Dear United Methodist Clergy, Members and Friends:
DO NO HARM. DO GOOD. STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD.
John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules, adapted
DO NO HARM
Day by day we are learning more about COVID-19, or the Coronavirus. We know that as many as 14 days may pass between when a person is exposed to the virus, and when symptoms begin. This means that, as in King and Snohomish Counties in Washington State, the virus can go undetected for some time before it is identified. During that time, the person infected with the virus is exposing others to infection without even knowing it. We also know the virus is highly contagious but that cautious measures can slow down the rate of its spread. Slowing the spread flattens the curve of the peak of an epidemic like this. If there are too many cases needing medical attention at the same time, they can swamp our hospitals and clinics, making it impossible for all the critical COVID-19 cases, as well as other unrelated medical emergencies to receive timely and proper treatment.
Consistent with the directives and recommendations issued by Oregon Governor Brown and Washington Governor Inslee and recognizing that persons over 60 or who have compromising health conditions are advised not to attend gatherings of more than 10 people, I am directing the local churches of any size and other ministries in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to suspend in-person worship and other gatherings of more than 10 people for the next two weeks, starting today. Your conference leaders and I will assess unfolding events and update this directive as appropriate, but no later than March 24, before Palm Sunday and Holy Week.
Some people wonder if this strong action is warranted in Alaska, where the first case was just confirmed and Idaho, where COVID-19 has not been detected yet. I am asking you to adopt this discipline as a courageous act of prevention. It is likely that the virus is present, though undetected, as it has been in so many places. We don’t want to risk anyone contracting or spreading this virus in church!
I am also asking conference staff to suspend unnecessary air travel and advising clergy to do the same until further notice.
The Oregon Health Authority reminds us that “Together, we can minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable community members”. United Methodists strive to live in ways that promote the well-being of others. In this season of spreading disease, I appeal to “extend hospitality to strangers:”
- keep a social distance of 6 feet, no hugs, hand-shakes or elbow bumps
- stay home if you don’t feel well
- practice healthy hygiene
“Contribute to the needs of the saints,” by continuing to support your local church and other vital ministries by your prayers, presence (in spirit and online), gifts (including financial support), service, and witness so that ministries of compassion and justice are uninterrupted. Oregon-Idaho Conference emergency preparedness info, PNW Conference preparedness info, Alaska Conference preparedness info.
In order for ministries serving vulnerable populations to remain open – like childcare, feeding programs, homeless services, AA – strict adherence to safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control or other public health agencies for cleaning, social distancing and health screening guidelines is mandatory.
STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD
In times of uncertainty and vulnerability, human contact and spiritual connection are important. I encourage you to find creative ways to keep in contact with your colleagues and your parishioners during this time. Social media is great, but it’s no substitute for a phone call or face time.
Even as we are encouraged to stay at home, avoid social contact, and worship online, churches and social service agencies need unfailing community support to continue their crucial work of justice and compassion. I hope you will experiment with offering online worship, donations and meetings during this pause. There is great news for churches about Zoom and CCLI licenses.
Finally, in times of crisis fear gives way to hate. People of Asian descent, or those who have traveled abroad report that they have been harassed and stigmatized on the assumption that they brought the virus here. Individuals are not responsible for the virus, and any of us could be carriers. Only perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4: 18). As people of faith, let your words and actions cultivate love all God’s people.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Romans 12: 12-13
Please take precautions to keep yourself, loved ones, strangers, congregations, and communities safe.
With gratitude for you and your leadership, and with confidence in the steadfast love and grace of Jesus Christ,
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky