A Message from Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Extended Cabinet – May 7, 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the congregations of the East Ohio Annual Conference have shown tremendous love, creativity, leadership, and resilience. You are living evidence that the Church is the people, not the building. You have embodied the love of Christ as you have cared for one another, witnessed to the Gospel through worship in many different forms, and shown your commitment through service to others in this difficult and often scary time. We know how hard this has been and we are so grateful for you.
Since we initially closed our buildings, the COVID-19 disease is even more widely present and equally dangerous. As of this writing, more than 70,000 Americans have died from this disease in just a few months. The whole world is grappling with living under pandemic conditions with a variety of unknowns for longer than any of us would like.
We offer these guidelines for our churches to do less harm while figuring out new ways to do good among the new complex reality in which we are living and ministering. We have not set firm dates for the different phases described on these pages so that we can monitor and react to rapidly changing conditions. It is possible that progress may not be linear; we might have to go back and forth between different phases and possibly make changes when we learn new things, if that is the most loving thing to do.
As of the release of these guidelines, we continue to be in Phase 1, which began in mid-March. God will guide us in reimagining church so that it makes people’s souls well without making their bodies sick. Being guided by love will mean very concrete things, like wearing masks; thinking carefully and moving cautiously as we plan to reopen our buildings; as well as soul work, like laying aside our preferences to reduce the risk of infection to another.
We will follow State of Ohio leaders who weigh the various aspects of the public good in trying to set the course on safer practices related to employment and public gatherings. These Guidelines for Phases of being Church during the Pandemic reflect current State orders to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. They were developed based on the best advice of medical professionals who are also faithful United Methodists in East Ohio churches.
Each pastor and each church leadership team will need to thoughtfully discuss when and how to implement these guidelines in your particular buildings in ways that demonstrate love and consideration of all of the risks involved. Loving others means that their well-being is our priority. Inviting the church back to the building will also require intense preparation. It will take longer than any of us want it to take. We do not want the many sacrifices that people have made to be undone now!
We celebrate the variety among our nearly 700 United Methodist churches while recognizing the challenge in sharing one set of guidelines. Some of you have been asking for this level of detail while others may feel this is more than you need. If you have additional questions, please contact your district superintendent or respective Conference staff person – we are here to resource and equip you! Please continue to support your pastor as a human being – one who is coping with their own stress, grief, weariness, family circumstances, and changing dynamics of the working environment. Grace and patience should be most evident in church relationships. This is a time to work together and support every person connected to your congregation, including your pastoral leader and their family.
This is also a time to be amazed at the great good God can do when we can open ourselves to the new things God wants to do among us. What are we learning during this time? We will never go back to the old “normal,” as much as we might want to do so. Yet, we have every confidence that new ways of being the Church and engaging in vital ministry are emerging during this time of transformation and rebirth. We invite you to prayerful, collaborative, imaginative, and faithful work as you embrace your sacred calling to practice the greater love of Christ.
Executive Secretary to the Bishop
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH,
near Akron-Canton Airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW
North Canton, OH 44720
Local: (330) 499-3972
Toll Free: (800) 831-3972
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