Friends, family, and young people of The United Methodist Church and beyond,
Our names are Alejandra Salemi, Brennan Hurley, and Senesie Rogers. You may not know us, but we have been praying and preparing to give the Young People’s Address at the 2020 United Methodist General Conference for the last eight months. It has been a long journey full of conversation and discernment on how to address a room full of delegates, brothers and sisters in The United Methodist Church, who were each preparing for theological debates and the potential split of our church among other church business. Now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic responses changing global realities and the recent delay of the 2020 General Conference, we recognize that our ability to deliver the Young People’s Address must wait until several months or perhaps a year. We are disappointed to wait. At the same time, we understand and respect the need to embrace social and physical distancing suggestions for the protection of us all.
However, we still find ourselves with a statement to offer at this time in the life of the church. We offer here our thoughts on the responses to the shelter-at-home and social (or physical) distancing recommendations and the role of young people and the church in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19. We will save our thoughts on the impending decisions of the future of the UMC for next year!
We call on the youth and young adults of our United Methodist connection and our world to recognize the critical role we play in this pandemic and the importance of adhering to professional recommendations to prevent more harm and death from affecting our communities. During this time of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, it is imperative that we maintain our distance and lead by example, even when others around us have not yet realized the seriousness and urgency of the present guidelines.
We may have all seen the array of memes and critiques naming Gen Z and Millennials as people taking this pandemic lightly and still continuing to socialize in person during these times. There have been many myths floating around trying to ease the fears and concerns of young people by claiming that this disease affects only older people or those with preexisting conditions. We urge all young people to reconsider this dangerous myth. Although the severity of the illness may be reduced for young people, there is still great potential for transmitting COVID-19 to people who are vulnerable and causing them harm. We may rely on the Great Commandment (loving your neighbor as yourself) or John Wesley’s “Three Simple Rules” (expounded upon by Bishop Rueben P. Job) of “Doing no harm, doing good, and staying in love with God.” Consider your community and all of the people you have seen in the last fourteen days: your roommates, your parents, siblings or grandparents. We are not social distancing not just to keep ourselves healthy and safe. We are physically distancing to keep those around us healthy and safe as well.
As fellow young people within The United Methodist Church, we encourage you to follow these few simple steps in protecting yourselves and the communities around you. Doing so may be a witness of your faith and discipleship to those not yet connected with the UMC.
- Get and share information from reliable sources: This is the first and most important step. Waves of information, opinions, suggestions, observations, and “facts” are crashing upon us daily. Please check sources at all times and share only reliable sources that you have researched. Worry less about being the first person to offer advice and concern yourself with sharing quality information that does no harm. Check out the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization) websites and your local department of health website regularly for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
- Stay at home and practice social (physical) distancing: Regardless of whether your community has issued a stay-at-home order or not, the efforts to stop the spread of infection are most effective when we do not give the virus opportunities to spread in the first place. This disease has proven especially deadly for elderly people. Today, staying at home might be the best way to honor your mother and father, as well as your grandmother and grandfather, and perhaps the aging members of the UMC as well!
- Practice good hygiene: The simple act of washing your hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of the virus and keep yourself safe. Check out proper handwashing technique here at https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
- Take care of your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing: If you have traveled by airplane before, you may have heard this as part of the safety briefing; “Don’t help others with their oxygen mask before you get your own oxygen mask on.” During times of fear and anxiety, we are being reminded to help and check in with others. However, taking care of yourself is also important right now. Remember that there is no need to find maximum productivity during quarantine; if you are in a safe home and are healthy and well, you are doing all that is being asked of you by health officials. Give yourself the space to cope with your emotions and find the rest needed during these times. Try practicing yoga at home, journal, call a friend, or try an at-home workout. Listen to your body and find healthful ways to cope with your new environment. Set boundaries for your work and virtual connections. Pay attention to when you feel overwhelmed. You can still find Sabbath.
- Find ways to support your community: Your church is living through an unprecedented time. Weekly worship, Bible studies, and other ministries of your local church provide much needed community building and socialization for many people, on top of the ways that your church typically serves your community and the world. Call people in your church and check in on them, along with other volunteers or church staff. Send written letters or notes. Pray for them. Ask how you can help them, if you can. Contact your pastor and ask how you can help with your church’s existing COVID-19 response plans. Are there new needs within your own church that you are uniquely gifted to meet? Consider the financial hardship your local church might be experiencing; ask yourself how God might be leading you to give.
- Love people too much: Jesus showed us that the commandment to love covers all others (Matthew 22:34-40), and the tendency is for our love to fall short. We usually love too little. During a crisis like this, let love be your guide. Call as many people as you can and check on them, even if you think they are doing well. Love them so much that you encourage them to practice good social distancing and hygiene during this time. Pray for the people around you and the people on the frontlines caring for those infected. John Wesley said that those in his societies would show their faith “by doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort.” Do good in every possible way, even if it is in the confines of your home; let love shine through.
- Recognize Economic Impacts: We may experience inflated prices and limited access to goods or services. There may be businesses around us unable to serve and considering bankruptcy. As young people, we may not have savings or reserves and find ourselves relying on charity, unemployment services, or government assistance for the first time in our lives. Look for ways to increase the economic security and meet your own needs and the needs of your community. Learn about what John Wesley meant by saying “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can” by learning about his sermon “The Use of Money” and other commentary. If you are in a position where you have earned and saved, you have the chance to give! The church needs you to continue giving and you can be strategic and generous by supporting local businesses or individuals suffering because of closures.
Though the three of us are scattered throughout the U.S. and the world, we are finding ways to be part of the effort and participate in our communities as we all find a new normal during these times:
Alejandra: In Florida, where I reside, there are currently great efforts in “flattening the curve.” Many of our communities and counties have set preventative measures to ensure that we are keeping our citizens safe and preventing a large outbreak, hoping to protect the elderly populations that reside in Florida. The Florida Annual Conference of the UMC has embraced the idea of community online, and many of our local churches are creating beautiful virtual spaces to gather together for prayer, community, and support. Our pews sit empty but our communities are still thriving! Very recently, I finished my Masters of Public Health (talk about timing, huh?). I was asked by the Florida Annual Conference to help arrange comprehensive health education material in Spanish to help our Latinx communities who may be experiencing higher rates of infection or death. This effort is an attempt to close the gap in access to care and education by helping people become empowered and stay informed.
Brennan: In North Carolina, we are under a stay-at-home order similar to most other states. We have been worshiping online for a few weeks now, and we tried new things during Holy Week, like a virtual Love Feast and Easter vigil. While my churches (I serve a two-point charge) have not had any in-person gatherings, we responded quickly to school closures by utilizing our church van to deliver meals to children and families, and our food pantry continues to operate and serve our community. I have encouraged our church to call one another, our neighbors, and anyone whom they might consider more vulnerable or lonely until those people get tired of being checked on and prayed for. I have seen the fruits of faithful people stepping up to this challenge. In this difficult and strange season, we are learning what it means for the church to be deployed, and I anticipate that there will be a revived hunger for mission, outreach, and worship once this crisis passes.
Senesie: In Sierra Leone, we have recorded few confirmed but growing-number of COVID-19 cases. So far, there have been no deaths. Our government is working flat out to help save the situation. They have started effective restrictions on traveling and public gatherings. Our usual Sunday services and other church functions have been affected and we are learning to adapt.
We look forward to the day when we can all rejoin our communities and heal as a human race from the grips of this pandemic. Until that day, we continue to be in prayer with you and loving you all deeply from afar.
Peace and health be with you during this time,
Alejandra, Brennan, Senesie