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