Stepping forward safely in love and trust

Clergy Siblings in Christ,

Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, 
so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. 
Help each other out. And run for it!–Hebrews 12:12, The Message

Friends, we have been running to care, serve and survive COVID-19 for more than 14 months and the end is not yet in sight. You have been our essential workers in ministry for many months as our buildings have been largely closed and activities severely restricted.

We have not crossed the finished line, though we have learned a lot, adapted incredibly, and experienced the presence of God in ways we never expected. From my heart, thank you for your endurance, your courage and fortitude, your vulnerability, your compassion, your faithfulness in the valley of the shadow of death.

Attached is new guidance for churches as they Stepping forward safely in love and trust, that builds upon, but replaces Reimagining Life Together.& It acknowledges the continuing risk of disease, advances in science, and the increasing capacity of our local church leaders to manage the risk in their contexts. New responsibility falls to local leaders to understand and guide their ministry settings wisely and safely with fewer mandated guidelines.

Some of you will welcome the shift of responsibility to local leaders. Others may dread managing intense differences of opinion within your congregation as you make difficult decisions locally. I want to call your attention to two provisions from the document that may help you lead with strength.

1. “…please remember Saint Paul’s admonition that what is “permissible” is not always “beneficial” to the common good. (I Corinthians 10:23). While some churches may act quickly to adopt new, less restrictive practices, it is always OK for a church or ministry to choose to remain more cautious for any reason.”

2. “A local church is not permitted to hold in-person worship without the approval of the pastor. For local churches, decisions about the use of church property for worship or other gatherings belong to the pastor without interference from the Board of Trustees (Book of Discipline, ¶ 2533).”

Your trusted lay leaders and clergy colleagues, district superintendents and directors of connectional ministry are your partners in ministry as you lead one more challenge in the fight against this deadly disease.

And most of all, GOD IS WITH US.

May God bless and keep you all in your circles of care — members, friends, family, neighbors, strangers — so no one will trip and fall!

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Area
The United Methodist Church

A pastoral update on our COVID-19 response

Dear Siblings in Christ, 

We are making progress, but we are not quite there yet. It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life as we knew it. We continue to persevere, exhausted at times, yet anticipating the day when we can gather, greet each other, share communion and other precious rhythms of life and spiritual practice in person without risking harm to one another. Hopeful also that we now carry with us new learnings and practices, hard lessons of necessity that will continue to connect us in new ways in life and ministry.  

The rapid vaccine rollout gives us hope that we can enjoy more freedom to gather as families and faith communities soon. Vaccinations coupled with continuous strict adherence to safety protocols are expected to lower infection rates, hospitalizations and COVID-19 related deaths. Overall, we have seen the number of cases decline since the winter peak in many places, but progress has been stalled by premature re-openings, the easing of restrictions in some places, resistance by some to being vaccinated and observing simple safety practices: washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask. I hope that each of us is continuing to follow these practices, as well as being vaccinated, consistent with medical advice, as soon as we are eligible.  

I was surprised by the deep joy that welled up in me when those shots went in my arm, protecting not only me but also everyone I encounter from the dangers of this virus. I’m grateful to every person who is able and willing to join this movement toward health and safety.   

As Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reminded us in a briefing earlier this year,  

“We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us – not now; not when mass vaccination is so very close.” 

Permissible not Necessarily Beneficial 

In an article for The Atlantic, Dr. James Hamblin of the Yale School of Public Health points out,  

“Our social lives can resume, but only when the whole community is ready. The turning point does not arrive for individuals, one by one, as soon as they’ve been vaccinated; it comes for all of us at once, when a population becomes immune.” 

With this understanding, we are advised that the number of coronavirus cases needs to decrease further before we resume regular activities, especially in light of the arrival of new fast-spreading variants of the virus. A premature reopening, even if allowed by the state, may run the risk of not just stalling but even reversing the recent progress we have already achieved.  

I am reminded of Saint Paul’s admonition that things that are “permissible” are not necessarily things that are “beneficial” to the common good. (I Corinthians 10:23).  

While we should celebrate the good news of vaccines providing a layer of protection already for a significant number of members in some of our congregations, the church does not belong solely to those who are vaccinated. Especially as we have just now reached a time when all adults are eligible to receive a vaccine, we must continue to be patient to allow them the privilege of receiving this gift of security before we consider letting our guard down. At the same time, we will need to find ways to protect and include children in church life while continuing to wait for vaccination eligibility to be extended to them. 

