Dear Mandarin UMC and Longleaf Church,
It has been over 6 months of quarantine due to COVID-19 and we know that these months have been trying to say the least. Over these last few months, we at Mandarin and Longleaf have been trying to create ways to worship and serve while, simultaneously, honoring our first rule of “Doing No Harm.”
We are grateful for everyone who completed a reopening survey from Mandarin and/or Longleaf Church. The Re-Launch Committee takes these surveys very seriously and is continuing to figure out the best way to open up safely and effectively. Your feedback along with guidance from the Florida UMC Conference, the CDC, and state and local officials are all an important part of our discussion and planning process. The Re-Launch team continues to meet weekly to review changes and discuss strategies and we will continue to update you as we move through our phased approach of re-opening.
In the last few weeks, we have continued to re-open and engage with our community. We have been doing some amazing work within our local community. Led by Gabrielle Bellamy, our Missions Coordinator, we collected school supplies for students at Crown Point Elementary School, served over 200 families at the Arlington Market Pantry, and assisted at Cup of Love Ministry: Jax at City Rescue Mission. Those are just a few highlights of the things that we have done. Thank you to everyone who has come out and supported these missions.
We have also created new small group opportunities, both in-person and online. We have created a new Fresh Expression Called “Dogs + Us” that started on August 17th. We have new off-campus small groups that are beginning for people who feel comfortable gathering together. Every Sunday there is a Zoom coffee hour from 9 am-10 am where you can connect with others digitally while you have coffee on your couch. There are a variety of ways in which you are invited to join and connect with people, virtually and in-person. If you have any questions about how to connect, contact Andrea Vrtikapa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our online worship services are continuing to be extremely powerful with prayers led by different members of our congregation each week including children and students! Our musicians and staff continue to artfully use our digital media, ranging from Virtual Choirs to Praise Bands to Pine Needle Sessions and even mastering audio clips. Since May, we have had an incredible number of people engaging and downloading our worship services each week – approximately 3,500 between both churches! That is incredible! New people are experiencing the gospel in our local community of Jacksonville and St. John’s county as well as people from different states and countries around the world including Japan, Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands! These are people who we, in some cases, have never connected with before. It is such an exciting time of sharing the love and grace of God at Mandarin and Longleaf!
We have also begun our Drive-In Worship and Devotional times at Mandarin and Longleaf. On Sunday mornings, we gather together in our cars at Freedom Crossing to worship God. We yell “amen” through our car horns and drive-by waving to people as we leave. On Thursdays, we have our Drive-In Devotional at Mandarin where we sing worship music and hear a devotional led by different volunteers. These are safe ways that we can gather together, worship, and experience community.
We are continuing to plan separate group events in order to foster community and engagement. We had our first-ever Amazing (G)race where we had the opportunity to drive and search for clues and puzzle pieces around Mandarin and St. John’s county. It was a great experience and we are continuing to look for ways to have these special events that will provide safe fun for the whole family and an opportunity to engage with one another!
The Children and Youth ministries began meeting off-campus in June. These small groups have consisted of our Jr. Youth meeting at parks and our Youth meeting on back porches and pool pavilions. Both our Children and Youth ministry teams have provided online Sunday School, weekly zoom hangouts, and ways for our families to stay in touch. These teams recently worked together to provide the Amazing (G)race and Promotion Sunday opportunities.
Finally, we are excited to announce that Longleaf and Mandarin will be worshipping in-person outdoors in the next few weeks. On Sunday, September 27, we invite you to bring your own chairs and blankets behind Freedom Crossing Academy and worship with Longleaf outdoors. On Sunday, October 4, we also invite you behind Mandarin UMC with your chairs and blankets to worship outside in God’s beautiful creation. We will continue to social distance and provide the safest space of worship and are extremely excited to gather together as the body of Christ.
We are continuing to monitor the current reality and statistics of the pandemic as it relates to our phased approach of re-opening. We are grateful for your support, patience, and grace as we navigate these uncharted territories.
Grace and Peace,
The Mandarin/Longleaf Re-Launch Team