For the bread of God… comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. John 6:33
Friends and Colleagues in Christ, grace and peace be with you as we navigate the life-changing and uncertain waters of COVID-19.
YOU HAVE BEEN AMAZING! As I surfed a variety of online worship experiences these last two Sundays, I saw people singing, praying and preaching their hearts out. My deep gratitude to each of you who is trying something new in response to new and challenging circumstances.
At the same time, we know this isn’t going to work for everyone or every place. There’s nothing wrong if your church decides to send out printed bulletins and sermons or joins another church for its online worship. If you try something and it doesn’t work, ask for help or try something different. There isn’t one right answer for all the circumstances and capacities of our churches. Adaptive leaders don’t follow the crowd, they use the resources they have (or can get) to address the circumstance they face.
You have a lot of Unanswered Questions
Easter. You want to know about Holy Week and Easter observances. I promised I’d let you know by Tuesday, March 24 whether I will extend, amend or lift the suspension of in-person worship in our churches. I will keep that promise. I hoped to have a decision today, but in consultation with other conference leaders and crisis response advisors, I am waiting to make a final decision. It is likely that I will extend the suspension of worship through at least Easter, April 12, 2020 and perhaps beyond, so be prepared for this possibility. We are planning to offer an online alternative to local worship on Easter in case in-person worship continues to be suspended.
General Conference. Annual Conferences. Jurisdictional Conference.
We learned yesterday that May’s General Conference will be postponed. Leaders across the Greater Northwest Area, and the Western Jurisdiction, are closely monitoring the recommendations of public health agencies, with the wellbeing of potential participants our utmost concern. I’ll let you know as soon as decisions are made about Annual and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Finances. We know that we are in the midst of a dramatic economic downturn. We don’t know how long it will last, or how deep it will crash. We know that others are experiencing loss of employment or income. We do know that some local churches are already experiencing reduced income. Your conference leaders are exploring ways we can relieve pressure on local churches, and ways in which we can sustain essential conference functions through this time of scarcity.
SOUL WORK: Caring for relationships and spirits as well as bodies.
We know that human beings are vulnerable to insecurity and isolation as well as to the virus. I share your concerns about how damaging fear, scarcity and isolation can be toward maintaining a balance between 1) protecting and preserving physical health and 2) concern for spiritual health and nurturing relationships. At our best, we see and tend and invite the wholeness of the persons we serve to show up in worship, in prayer, in play – in Church. And we know we aren’t really whole on the phone, or online, or with 6 feet of separation.
How do we deepen our confidence in God and each other and cultivate human community while practicing safe distances from each other? One pastor shifted from saying “social distance” to “physical distance,” emphasizing the importance of drawing near to one another socially, despite physical distance. It’s a challenge. But it’s not impossible. I know you are rising to it and sharing creative ideas: from online worship to drive-up food pantries and parking-lot meet ups for neighborhood prayers.
What hope does God offer?
Your faith in God should be a resource for you in these times.
COVID-19 is causing far-reaching, long-term changes in our daily lives and in the human race, globally. We experience the effects in our daily lives: empty store shelves, restricted activities, unusual awareness of every sneeze, throat tickle, morning cough. How many will lose their jobs? Homes? Pensions? How will we eat? We worry for our parents, grandparents, children. Some families are living in tighter contact than usual and experiencing both the blessings and curses of close community.
The Bible acknowledges that life comes with blessings and curses. Full times and lean times. And the Bible also shows us that bad news isn’t the final word. We are living in the imperfect, uncertain, dangerous, perplexing world God reveals in the Bible.
As Christians, we have a relationship with a Savior who comforts the afflicted, rescues the perishing and welcomes strangers. We know him as a man who lived in a world of human misery, and he went out of his way to reach out across social distances of every kind. We know him as God-with-us. And Jesus invites us to be partners in God’s saving grace by being with others. Jesus knows our strength better than we do. Listen for the voice of the Savior, saying, you are living through a time of trial. I see you. I am not causing this disease. It is part of an imperfect world. I am with you, leading you to be a blessing in a world of hurt.
I’ve asked you not to share Communion for a while. But don’t forget the bread and the cup. Life, given for you. Love, poured out for you. Jesus says, this is me: my body my blood. Cup of Salvation. You don’t need the symbols to experience God’s real presence. Remember God’s love for you. God puts you in the world to love one another.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky