:
How long, O LORD?
Much, much love to you all.
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-06

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Wednesday May 6th  2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
Concert TONIGHT at 7:00 featuring our very own Jean Rene Balekita. Get the link at FirstPres.Live. ‘See’ you there!
* * *
I have said before that this pandemic puts us all—everyone around the world—in the same boat. I was dead wrong. 
We are not in the same boat. We are in the same storm, yes, but not the same boat. Some families are enjoying family time together, zooming with grandparents, catching up on projects at home. The stress of unemployment is tearing some families apart. The economic safety nets aren’t catching everyone. The ‘boat’ I’m in with my family at my house is different from the boat friends in frail health are paddling. And our boats are different than those in a refugee camp or a village in South Sudan. 
I fear I’ve sometimes been smug equating my inconveniences with those of others. Some of you have lost loved ones. I apologize for my insensitivity. 
Yes, under these shelter in place orders I have truly enjoyed my family and writing letters to you (beloved flock). I have taken a close look at spring on long walks. We’ve cooked good meals, played music and ping pong, and have watched movies. My pantry and heart have been full. 
Not so for others in other boats. 
My prayer of lament this morning goes something like this: Bless us all, LORD, but bless everybody else first. I’m fine. I’m thankful. And I’d be glad, for once, to stand in the back of the line.
* * *  
Grace Ashenfelter shares this bit of history with us. It’s floating around Facebook. Younger members of our flock have nothing to compare this Covid-19 pandemic to. Our older friends, have lived through a lot. This doesn’t reduce our pain, but it places it in the bigger picture of the last 120 years.
Imagine you were born in 1900. On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. 19-22 million people perish in that war. 
Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. 
On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. 
When you turn 39, World War II starts. On your 41st birthday, the United States is fully engaged in WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday. 75 million people perish in the war. 
Smallpox was epidemic until you were in your 40’s, as it killed 300 million people during your lifetime.  
At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. 
From your birth until you are 55 you dealt with the fear of Polio epidemics each summer. 
At 55 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. During the Cold War, you lived each day with the fear of nuclear annihilation. 
On your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis. When you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends. 
What wisdom do our older neighbors have to share with us about living through hard times?
Wednesday Night Concert with Jean Rene Balekita. Join us at 7:00 p.m. Tune in to the link you will find at See you tonight for an hour of celebration in song.
Good Word:
A psalm of personal lament and hope: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1   In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; 
          do not let me ever be put to shame; 
          in your righteousness deliver me. 
2   Incline your ear to me; 
          rescue me speedily. 
     Be a rock of refuge for me, 
          a strong fortress to save me.

3   You are indeed my rock and my fortress; 
          for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 
4   take me out of the net that is hidden for me, 
          for you are my refuge. 
5   Into your hand I commit my spirit; 
          you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God

15  My times are in your hand; 
          deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 
16  Let your face shine upon your servant; 
          save me in your steadfast love.
Let us pray:
Bless the boats we are in as we weather this storm, Holy God. And even on this rough sea, might you find a way through our hands to bless others. AMEN. 
Much love to you all.
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-05

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Tuesday May 5th  2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews

To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
The Silly Humor Edition garnered lots more jokes from you. I have two observations. (1) You shouldn’t quite your day jobs to begin a career in comedy, and (2) I’ll pass along your jokes in future letters. (They really were wonderful!) THANKS for sharing them with me/us!
A paraphrase based on the sermons of Bill Wimberly   
1.  I know God well and God knows me intimately;
     therefore my soul is equipped for all eventualities.
2.  Once a day God forces me to do nothing except
     sleep and often encourages me at other times to
     do nothing except enjoy the gift of life, as
     affirmations of God’s sovereignty.
3.  God picks me up when I am down, daily has me
     wrestle with moral issues, and stakes his
     reputation on the results.
4. When I face death or dying I am not alone for you
    and I, O God, face them together; your past
    discipline and care of me have convinced me of that.
5.  In defiance of all that is wrong with life you equip 
     me with a thankful heart for what is good:  a great

     purpose and a great destiny.  Plus there is more
     joy in being alive than I can ever manage.
6.  Wherever I am, good works should result from my
     presence there; God’s grace will surely pursue me
     daily; and I shall always have a home with God.
Wednesday Night Concert with Jean Rene Balekita. Join us at 7:00 p.m. Tune in at See you this Wednesday for an hour celebration in song.
Here’s the link to the Heart of Mission:  
Good Word: 
John 14:1-6a
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Let us pray:
Holy God, open us to the bounty of your grace. Even on rainy days, our cup runneth over. AMEN.
Much love to you all.
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138