Once I found the recording online for Mazeppa United Methodist Church for August 23rd, I settled in for the full 57 and a half minutes.

The big wooden back-lit cross was squared up nicely on some pretty angled wooden paneling in a center archway with an open Bible and lit candles in front of it and an American flag in the corner. Pastor Neil appeared at the pulpit in a dark suit and tie. An impressive array of recorded music was played throughout the service, including Johnny Cash and Amy Grant, as well as some harmonious quartets. I found myself doing a little air conducting (both 4:4 and 3:4 time, if I was channeling my high school band director correctly), as well as some minor attempts at singing harmony.

The “joys and concerns” announcements entailed congratulations on a 65th wedding anniversary, prayers for healing for a stroke patient, for broken bones, and for a farm couple who both have COVID-19 and are finding it “hard to even get out of bed” to go do chores and feed the animals. There was later a P.S. that the pastor is expecting another grandchild in February. Along with those, others to “lift up” was safety for teachers, medical workers and our military, and wisdom for world leaders.

Scripture readings highlighted “Who do you say that I am?”

Simon, who later became Peter, as in the rock and keeper of the keys, called it. He divinely discerned that Jesus was the messiah.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

We were asked to reflect on how many times we’ve had to identify ourselves — filling out medical and business forms, creating usernames and passwords. We were also asked to consider how others may see and describe us — from strangers passing by to close friends and family. (I was pleased to see in medical notes that a doctor once referred to me as “pleasant.” And that was in addition to the standard, but I still like it, “alert and oriented.”)

As it was preached, with God it’s personal. “It’s about knowing Jesus, versus knowing about Jesus.” It seems to me that a pandemic is a particularly good time to have such a close “friend.”

Pastor explained the identity of each one of us includes being a “building block.” Before close of the service we were reminded there is a special collection being taken up for storm victims in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

After the benediction, Pastor Neil extinguished the candles up front and left the sanctuary with the flame of the lighter wick still burning.