As the church, God calls us always to do things that are beneficial because we bear responsibility towards the well-being of others, especially the most vulnerable among us.  

A Posture of Hopeful Caution 

The progress we see in vaccinations, tempered by the potential threat of variants we race, leads me toward a posture of hopeful caution; we are almost there but not quite there yet. Even as our hope is renewed with the increasing percentage of those vaccinated, our decisions and actions must continue to manifest the utmost concern for one another as an act of love in response to Jesus’ command for us to love one another as he had loved us (John 13:34).  

Accordingly, I am asking churches to remain vigilant in their planning and decision-making processes. The COVID-19 Response Team, made up of lay and clergy members from across the area, is continuing to review and amend its guidance to local churches. By May 5th, we will release updated guidelines for Phase 3, shifting more responsibility to local leaders to guide their congregation’s, camp’s or other ministry setting’s COVID-19 response.  

I am grateful for each of you and your faithfulness and commitment, especially during this long time of physical separation due to this pandemic. May the hard lessons learned as we have persevered, and new skills developed as you have adapted, empower our work together and witness to God’s love which never fails us. 

“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31) 

With love and grace, 

Elaine JW Stanovsky 
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area 

Offered in consultation with the COVID-19 Response Team, as currently composed: 

  • Rev. Alyssa Baker, pastor, Open Door Churches of Salem-Keizer, OR-ID Conference 
  • Laurie Day, OR-ID Conference Director of Connectional Ministries 
  • Rev. Jim Doepken, pastor, Moose Pass & Seward Memorial UMCs, Alaska Conference 
  • Rev. Mark Galang, Puget Sound District Superintendent, PNW Conference 
  • Rhondalei Gabuat, Executive Assistant for Bishop Stanovsky Greater Northwest Episcopal Area  
  • Rev. Karen Hernandez, Sage District Superintendent, OR-ID Conference 
  • Rev. Pat Longstroth, pastor, Bremerton UMC, PNW Conference 
  • Becky Platt, lay member, Boise (ID): Whitney UMC, OR-ID Conference 
  • Patrick Scriven, PNW Conference Director of Communications 
  • Jim Truitt, lay member, Renton (WA): Fairwood Community UMC, PNW Conference 

Standing in solidarity against anti-Asian hate

Friends in ministry in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area,  

Where does love live, if not in our hearts and in our relationships with God and our neighbors?

My heart is heavy with this week’s news of a young white man’s racial hatred targeting Asian and Asian American women for murder in Atlanta. Is there no limit to the depths of hatred and inhumanity?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

What insanity blames innocent fellow citizens for a virus that spreads silently, putting people of every nation and race at risk? No-one is safe. No-one is to blame. If one suffers, we all suffer together.

My heart overflows with love for the women who lost their lives, for elders attacked on sidewalks, for passers-by spit at. Love lives where people lay their lives down for their neighbors, not where people violate the dignity, safety and very lives of their neighbors out of irrational fear and hatred.

Listen with me to the reflections of my friend and colleague, Bishop Bob Hoshibata of the Desert Southwest Conference, who said this week: “We must confront the ways that harm presents itself: whether it be ‘innocent’ re-telling of jokes, to perpetuating racist rhetoric related to COVID-19, or violent actions to innocent people, we must acknowledge that these are things that fuel bias and prejudice against those of Asian heritage.”

I affirm the words from Asian and Asian American Bishops of the United Methodist Church, the New Federation of Asian American United Methodists, the Asian American Language Ministry Plan, along with other Asian American leaders and academics of the United Methodist Church, including some from the Greater NW Area: “We ask that all United Methodists read again and live out our own Charter for Racial Justice which states that all persons are of equal value in the sight of God and that racism is a rejection of the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

I encourage you to participate in this webinar, March 24 at 4 p.m. PDT, hosted by Asian-American friends and colleagues in the California-Nevada Conference.

May the LOVE of God continue to light our path in these dark days, 

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky 

Bishop Stanovsky announces new dates for online annual conferences

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky asks today that clergy and lay members of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences hold the dates of June 20-24, 2021 open for online Annual Conference sessions.

The three conferences will gather for opening and closing worship experiences, but they will meet separately to conduct the respective business of each conference. This is a change from the previously announced dates of June 9-12, 2021.

The new dates were set in response to unfolding plans at the global and jurisdictional levels, amid a global pandemic. Today, the Commission on General Conference announced that General Conference will be moved, again, to Aug. 29 – Sep. 6, 2022.

The Council of Bishops also called today for a special online General Conference session on May 8, for the sole purpose of allowing the use of paper ballots for delegates to act upon 12 amendments to the Book of Discipline that would enable the church to effectively continue its work until the postponed 2020 General Conference is held in 2022.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in a process of separating one United Methodist Church into two or more church bodies, based on theology and human sexuality. We cannot wait forever to release the tension that currently distracts our attention and compromises our effectiveness,” Stanovsky said. “With the shifts in denominational decision-making timelines, it’s crucial that Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences meet this summer to listen to God and to each other as we carry out the important work of our mission and ministry.”

While Bishop Stanovsky has set the dates for online annual conferences, the timing of each conference’s session during the week is still being discussed. Members can expect to see sessions extend beyond the essentials-only structure held last fall, but there will still be limitations on how robust each session can be, given the constraints of online conferences.

Registration information, a more thorough schedule of sessions (including plans for clergy and laity sessions ahead of June 20), deadlines and procedures for submitting legislation and reports in each conference will be announced in early March.

###

Two important announcements for the Greater Northwest Area

Beloved in Christ, 

I write to you today with two announcements that will impact the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church this year.

On Epiphany, I requested voluntary retirement as a bishop in The United Methodist Church, effective December 31, 2021. Today, I share this news with you.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

It seems too early to announce my retirement long before it arrives, but the many steps that proceed the assignment of a new bishop demand it. This is truer this year, with denominational strife, the ongoing pandemic, and the financial consequences of each creating additional uncertainty for our United Methodist connection.

While I regret that my retirement may add to the burden of others, I am convinced that this is the right time and the right action for me personally. I will continue to work diligently with conference leaders through the year to prepare for whatever and whoever comes next. And I trust that God continues to move in the hearts of the faithful to raise up leaders for the next stage of the journey.

The other news I share is less personal but will impact us all the same.

Given the continuing presence of COVID-19 in our communities, we now expect to hold Annual Conference 2021, once again, remotely online.

While a date change is possible, please continue to hold the announced dates, June 9-12, 2021, as we explore alternative possibilities — including multiple virtual sessions. We expect to know more soon as decisions are made about plans for delayed general and jurisdictional conferences.

We’ll let members of each Annual Conference know more information as it becomes available.

Despite the many challenges and transitions life brings, in faith, we know that love lives on. Please know that I continue to hold the people and ministries of the Greater Northwest Area in my prayers as we witness this truth together, though still apart from one another.

With gratitude and hope,

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Church as Beloved Community

Church as Beloved Community


A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky • January 2021

To the majority white United Methodists in the Greater Northwest Area, with an invitation to others to listen in and join the conversation.

But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…. He broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us…. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

Ephesians 2, Selections

Beloved in Christ, I have carried you in my heart and prayers every waking moment through these seasons of pandemic, racial reckoning, civic unrest and violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. As we lament the image of a flag of the Confederacy waved brazenly in the Capitol, and brace for more extremist violence there and in state capitols across the country, the burden is heavy on people of conscience, who live in faith, hope and love through such demanding events.

I pray for the outgoing president, Mr. Trump, and for the incoming president, Mr. Biden, for elected and appointed government servants in every place and role. May the good in each prevail, and their sin be quenched. 

A word to People and Pastors of Color in The United Methodist Church

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way…into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

We have a long journey ahead. It is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit that you know and offer your gifts to the whole body of the church. It is not your responsibility to endure disrespect in the church, or to teach me and my white siblings how our words and actions harm and exclude. And yet, out of your love of God and in undying hope of a new day, you generously continue in relationship as the Church strives to grow in faith, service and witness. May God build the church up by showing us how our parts can work properly together in love.

I pray for our nation and its people. May values of respect, freedom, equity and fairness lead the way through our present distress and danger. I pray for people whose anger has spilled out in violence, anger over things both righteous and evil.

I want to bring a hopeful message to the Church. But the hope of this season is only visible through thick clouds. May we walk by the light of faith, in service to love until hope rises again, unobstructed.

As we celebrate the life and leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I bring you a message that I know will be hard. It is rooted and grounded in my love for our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and my love of all God’s people.

NOW IS THE TIME. THIS IS THE PLACE. WE ARE THE PEOPLE to overturn white privilege and supremacy in our hearts, our minds and in our communities and to build a beloved community of racial justice and equity.
NOW IS THE TIME to dismantle oppressive systems of institutional racism, which
  • violate the dignity and sanctity of God’s creation
  • divide communities
  • deform the body of Christ
  • isolate local churches from their neighbors and
  • silence the prophetic witness of Christians to God’s justice and equity.

White racism arrived in the New World with Christopher Columbus in 1492, long before the Pilgrims or the Declaration of Independence elevated the value of freedom. It took root and has not been rooted out. It is alive and well in America. Now, cell phone videos of police violence against unarmed Black people expose persistent racism for all to see. Race is on the public agenda in a new and urgent way. Protests, demands, personal testimonies, documentaries and webinars have opened a window into how pervasive racism is in the life of our nation.

Compared to people of color, white people enjoy the “good life” disproportionately by nearly every measure: education, health care, environmental health, criminal justice and incarceration, voting rights, business ownership, employment, income, housing, and life expectancy, to name some. This is the privilege white people enjoy in America. The patterns of privilege and poverty in America are embedded in institutions, norms, practices and systems that do not depend upon individual bias, hatred or mistreatment. They have a life of their own.

THE CHURCH IS THE PLACE… to wake up and courageously face the sin of racism and to create beloved community. 

God gives people of faith a vision of diverse human beings living together in right relationship with one another. But through history, the Christian Church has often created and maintained systems of racial inequity in America and around the world. Today, the church is called to recognize and dismantle its own racism and join a movement of racial reckoning and reconciliation in every place.

When the communities where the church is located experience transition especially identified as economic and/or ethnic, the local church shall engage in deliberate analysis of the community change and alter its program to meet the needs and cultural patterns of the new residents.  The local church shall make every effort to remain in the community and develop effective ministries to those who are newcomers, whether of a cultural, economic, or ethnic group different from the original or present members.

¶ 212, Book of Discipline

By the year 2045, white people will be a minority of the U.S. population. In the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, nearly every town and city is rapidly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, but our United Methodist Churches in the region are predominantly white, middle class, aging and declining. For the most part, our churches are not adapting to the changing population by welcoming or engaging the growing number of their neighbors who come from different national, racial or ethnic heritages.

The UMC recognizes that the sin of racism has been destructive to its unity throughout its history.  Racism continues to cause painful division and marginalization.  the UMC shall confront and seek to eliminate racism, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.  The UMC shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of racial justice at all times and in all places. 

¶ 5, Book of Discipline

The executive staff team of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church recognizes inclusion as an essential practice of a vital church. We are building this practice into our own leadership teams and agendas. At every meeting, we participate in intercultural competency training and applying what we learn to our team and its work. We are intentional about inviting people of color into pastoral leadership of our churches to recognize and engage with the variety of people in their neighborhoods.

Racism persists in our churches.

Racism can exist without racial hatred. In many places, our churches are passive participants in racist systems that we have inherited and may not even be aware of. If we, the white majority, simply continue to do what we have always done – as the community changes and becomes more diverse – we will, silently, and without even recognizing it, perpetuate white privilege and supremacy.

This is why in my episcopal address to Annual Conference in September, I charged every local church to examine the images in your buildings, the priorities in your budgets and the people making decisions for the church, to see whether a rich variety of cultures and voices are present. Decisions are different if different perspectives are included in decision-making. In response to this charge, district superintendents initiated conversations about racism in every local church as part of its charge or church conference.

Sadly, we have begun to notice a pattern of overt racism within several congregations. This pattern is present in all three conferences and all four states. Some expressions of it include:

  • criticizing pastors for preaching about racial justice
  • denying the authority of the pastor over worship
  • withholding respect, deference and trust that are usually extended to pastors
  • criticizing the pastor’s grammar or pronunciation, especially in the case of a pastor for whom English is a second or third language
  • expecting a pastor of color to adopt the cultural norms of the congregation without curiosity, question or discussion
  • refusing to include a variety of cultural expressions within the worship life of the congregation

Sometimes congregations have even refused to accept a pastor I have appointed, due either to overt or more often subtle reasons of race.

As I hear these stories and discuss them within my cabinet, I am sorry to report that these attitudes are present, though often not predominant, in almost all of our churches. Any pastor of color who is appointed to any mostly white congregation can expect to encounter overt or implicit racist resistance, both personally and professionally.

Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors – To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness. 

¶ 340.2.c)(4)


Racism has no place in the Church.

The Church is the body of Christ. We cannot allow racism to infect the body by tolerating these behaviors because they are inhospitable and dangerous for the beloved of our Savior. None of us can rest as long as our churches participate actively or passively in the sin of racism.

At Christian baptism, we pledge to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Whether hot and hateful or gentle and well-intentioned, these comments and attitudes are harmful and they reinforce the narrow, fixed and insular scope of our congregations. Whatever good our churches do, it is necessarily compromised by the shadow cast by attitudes and habits that spring from normative white cultural assumptions.

Open itineracy means appointments [of clergy] are made without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, color, disability, marital status, or age. 

¶ 425.1

Throughout our lives, Jesus introduces us to new experiences, new people, fresh ideas. When our life paths cross with people from different parts of the world, with different life experiences, different cultural experiences, different aspirations that do not match our own, and may make us uncomfortable, our discomfort is often God at work, stretching and strengthening our love. Jesus invites us to set aside judgment and proceed to curiosity, asking: how is Jesus working through a new relationship to deepen our faith and strengthen the church or community?

The church must not value the familiar, traditional or comfortable over what is right, nourishing, emerging, and hopeful. God says “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? (Isaiah 42:19a. Embracing the new people and things God sends our way is a spiritual practice that breathes life into the church and through the church, into the world.

 Your bishop watches over you in love.

My charge, as your bishop, is to oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of the church. I name what I see and encourage the leaders and congregations under my care to grow in faith and witness for the kingdom/kin-dom of God. I see our spirits are not strong enough to follow Jesus into the beloved community he invites us to, nor do we have the courage to speak truth to a world that is awash in lies.

The United Methodist Church can and must become a movement that is awakening, learning, growing and moving toward racial awareness, intercultural competency and inclusive community.

In faithfulness to our baptismal vows, my cabinet and I are committed to working with pastors and laity to re-form our churches to recognize and acknowledge our sin and enter into a journey toward racial equity, justice and inclusion. Just as the members of the cabinet have a monthly discipline of intercultural competency training, the cabinet will develop a process for working with congregations to assess and recognize attitudes and behaviors that give preference to white culture within the church, and to take steps to become more aware and competent in inter-cultural and cross-racial relationships.

Cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments are made as a creative response to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the church in its leadership.  Cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments are appointments of clergy persons to congregations in which the majority of their constituencies are different from the clergyperson’s own racial/ethnic cultural background.  

¶ 425.4

The goal of the cabinet is to assist every church to become an outpost of God’s inclusive love in each place and for all the people. Underlying this goal, we firmly resolve not to allow racially offensive or exclusive comments and behavior within our congregations , to go unchallenged and untransformed.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Wesley inform our anti-racism work.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a letter in response to eight white religious leaders who criticized him for leading demonstrations and sit-ins protesting racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. In the letter, King reflects on his disappointment in religious leaders during the civil rights struggle, saying,

I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities….

I have found myself asking: What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?  Where are their voices?….

In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church….Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.

Nearly 60 years later, the face of racism has shifted, but the church is no less lax today than it was in the 1963. We must journey together from being “almost Christian,” as John Wesley describes in his famous sermon, to becoming “altogether Christian,” living in ways that not only avoid sin, but that cultivate and promote virtue and justice. 

In the weeks ahead, I’ll invite clergy to a conversation about how we can journey together on the road toward beloved community – freed from the heritage of deep, systemic racism. 

As you live in the maelstrom of the week ahead and those to come, I thank God for your faithfulness, through times of peril and doubt and I pray God’s sustaining grace in your life, your family, and your ministries. Bad news never has the final word.  Keep listening. There’s good news on the way!

 

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area

Chargeable Offenses Against a Church Member – A professing member of a local church may be charged with the following offenses, . . .  harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; racial or gender discrimination . . .

¶ 2702.3

“Seeking to Be God’s Light in the World”

Isaiah 40

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, 
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
– Isaiah 40: 3-5

The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church has a vision of becoming a “home for all God’s children, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation.” Some have called us disobedient. Others claim that we are prophets for recognizing LGBTQ+ persons as beloved children of God, blessing their marriages and ordaining them for ministry long before most of the church. LGBTQ+ inclusion is just one way we in the West have sought to set the table for all God’s children. The Western Jurisdiction embraces immigrants from around the world and has consecrated many “first bishops:” Wilbur Choy, Chinese American; Roy Sano, Japanese American; Elias Galvan, Hispanic American; Leontyne Kelly, Black woman; Minerva Carcaño, Hispanic American woman; and Karen Oliveto, first bishop in a committed, loving same-gender marriage.

United Methodist leaders in the Western Jurisdiction embrace John Wesley’s plea that we “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.” We are dedicating a year to noticing, naming and celebrating the variety of ministries “Where Love Lives” – not because we have a corner on the love market, but because love looks different in every place.

Let’s start by seeing where love lives in the extraordinary details of the Christmas story:

Photo by Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky.

Love lives as a homeless couple, weary after a long day of travel, finds rest in an animal shed.

Love lives as this exhausted couple welcomes the untimely birth of their baby and lays him in a manger.

Love lives when a star shines in the night sky or a song spills from heaven – signs that a new and holy thing is happening.

Love lives where shepherd and sojourners show up in the night, after seeing, wondering and following these signs of hope.

The Christmas story shows us that where love lives, things happen that you never thought possible. Just as God was born in Jesus, God can dwell in us, too, as we grow to love as wondrously as God loves, as extravagantly as Jesus loves our neighbors, strangers, and those we think of as enemies. This is very good news when people live in the shadow of death and under the yoke of oppression. Watch for Where Love Lives.

Love lives where a grandma lays her sweater on the shoulders of a sleeping stranger on a chilly bus.

Love lives where a caregiver holds a smartphone or tablet to connect a dying patient with a loved one.

Love lives when a local church welcomes strangers, widows and orphans seeking safety.

Love lives when people who are sorting out their sexuality and identity have a place at the table of faith.

Love lives where Christians live their baptismal promise to ‘resist evil, injustice, & oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.’

Love lives when a passerby tapes a violent, racist atrocity on her phone for the world to witness. Love lives in the anguished cry for justice and love.

Love lives when a church offers space for people evacuated from wildfires to store their belongings, or board their pets.

Love lives when any of us find our hardened hearts open and ready to heal a broken relationship.

May Christ be born this dark Christmas. I pray that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 



Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area


Throughout the month of December, the Greater Northwest Area will be sharing videos, stories and other resources for local church and ministry settings across the Western Jurisdiction to use on social media, in online worship, group discussion and more on the topic of “Where Love Lives: Seeking to be God’s light in the World.”

We will be sharing stories, poetry and other resources that speak to the Advent message of God’s love living among us today – calling us to care for our neighbors, seek justice, dismantle racism, fight against a pandemic and committing ourselves to so many other acts of love in Jesus’ name.

Resources will be linked to either www.westernjurisdictionumc.org or www.greaternw.org as well as being shared on the various websites, social media channels and newsletters from the conferences which make up the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.

#wherelovelivesumc

Mensaje Episcopal sobre el COVID-19 #9, 10 de Noviembre de 2020

Las circunstancias y los riesgos de COVID-19 varían de un lugar a otro y de tiempo en tiempo. Por lo tanto, el Equipo de Manejo de Crisis de COVID-19 ha adoptado un nuevo apéndice de la Fase 2.1 para Re-imaginar la vida juntos, que abre la posibilidad de reuniones de hasta 25 personas para el culto y otras actividades. En lugares donde los datos muestran un bajo riesgo de propagación del virus, una iglesia u otro ministerio puede presentar un plan de ministerio para su aprobación para pasar a la Fase 2.1 siempre y cuando que el riesgo siga siendo bajo.

Los casos de COVID-19 están aumentando en todo Estados Unidos a lo que un médico de salud pública llamó una “tormenta de fuego furiosa”. El mayor número de nuevos casos diarios de COVID-19 desde marzo ocurrió ayer en Alaska. Los números en Idaho, Oregón y Washington han ido en aumento desde el 8 de septiembre. Este no es el momento de bajar la guardia contra esta enfermedad mortal y altamente contagiosa.

Así que no nos cansemos de hacer lo correcto, porque cosecharemos en el tiempo de la cosecha, si no nos damos por vencidos. Entonces, siempre que tengamos la oportunidad, trabajemos por el bien de todos, y especialmente por los de la familia de la fe.

Gálatas 6: 9-10 NRSV

Aunque los estados no siempre han sometido a las organizaciones religiosas a las mismas restricciones de reunión que a otras organizaciones, he mantenido a los Metodistas Unidos en el área episcopal del Gran noroeste con límites estrictos.  Para la mayoría de nuestras iglesias, este no es el momento de aflojar estas restricciones.  La mayoría de las iglesias se han movido con éxito con la celebración de adoración y otras actividades en línea, ya sea en vivo o preproducidas. Si yo fuera pastor de una iglesia local hoy, no me movería hacia reuniones en persona más grandes en este momento y no animaría a nuestras iglesias a que lo hagan.

Algunos, sin embargo, están ubicados en áreas sin Internet confiable, algunos no tienen la capacidad técnica y algunos miembros y líderes simplemente no usan ni usaran las opciones de la iglesia en línea.

Esta pandemia, y nuestro conocimiento sobre ella, han crecido y cambiado con el tiempo:

  • Desde febrero, la ciencia ha aprendido y enseñado cómo se propaga el virus y cómo limitar su propagación usando máscaras, manteniendo una distancia de 6 pies, limitando la duración de las reuniones, lavándose las manos constantemente y usando desinfectante para manos.
  • Hoy mismo escuchamos la esperanza de que una vacuna eficaz estará disponible para fin de año.
  • La incidencia y el peligro de propagar el virus es muy bajo en algunos lugares y extremadamente alto en otros, y
  • Cuanto más vivamos con restricciones en nuestra libertad de movimiento y reunión, mayor es el riesgo de sufrimiento mental, psicológico y espiritual.

Las iglesias buscan equilibrar el daño causado por la propagación continua del virus y el daño causado al continuar restringiendo las reuniones en persona para la adoración, la oración, el compañerismo y el estudio.  ¿Cómo balanceamos el riesgo de propagación y muerte de COVID-19 frente al riesgo de soledad, depresión, desesperación, abuso de sustancias, violencia doméstica y suicidio a medida que pasan los meses, los días se hacen mas cortos, oscuros y el clima nos empuja a estar mas tiempo en el interior de nuestras casas? Ninguna reunión está libre de riesgos, pero a medida que nos esforzamos por equilibrar los daños en competencia, algunas reuniones con prácticas estrictas de seguridad bajo ciertas condiciones pueden ser prudentes.

Fase 2.1 Apéndice a las pautas de Re-imaginando la vida juntos permite que una iglesia u otro entorno ministerial, con el consentimiento de su pastor, presente un plan para realizar reuniones en persona de hasta 25 personas manteniendo la distancia física y usando máscaras faciales para su aprobación por el Superintendente de distrito, en el caso de iglesias locales, o Director de Ministerios Conexionales en el caso de otros ministerios. Todas las iglesias o ministerios, todos los superintendentes de distrito y directores de ministerios conexionales utilizarán datos de www.CovidActNow.org para determinar el nivel de riesgo de su condado, a base a 5 indicadores de riesgo.

 Si una iglesia u otro ministerio se encuentra en un condado donde el riesgo está en la zona verde o amarilla, y si el supervisor designado aprueba el plan del ministerio para la Fase 2.1, entonces se le permitirá reunir hasta 25 personas para el culto u otras actividades ministeriales, siguiendo las prácticas aprobadas en el plan. Si una iglesia se ha movido a la Fase 2.1, pero el riesgo informado por COVIDActNow aumenta a niveles naranja o rojo, deberá regresar a los niveles de actividad de la Fase 2.

Lea el apéndice de la Fase 2.1, una opción dentro de la Fase 2

Mientras miramos los informes diarios de una pandemia que está fuera de control y consideramos aflojar las restricciones sobre las reuniones de la iglesia, recuerde estos pensamientos que compartimos en el documento de Re-imaginando la vida juntos:

A medida que volvemos a entrar en la vida juntos, debemos permitir que nuestro sueño o memoria de comunidad se desvanezca para dejar espacio para que el amor emerja de formas nuevas y diferentes.  La tarea que tenemos es re-imaginar la iglesia, todo lo que somos, hacemos, para que podamos ser lo que Dios sueña que seamos.  Después de todo, la iglesia no es un edificio; no son puertas ni un campanario. La Iglesia es la gente en ministerio y servicio.  Si no podemos hacer este ministerio como lo hemos hecho en el pasado, encontraremos nuevas formas de hacerlo. Vamos a encontrar la manera. Nuestra imaginación puede mostrarnos lo que es posible.

