Should there be a question mark, or an exclamation point at the end this statement about being a fully inclusive United Methodist Church Where Love Lives.
When it comes to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life and ministry of our United Methodist Churches, is ordination fair and equal yet or is it still something to which we aspire?
As the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church continues its “Where Love Lives” campaign this month, the Greater Northwest Area of The UMC will explore our LGBTQ+ siblings’ call to ministry in a denomination where, by and large, they are still not welcome.
The Western Jurisdiction has made many strides when it come to ordaining and appointing LGBTQ+ individuals to serve in our local churches. After the 2019 special called General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan, which created great harm to our LGBTQ+ siblings as well as our churches, leaders from the Western Jurisdiction quickly declared we would be a “Home for All God’s People.”
We have made many bold statements and acted with nobility in the Western Jurisdiction. But as you will read in the unfiltered, unedited stories being shared this month, we are not finished yet.
You’ll hear from our LGBTQ+ clergy how they react to the statement “Fair and Equal Ordination for All,” based on their own call story, experiences in local church settings, our communities and our respective conferences. Each of these stories is unique to the individual who was invited to share their perspective.
We ask that you honor and respect the courage it takes for some people to publicly tell their stories and offer their honest feedback so that we might – one day soon – be able to say, “fair and equal ordination for all is here.” No questions asked.
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 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.
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.
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
DENVER, Colo. (Oct. 7, 2020) – The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church is beginning preparations for the next General Conference by recommitting itself to be a faithful, inviting, open, safe and loving place for all people.
As The United Methodist Church awaits a delayed decision on the proposed Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, “Where Love Lives” is a nearly year-long campaign centering on the faith values that have undergirded the jurisdiction’s long-term commitment to a scripturally based fully inclusive ministry. It advocates approval of the Protocol by the General Conference.
“The Western Jurisdiction is committed to living out our belief that God’s church is open to all,” said Bishop Karen Oliveto, president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops. “The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation offers a way forward to begin easing the five decades of pain created by the wounds inflicted on LGBTQ persons by the church.”
Bishop Stanovsky’s address to the September 2020 online Annual Conferences will be issued in written form in three parts before the sessions scheduled for September 15, 16 and 17 [link]. Today you receive Part 1, which is also COVID-19 Notice #8. It will be followed in coming weeks by Part 2 – Dismantling Racism, and Part 3 – Reimagining United Methodism: Alaska, the Greater Northwest, the Western Jurisdiction and The United Methodist Church. The bishop will offer an online overview during the conference sessions. Please send comments or questions to her at email@example.com with the subject line: “Episcopal address.”
For the Love of God,
STAY AT HOME WEAR A MASK KEEP PHYSICAL DISTANCE
BUT DON’T HUNKER DOWN
Yesterday was the six month anniversary of my first pastoral notice regarding COVID-19. We didn’t know much about the coronavirus and the pandemic it would cause on February 27. We didn’t know we would celebrate Easter online. That General Conference in May would be postponed, Annual Conferences in June cancelled, Jurisdictional Conference in July. We couldn’t imagine movie theaters closing. Restaurants open only for take-out. Loved ones being isolated from visits in hospitals or nursing homes. We didn’t imagine that we would pass spring and summer and enter fall with restrictions on social gathering, travel, economic activity and schools. We find ourselves in a wilderness. The bible knows what wandering in the wilderness is like. The bible is full of stories, laments, encouragements, admonitions, guidelines for people who, from time to time find themselves wandering, discouraged, uncertain, lost. So, people of God, listen up. God has not abandoned us.
DON’T STOP LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15: 12-13
Sacrifice personal liberty to save lives
To save lives, prevent long term health effects, slow the spread of COVID-19, and to promote long term, sustainable economic recovery, United Methodists in the Greater Northwest will continue to praise God and serve their communities under the provisions of Reimagining Life Togetherfor the foreseeable future.
The risk from the coronavirus isn’t behind us. While the spread of the disease is declining in some areas, it is increasing in others, as waves of community spread carry it into previously untouched rural communities and some experts predict new spikes this fall in areas where schools and other social gatherings restart in person, and as temperatures drop, people move indoors and another cold and flu season begins.
At the same time, an “increasing numbness to the virus’s danger”[i] means that our collective sense of risk is abating and leading to careless behavior that promotes spread of the disease. This is a predictable, natural occurrence: “The more we’re exposed to a given threat, the less intimidating it seems…. Because risk perception fails as we learn to live with COVID-19,…researchers…see… strict social distancing, enforced masking outside the home and stay-at-home orders as perhaps the only things that can protect us from our own faulty judgment….Our tendency to view risk through the prism of emotion… hurts us during a pandemic.”
This numbing to the reality of risk has combined with an emphasis on individual rights to fuel rebellion by some against restrictions on social gathering, refusal to wear face coverings and calls for removal of public officials who advocate such measures. Individual liberties activists even carry guns to protests and to government offices to make their point.
Developing tolerance to risk is a good coping strategy if you have a crippling fear of heights or crowds or closed spaces. It is dangerous if it results in risky behavior that causes more community spread of a virus that leads to further spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Ask yourself, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? Wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. Stay at home as much as you can. Wear face coverings in public. Keep socially distant. Don’t gather in large groups. And be gracious about it! Do not look dismal (Matthew 6: 16). These are small, life-saving sacrifices in the face of a pandemic that has killed 180,000 people in the United States and is far from finished. Think of them as acts of love for God, self and neighbor.
As you encounter other people on the street or in the grocery store, whether or not their faces are covered, let your eyes meet their eyes, as an affirmation that you see them, maybe say at least “hello” and offer a silent prayer: “May God bless and keep you.” This is how Christians behave as they try to obey God’s reverence for life.
Deepen Relationships of Spiritual Depth and Care
The pandemic poses risks besides those from infection by the coronavirus. Long term social isolation and anxiety are dangers to mental, spiritual and social health. We hear reports of increased domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse, depression and other mental illnesses. Job loss and economic instability put strains on individuals, families and communities.
Most of our churches have adapted very quickly to provide ways for the community to gather remotely – online, drive-in, distanced outdoor, on the phone, by sending written sermons and bulletins. Some have activated telephone trees. It’s been amazing.
In addition to group gatherings, as we move into autumn and winter, how will our churches foster networks of human connection for as long as distance and isolation continue? What is our long-term plan to encourage relationships of spiritual companionship, encouragement and prayer among people who may have limited social networks? How do we ensure that no-one in our communities of care are left without human contact day by day and week by week?
Could we develop networks of Companions on the Journey (COJ), who commit to keep in weekly touch with each other, and to be available to one another as needed between scheduled contacts? Might a team of people in a congregation search out lines of powerful, prophetic scripture, hymns, poetry, prayers, to post on the church website or Facebook page to feed the spirits of people.
LOVE GOD WITH HEART, SOUL, MIND, STRENGTH
Don’t Hunker Down Spiritually
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly while we wait…. The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sights too deep for words. – Romans 8:22-26
To combat declining mental, emotional and spiritual health experienced by many during the COVID-19 pandemic, I call United Methodists to return to the deep well of God’s love and grace, revealed in Jesus Christ, as we remember, refresh and reclaim the spiritual strength and courage of our faith preserved in the scriptures, hymns, prayers, teachings, and practices of our Church. And I call on new generations to lead us into new expressions and practices that have the power to bless people in this pandemic with fortitude and resilience.
Nothing is the same in our churches since COVID-19 first forced us to “hunker down” with stay at home orders in March and April and I asked the churches of the Greater Northwest Area (Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conference) to suspend worship and close their buildings beginning March 13. No handshakes, no communion, no friendship circles, no laying on of hands, no sardines, no passing of the peace, no singing, no meetings, no potlucks, no coffee hour, no hospital visits, home visits, prayer circles, child care, food banks, AA meetings.
I hear from some of our churches an urgency to gather again in person, in the sanctuary, in our familiar pews, to sing our beloved songs as if our Christian love for one another would wither and die without its familiar forms — as if God isn’t present except when the community is gathered. As if we cannot support one another without physical proximity. As if even one of the breaths we take is not filled with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. Our dependence on sensory signs creates in us a tendency to hunker down and wait until we can celebrate in the ways we are used to finding comfort in.
The United Methodist Church has worked very hard to embody the love of God in our gatherings for worship, study and fellowship, in our volunteer service, advocating for just public policy, providing meals, welcoming new immigrants, caring for families. We have a strong focus on faith in the flesh, faith at work in the world that you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. We believe that faith was alive in the physical presence of Jesus as he walked through villages, touched and healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, called forth demons, shared the bread and wind in the Upper Room and a breakfast of fish. And we believe our faith has concrete physical expressions. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). And yet, beneath or behind the world of our senses, there is another reality. The bible calls it the world of “unseen things.”[ii] Outward facing faith need to be balanced with a theology of spirit that affirms that there is more to faith than what we can see, touch, taste, hear and smell. There is also an inwardness to faith. Beneath all sensory evidence, our hearts are touched by God in experiences so immediate and powerful that they cannot be dismissed.
We must grow deeper roots. We must not settle for a faith that lets us down when times are tough and the way is hidden in shadows. The Christian Church must strive to be a beacon of hope in the very darkest of times. When we can see no evidence of God’s redeeming grace whatsoever, the “eye of our heart” sees what is not seen. When no encouraging word is to be heard, the Holy Spirit speaks to our inner being. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit [of God] bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, of God and joint hers with Christ. (From Romans 8: 15-17).
When you read in the bible about light, dawn, lamp, fire, radiance, sun, it’s talking about the way God opens our eyes and enlightens us to see the things of the spirit that cannot be seen.
Open my eyes that I might see…
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord…
Ye blind, behold your savior come…
Be Thou my vision, O lord of my heart…
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path…
Some of us have read and sung these words our whole lives. Now is the time to call them forth, and shine them into the dark days of disease, isolation, fear and division. We learned them for a time like this.
My faith is not dependent on in-person gathering, on the elements of communion and baptism, on the laying on of hands, or the kiss of peace. I love all of these, and they enrich my faith, and they certainly help keep my participation in the community of faith alive and immediate. But, in the midst of a pandemic, sitting at my desk in the corner of my isolated bedroom as I write, God lives in me, speaks to me, gives me hope, cajoles me to action, quickens my heart. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
In the year ahead I promise to lead the Greater Northwest Area to invite its members and friends to broaden and deepen their spiritual lives, not in a way that turns us inward, away from our communities and the world, but in a way that strengthens our hearts with courage to engage with our families, neighbors and strangers during times when evidence of God’s presence and goodness are scarce.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will shine upon us, To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace. – Luke 1: 78-79
Fear And Worry Are Normal Feelingsthat Many People Experience During These Difficult Times. It is particularly important to prioritize taking care of yourself. The following sections will provide simple strategies to Care for Yourself, which in turn will support your efforts to care for others.
Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions during and after a disaster and may compound the grief and disorientation surrounding the death of a loved one. A local Hospice provider, which offers individual and group bereavement support is a good place to begin.
Trauma-Informed Telephone Support Available 24/7: The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746: 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. Toll-free, multilingual, and confidential.
WHAT’S IN YOUR POCKET? Sharing what we have with those who have less.
Members and friends of The United Methodist Church in the Greater Northwest,
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” – Luke 12: 48b
“Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” – John Wesley, “On Money”
There is nothing fair about COVID-19. People are not equally vulnerable to it or protected from it. People don’t all have the same supportive community, the same emotional and spiritual resources. People don’t have equal access to health care. People do not all have the same resources to endure an economic downturn, unemployment or closed schools.
COVID-19 exposes injustices that are embedded in our social, economic and political systems. For some, this pandemic means an immediate survival crisis.
Sharing what we can when people are suffering comes as second nature to people who follow Jesus. If you have the ability to give money at this time of crisis, I am writing to encourage you to do so. If you are able, please consider one or all the following actions.
Support your Local Church. Your church needs your support for as long as this crisis lasts and beyond. A check in the mail is a blessing.
After you have given to your local church, if you can do more, please give a “thank offering” to the FUND FOR FAMILIES. Text the code “GNWFFF” to 44-321 or visit http://bit.ly/gnwfff to give. Local Churches will partner with community organizations to “practice being human” with people who are especially vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.
If someone else may need your Stimulus check more than you do, consider “passing it along” to the FUND FOR FAMILIES (above).
Begin now to think now about whether you can share your salary if local churches become unable to support their clergy or lay staff salaries.
And, finally, if you can’t make financial contributions, offer what you can. Life-saving social distance. A prayer. A phone call. A kind word. A letter or note card. An email. FaceTime. Help with groceries. A favorite poem, book, song, photo or TV series. Weeding a garden. Blood donation. God is counting on us to share what we have.
I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give…. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. – 2 Corinthians 9:7, MSG
But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. – Acts 2: 24
Join us as we resume our weekly Wednesday webinar series with Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky, on Wednesday, April 15, to share our Easter stories. The hour-long webinar begins at 9 amPDT, 10 am MDT, or 8 am AKDT. Clergy and laity from across the Greater Northwest Area are invited to participate.
We apologize for not communicating more clearly that there wouldn’t be a webinar during holy week, but the goal will be to hold this time each Wednesday, moving forward, as we navigate our way through this crisis.
This coming week Bishop Elaine will be discussing, with other panelists, where they see signs of resurrection – life that defies death – in this season of disease and death.
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” – John 20: 21
Playing off the lectionary texts for April 19, the prayer and conversation will explore how you keep your own spirit rooted and refreshed in God’s Holy Spirit when death is so close and so real. There will also be discussion around how we minister to others in a time of physical distancing.
Advice from the Centers for Disease Control recently released states that, “a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.
This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity —for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.
In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” ( See full article here.)
Health authorities warn not to rely on the homemade mask to protect you and still keep a safe distance of at least 6 feet from others when outside your home.
For those interested in making masks to wear in nonclinical settings or for personal use, Kaiser Permanente offers step-by-step instructions here. Be sure to instruct the receiver to wash it before wearing. There are several other mask instructions available on the internet.
Sally Blanchard, Oregon-Idaho Conference office and event manager, who has been sewing these said, “After you make the first one, they go quickly and are easy to make. Neighbors and friends have asked for them and it feels good to share what I can do.”
Production is underway for a Greater Northwest Area-wide celebration of Easter, and we are inviting you to participate! Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky will deliver an Easter message complemented by the musical and vocal gifts of people across the Area.
Lay and clergy members are encouraged to send one favorite church-related Easter photo for possible use during a portion of the Easter celebration.* Please submit one photo to firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Friday, April 3, 2020. Photos should be at least 1920 pixels wide x 1,080 pixels high.
Bishop Stanovsky has invited Oregon-Idaho Conference Secretary, the Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett, to design the worship experience along with Pacific Northwest Conference Director of Connectional Ministries, the Rev. David Valera.
They are producing the 30-40-minute service so that local churches can adopt it in its entirety or choose elements to blend into what they are already preparing. The elements include the Bishop’s message, a variety of musical components, and special liturgy created for this unique Easter celebration.
A weblink to downloadable video files will be distributed to assigned and appointed local church pastors no later than Wednesday, April 8.
The full worship service will be available to view on Easter morning at 7 am Mountain Time, 6 am Pacific Time, and 5 am Alaska Time at the following locations: