Kristina Gonzalez to serve as GNW Executive Director for Innovation and Vitality
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky has named Kristina Gonzalez Executive Director for Innovation and Vitality for the Greater Northwest Area. Gonzalez will continue to work with Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, Director of Innovation for an engaged church. The Innovation Vitality (IV) Team supports local churches, innovation projects and boards and agencies to continue to embrace inclusion, innovation and multiplication as practices of Christian discipleship that are core to vital ministry in the region.
Gonzalez will step into this leadership role following Dr. William Gibson’s resignation as the IV Team Lead, effective March 31.
In making the announcement of Gonzalez’s new role, Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky affirmed that “Greater Northwest Area leadership remains committed to supporting new ways of being church, especially as IV projects help us learn where God is calling us today.”
“The United Methodist Church is struggling. We are declining, divided and constrained by white cultural norms,” Stanovsky acknowledged. “But Jesus continues to deliver good news and invites us into abundant life every day. Many of us struggle to keep pace with what God is up to. Kristina develops systems that foster disciples who look beyond decline to lead a new and bright future. We are blessed that she is willing to step into this role at this time.”
Gonzalez will be responsible for hiring and supervising the IV team staff and consultants, in collaboration with conference directors of connectional ministries, and providing strong support systems for innovation vitality projects and their leaders. She will also continue to ensure that intercultural competency leadership is at the heart of our efforts for this transformative work.
“The Innovation Vitality Team helped to position intercultural competency as central to vitality in our new and existing ministries. Our abilities to interact across cultural differences – race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identities, physical and mental abilities and more – will define us into the future. As Rev. Dr. Barber says, ‘innovation happens at the intersection of difference,’” Gonzalez said.
In her role serving three conferences, Gonzalez will report to the bishop of the Greater Northwest Area. As executive director, Gonzalez will lead during a transition period. The Vitality Commission formed by the 2021 Annual Conferences is reviewing the structure and operations of the IV Team to recommend changes to strengthen this work. The Commission will make a progress report to this year’s annual conference sessions in June and will bring recommendations to improve and streamline vitality work in 2023.
Gonzalez is a trusted leader and expert in intercultural competency with deep connections to United Methodism in the northwest and beyond. First hired as a Pacific Northwest Conference staff member by Bishop Elias Galvan in 1998, she joined the IV Team in 2018, bringing her gifts to the Greater Northwest Area.
“I’ve had the privilege of serving the Pacific Northwest Conference and the GNW Area of our United Methodist Church for more than 20 years. Despite title changes, restructuring and varied visions, my work has been about embedding intercultural competency at all levels of our complex church structure, from local church to the denominational Connectional Table,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is a qualified administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and an associate with the Kaleidoscope Institute for diverse sustainable communities. She has served as faculty of the annual school for United Methodist supervising clergy for 19 years and consults and trains ecumenically in intercultural competency.
Gonzalez has professional experience in the public and non-profit sectors working in the arts and human services. Her community service work includes eight years on the curriculum committee of Leadership Tomorrow, a community leadership program serving the greater Seattle area, and a term on the board of trustees.
She served on The United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table, from 2004-to 2008 and chaired the Washington Association of Churches (now Faith Action Network) for two terms. She served on the board of directors for Bayview Retirement Center in Seattle for two terms.
“My new position title, Executive Director for Innovation and Vitality is simply an extension of my hopes and dreams over time,” Gonzalez said. “Those hopes and dreams; that we in the GNW Area of The UMC embed in our culture the practices of inclusion, innovation and multiplication, as a means of refreshing and renewing our relationships with Jesus Christ through our Wesleyan heritage in ways that are relevant and resonant today.”
Three practices for vital ministry
1. Inclusion – if WE – our ministries, leaders and members become more interculturally competent then we will learn to welcome, include, and partner with our diverse neighbors.
2. Innovation – if “WE” expands to include the variety of people in our neighborhoods, then WE will reach out with openness to join what God is already doing in sparks of innovation that come at the intersection of difference.
3. Multiplication – if our ministries make a difference in the lives of people and their communities, then we will follow Jesus to engage with more new people, and their needs, multiplying the people we partner with and serve.
In late August, you received a letter from Bishop Elaine Stanovsky regarding the ongoing Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy, with some guidance originating in our denomination’s legal advisors. This group of chancellors, advised by bankruptcy experts and in consultation with church leaders, is engaged in this very complex matter to ensure that any of our churches who act as chartering organizations, are protected to the fullest extent possible as we wrestle with the shadow of abuse in our midst over many decades.
Previously, the guidance was to pause the chartering/re-chartering of scouting troops with a reset on December 31, 2021. We have now received updated guidance to extend this pause until March 31,2022. With this additional time, the BSA and legal representatives of the UMC will continue work on a new chartering arrangement that protects both organizations appropriately. This means that whatever status (charter or facility use agreement) that your church now has with your troop, old or newly negotiated, can remain in force until the end of March 2022.
There will be a joint statement released this week that will outline this extension for the bankruptcy case to run its course and to give time for development of a new agreed-upon form of agreement for United Methodist organizations wishing to charter a Scout unit in the future.
The two organizations agree that whatever agreements are currently in place can be extended until March 31, 2022, after which a new charter agreement should be available to take the relationship into the future.
Today we ask that you extend your current relationship with BSA troops, at whatever CURRENT status it is, until March 31, 2022, and pray for the survivors’ healing. God has gifted us with compassion and wisdom to reach just settlements and faithfully steward the resources of the UMC.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of us if you have any questions.
Dear Greater Northwest United Methodists of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences:
We send this letter with heavy hearts, knowing that many young people have been harmed while participating in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), over many decades. While countless young persons have benefited from the different programs and levels of Boy Scouting, some have experienced demeaning and abusive behavior while participating in scouting activities and events and have taken their claims to the courts.
Many local United Methodist churches partner as charter organizations for Boy Scout units across the country. The United Methodist Church (TUMC) is committed to being a safe and nurturing place for all people, to healing harm that has been done and, to partnering with organizations that share this commitment. The United Methodist Church is reviewing its relationship with BSA to ensure that the Church is acting responsibly to protect the safety of children and ensure that it is not responsible for harm done during Boy Scout activities.
BSA Current Reality
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is overwhelmed with potential liability exposure from sexual assault allegations nationwide. The BSA has filed for bankruptcy protection. Under both of the proposed plans that the BSA has suggested as ways to continue after the bankruptcy, they are leaving their chartered organizations out on a limb by themselves. The chartered organizations are the local churches, schools, and civic groups that sponsor or host a Scout Troop, Pack, Crew, or other unit. The details of these plans are still being played out, but the BSA is placing all of our United Methodist churches who have ever been involved in Scouting in a very difficult position.
Despite their consistent past assurances that they held enough insurance to cover their chartered organizations in case of injured scouts, we now know that the BSA did not have enough or sufficient insurance. The local churches are at risk of having to pay significant sums to victims to compensate them for the damages they suffered at the hands of some Scout leaders. In addition, the local churches will have to pay for the cost of their own attorneys to defend those claims. All of this is because the BSA did not fulfill their promise to have enough insurance to protect the local churches.
Future Relationship with the BSA
Our team, made up of the Bishop, her GNW Area assistant, and the treasurers and chancellors of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences, recommends that local churches change their relationships with Scouting units.
If your local church currently charters a Scout unit, we recommend that you NOT renew that chartering agreement when it is up for renewal or re-chartering this fall. Instead, we recommend one of three options, the choice of which is up to you:
Tell the local Scout council that you will NOT renew that chartering agreement but will only extend the current agreement until December 31, 2021.
Tell the local Scout council that you will NOT renew that chartering agreement but will enter into a Facilities Use Agreement with their unit until December 31, 2021.
Tell the local Scout council that you will terminate the existing charter agreement and replace it with a Facilities Use Agreement with their unit until December 31, 2021.
In options 2 and 3, the Facilities Use Agreement will act similar to a lease allowing the Scout unit to continue using your space, but they will be responsible for everything else, including the selection of leaders. A proposed agreement template can be found here. Also, please let your Conference Treasurer know if you are currently hosting a scout troop in any of the above described manners.
After December 31, 2021, we should be in a better position to see how the future will unfold. Once a reorganization plan is approved by the bankruptcy court, we will know better how to proceed.
If your local church does not charter a Scout unit at this time, we recommend that you NOT consider chartering a unit until the bankruptcy case is finalized and we have an understanding of how The United Methodist relationship with Scouts will continue in the future.
We understand that these suggestions are dramatic, but we think them to be the prudent course of action at this time. We want to protect our local churches from being accused of contributing to the abuse of children and to the resulting risk of costly litigation.
Boy Scout councils have begun contacting local churches directly that host Boy Scout units. One such letter is attached here. If you receive any communication from a local Scout council or the BSA advising or encouraging you to contact a Boy Scout attorney, please report this at once to Rev. Carlo A. Rapanut, Assistant to the Bishop. His email is email@example.com.
We know the value of scouting. It has played a very large role in the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church for a very long time. But the BSA is not proving faithful to The United Methodist Church as they leave us without the protections that they promised. We simply cannot currently commit to the relationship with the BSA as we have in the past. Until we know how the BSA will be organized and operate in the future, we must make some changes. Hopefully, we will be able to continue our long connection with scouting in some way, but we need to make some changes today to help prevent us from being dragged down with the BSA in the future.
May God’s mighty, surprising, Holy Spirit work a miracle of healing in the lives of people harmed by abuse. May God bless and keep us honest, diligent and wise through this process.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky Greater NW Area The United Methodist Church
Rev. Carlo A. Rapanut Assistant to the Bishop GNW Area of The UMC
As friendships and ministries with Native American and Indigenous peoples grow, the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church is creating the Circle of Indigenous Ministries. Developing mutual, healing, and life-affirming relationships with Native Americans and Indigenous peoples in and outside the church is part of the GNW Area’s ongoing efforts to heal historic trauma and dismantle racism.
Rev. Dr. Allen Buck, pastor of Great Spirit United Methodist Church in Portland and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is being appointed as the director of the Circle of Indigenous Ministries, beginning July 1. Rev. Buck will also continue as part-time pastor at Great Spirit.
The Circle will support Native American and Indigenous churches, fellowships, and ministry partners through resourcing, coaching, consultation, and friendship in the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences.
“The goal is to do what we have been doing, but do it more intentionally,” said Buck.
Since Buck was appointed to Great Spirit UMC in Portland in 2017, he has assisted the Oregon-Idaho Conference, as well as his colleagues in the Pacific Northwest Conference and Alaska Conference, in acts of repentance, land return and healing with Native American communities across the area.
“The Christian Church has done deep and lasting harm to Indigenous peoples and cultures around the world for centuries,” Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky said. “Rev. Buck is helping us learn our history, repent of our sins and form healing partnerships based on humility and mutual respect. ”
“The Circle of Indigenous Ministries will amplify Indigenous voices and their wisdom while also empowering more authentic leadership of Native American and Indigenous peoples within the church,” said Oregon-Idaho Conference Director of Connectional Ministry Laurie Day, who also serves assistant to Bishop Stanovsky.
For years, the Oregon-Idaho Conference has supported Huckleberry Camp for Native American youth at Camp Magruder in the summers as well as a Nez Perce culture camp at Wallowa Lake Camp in northeastern Oregon. In 2016, the unofficial spiritual home of Native American United Methodists in Oregon-Idaho Conference, Wilshire United Methodist Church in Portland, was on the verge of closing. Former Columbia District Superintendent, Rev. Erin Martin, recruited Buck, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, to serve Wilshire UMC and help grow its ministry into what is now Great Spirit UMC.
The Greater Northwest Area has moved recently into larger acts of repentance and healing, including returning a portion of Wallowa Lake Camp to The Nez Perce Tribe in 2018. In April, the Conference returned the former Wallowa UMC property to the Nimiipuu as well.
Day said Buck has also helped leadership across the Greater Northwest Area begin acts of land recognition, repentance and building more friendships with local tribes and native organizations.
In addition to its work with the Nez Perce Tribe, Great Spirit UMC took ownership of the Chiloquin United Methodist Church building in southern Oregon, when the congregation was officially closed in 2020. Great Spirit UMC has since turned building use over to The Stronghold, a Native-led organization which partners with the Klamath Tribe to provide culturally responsive peer support services to Native people in transition – be it homelessness due to natural disasters, domestic abuse, drug addiction or more.
Buck said there were no conditions placed upon The Stronghold’s use of the building, because as the church works to decolonize white spaces, it is important to listen to what the Native and Indigenous communities want or need.
“It’s all about relationships,” Buck said. “You can’t do Indigenous ministries without relationships.”
Buck said he is excited to mentor and walk with emerging Native and Indigenous leaders who could serve churches in Native communities. He is eager to partner with the GNW Innovation and Vitality Team to help identify and train culturally responsive leaders in the church.
Day said financial support for The Circle of Indigenous Ministries is coming from across the GNW Area and beyond. This work of recognizing and partnering with Native American, Alaska Native and other populations often marginalized by the church is ongoing.
“All of these opportunities are growing, which is why we’re creating the Circle of Indigenous Ministries and we believe Allen Buck is the right leader to continue developing these strong friendships and healing bonds,” Day said. “The need and ministry have grown so much that we cannot wait any longer.”
Grant funding and conferences support will not be enough to develop and sustain the project long-term, which is why the Greater Northwest Area has established a Circle of Indigenous Ministries fund so that individuals may contribute to this growing ministry in the life of the church.
As the incoming director of the new Circle of Indigenous Ministries, Buck said he could use everyone’s prayers as he embarks on this exciting new journey in ministry.
“Pray for us and help us make sure this becomes the priority it needs to be,” he said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.