¡Voy a hacer algo nuevo!
Ya está sucediendo, ¿no se dan cuenta?
Estoy abriendo un camino en el desierto,
y ríos en lugares desolados.

Isaías 43:19

¡Que Dios guíe nuestros pies por el camino de la paz!

Obispa Elaine JW Stanovsky
Área Episcopal del Gran Noroeste

Translated and Adapted to Spanish by:
Rev. Cruz Edwin Santos
Director of Hispanic/Latinx Ministry

Bishop’s COVID-19 notice #9, Nov. 10, 2020

The circumstances and risks from COVID-19 vary from place to place and from time to time. Therefore, the COVID-19 Crisis Management Team has adopted a new Phase 2.1 addendum to Reimagining Life Together, which opens the possibility of gatherings of up to 25 for worship and other activities. In places where data shows a low risk of spreading the virus a church or other ministry can present a ministry plan for approval to move to Phase 2.1 as long as the risk remains low.

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise across America in what one public health doctor called a “raging firestorm.” The highest number of daily new cases of COVID-19 since March occurred yesterday in Alaska. Idaho, Oregon and Washington and have been rising since September 8. This is not the time to let down our guard against this highly contagious, deadly disease.

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.      Galatians 6: 9-10 NRSV

Although states have not always held religious organizations to the same gathering restrictions as other organizations, I have held United Methodists in the Greater Northwest Area to strict limits. For most of our churches, this is not the time to loosen these restrictions. Most churches have moved successfully to holding worship and other activities online, either live streamed, or pre-produced. If I were a pastor of a local church today, I would not move toward more and larger in-person gatherings at this time and I do not encourage our churches to do so.

Some, however, are located in areas without reliable internet, some do not have the technical ability, and some members and leaders simply will not and do not use online church options.

This pandemic, and our knowledge about it, have grown and changed over time:

  • Since February, science has learned and taught us about how the virus spreads and how to limit its spread by wearing masks, keeping 6 feet apart, limiting the length of time of gatherings, and washing hands and using hand sanitizer.
  • Just today we heard hope that an effective vaccination may be available by the end of the year.
  • The incidence and danger of spreading the virus is very low in some places and extremely high in others, and
  • The longer we live with restrictions on our freedom of movement and gathering, the higher the risk of mental, psychological and spiritual suffering.

Churches seek to balance the harm caused by continued spread of the virus and the harm done by continuing to restrict in-person gatherings for worship, prayer, fellowship and study. How do we weigh the risk of COVID-19 spread and deaths against the risk of loneliness, depression, despair, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide as the months wear on, the days grow short and dark and the weather pushes us indoors? No gatherings are risk-free, but as we strive to balance competing harms, some gatherings with strict safety practices under certain conditions may be prudent.

Phase 2.1 Addendum to Reimagining Life Together guidelines allows a church or other ministry setting, with the consent of their pastor, to present a plan for holding in-person gatherings of up to 25 persons with physical distancing, and facemasks in use for approval by their District Superintendent, in the case of local churches, or Director of Connectional Ministries in the case of other ministries. All church or ministry settings and all District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministries will use data from www.CovidActNow.org to determine their county’s risk level, based upon 5 risk indicators.

If a church or other ministry is located in a county where the risk is found to be in either the green or yellow zone, and if the designated supervisor approves the ministry’s plan for Phase 2.1, then it will be allowed to gather up to 25 people for worship or other ministry activities, following the practices approved in the plan. If a church has moved to Phase 2.1, but the risk reported by COVIDActNow increases to levels orange or red, it will need to retreat to Phase 2 levels of activity.

Read the Phase 2.1 addendum – an option within phase 2

As we watch daily reports of a pandemic that is out of control, and consider loosening the restrictions on church gatherings, remember these thoughts from Reimagining Life Together:

As we reenter life together, we must allow for our dream or memory of community to fade to make room for love to emerge in new and different ways. The task we have is to reimagine church – and all we are and do –  so that we can be what God dreams us to be. After all, church isn’t a building; it isn’t doors or a steeple. Church is the people in ministry and service. If we can’t do this ministry in the ways we have in the past, we will find new ways to do it. We will find a way. Our imaginations can show us what is possible.

God will open a new way before us.

I am about to do a new thing;
                     now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
                        and rivers in the desert.         Isaiah 43: 19

May God guide our feet into the way of peace!

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area