CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19)
The sidebar of this page offers the most up to date information about COVID-19 from official government agencies and from The United Methodist Church.
July 24: Churches and the New Statewide Mask Mandate
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ,
I continue to be grateful for the creative ways that you are sharing the love and grace of Christ, and I rejoice at the testimonies that tell how your ministries are touching lives in many ways. In the midst of these challenging and exhausting times, clergy and laity have been working together finding new, innovative, and transforming ways of engaging in ministries in your communities and beyond to reach new people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recent data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is still widespread. Here in the East Ohio Conference alone several counties have shown an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We, the Body of Christ, can play a vital role in helping to slow the spread of this disease and save lives. We are each called to do our part.
Within the past 24 hours a new statewide mask mandate went into effect in Ohio. The mandate from Governor Mike DeWine is for all people ages 10 and over to “wear facial coverings in public at all times when at an indoor location that is not a residence.” Since the church building is an indoor, non-residence venue, the governor’s mask order is in effect for indoor worship services, bible studies, small group gatherings, etc. Therefore, the Church is not exempt from this mandate.
The Guidelines for the Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings have consistently encouraged churches to “… follow the guidance of your local health department, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), government officials, hospitals, care facilities, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and pray for them.”
Friends, the governor’s order does not infringe on our right to worship as we are still allowed to meet in our buildings (but while wearing masks). The governor’s order allows those officiating worship to remove their mask (with social distancing still in effect) to lead worship.
Remember, by wearing a mask we are practicing Jesus’ commandment to love others as we love ourselves. We are doing our part to care for our neighbors. (Mark 12:31)
I hold each of you in my prayers. I encourage you to remain strong and steadfast in the Lord. By the grace of God, we will stay the course together focused on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Tracy S. Malone
July 9: UPDATED Guidelines for Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings
Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Cabinet will no longer offer a Conference-wide recommended phase for the reopening of our church buildings because each local church and faith community is in a unique setting and in locations with varying contextual realities.
We urge local church leadership to be diligent in creating, implementing, and communicating guidelines for when and how worship services and small group gatherings can more safely meet again in-person. Task groups should use the Guidelines for the Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings in conjunction with information from their county health department in developing the guidelines for their context. Each group should meet often to monitor the coronavirus in its area and to make appropriate adaptations in congregational life.
The COVID-19 pandemic is fluid so as circumstances change across the Conference, we all must be prepared to adapt plans as needed to keep all within our care as safe as possible. The love and compassion of Jesus compels us to do no less.Download the UPDATED Guidelines for the Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings.
June 17: Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Update
The Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act enacted on June 5, 2020 will impact how and when Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients can apply for loan forgiveness. Many lenders have indicated that they will not be able to accept forgiveness applications until the Small Business Administration updates its forms and distributes revised rules and procedures resulting from the new Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act. Please check with your lender to learn its updated process and timeline for receiving loan forgiveness applications.
May 21: UPDATED Guidelines for Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings
The Extended Cabinet is now recommending that churches can consider moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2. We appreciate the way pastors and church councils (and equivalents) are giving serious attention to the details of the EOC guidelines as they develop and implement plans that prioritize care for people.
During Phase 2, small groups such as bible studies and other spiritual groups, committees, and office functions can begin to meet together in-person. Small group gatherings could include worship in some contexts, if clergy and lay leadership mutually and prayerfully determines that they will follow the worship practices and other practices listed in Phase 3 of the Guidelines for Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings as well as the guidance of their county health department.
Each of our nearly 700 East Ohio Conference churches is unique and will create its own plan for what is necessary for that congregation to move from one phase to the next. That is expected because every church has a different context, capacity and level of readiness and risk. Church pastor(s) and their council (or equivalent) should not feel pressured to move to the next phase before they are ready to do so but they are expected to be actively developing plans for reentering the church building.
May 7: Guidelines for Phased-in Reopening of EOC Church Buildings
In a message to the Conference, Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Extended Cabinet offer 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.
April 29: Task Force Creating Plan for Phased-In Reopening of EOC Church Buildings
“I imagine the news that Gov. DeWine plans to begin reopening some businesses in early May has some of us anticipating being able to reconnect in person soon. Friends, that is our shared hope, too. At this time, it is still too soon to give a specific date for when we will begin Phase 1 of the reopening of our church buildings for gatherings. We are monitoring the situation closely, so that when it is safe to do so, we will announce the date and be ready to implement Phase 1,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.
“I have formed a task force that is already working with consultants and developing our East Ohio Conference protocol for how we will phase in the reopening of our churches for gatherings of groups of 10 or more people.”
April 22: Guidance from Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Cabinet
Worship, Retirements and Appointment Changes, District and Charge Conferences
Dear East Ohio clergy,
During this time of sheltering in place, we pray you and yours are also sheltering under the wings of the Almighty. We write with requested updates and clarity during this rapidly changing pandemic.
In-person worship is still suspended pending direction from public health officials. Inviting the church back to the building will be contextual, phased, and very different from what it was before. We will continue to be guided by the principles of doing the most loving thing and preserving life. Because our church contexts are different both from businesses and from each other, we will have to think carefully, creatively, and ethically rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
Retirements and Appointment Changes
Retirements and appointment changes will still happen as of July 1.
District and Charge Conferences
Annual fall charge conferences will not begin before September. Your superintendent will notify you of the plan for your district, as well as when SPRC consultations via Zoom can be scheduled.
Read the entire Guidance from Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Cabinet.
April 2: A Video Message from Bishop Malone
“It is with joy and the peace of the Lord that I reach out to you, the clergy and the lay members of the East Ohio Conference. I continue to hold each of you in my prayers and I hope that you can feel the love and the virtual hug flowing from my heart to yours. It has now been three weeks since we have had to physically distance ourselves from each other and there is a deep longing to be in community with one another but until it is safe to gather together in one place we continue to rely on the gift of technology and other ways of connecting with each other.
Romans 8:38 reminds us that there is nothing, no thing in life or in death, not even the coronavirus, that can separate us from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus or the love that we have for each other.”
March 19: Guidance from Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Cabinet
Christ, Community, Care, and Creativity During the COVID-19 Crisis
We, Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the Cabinet, offer this guidance recognizing that we will follow God’s leading during this rapidly changing situation! Spiritually mature leaders adapt to new information. This letter is long because we have been asked to provide guidance on a number of areas that are suddenly very different than they were just two weeks ago.
March 17: Bishop Malone Announces In-person Group Meetings at the Area Center Suspended
In our effort to care for you and our Conference staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the decision, effective immediately, to suspend all in-person group meetings scheduled for the Area Center in North Canton. Conference staff will assist you in rescheduling meetings so that our work and ministry together can continue via phone or video conference call.
The Conference staff and the district superintendents and their respective staff continue to be available to resource and equip you, your local church, and the various ministries and missions of our annual conference. In order to limit exposure, I encourage clergy and laity to refrain from coming to the Area Center unless you have essential business to care for in the building.
Read Bishop Malone’s message in its entirety.
March 13: Bishop Malone Urges EOC Churches to Cancel Public Worship Services through March 27
After prayerful discernment and in consultation with the executive staff of the Conference, I urge all East Ohio churches to cancel public worship services through the next two weeks, effective today through March 27.
I am not suggesting that we close our church buildings because our local churches and faith communities play a vital role in being in ministry with our communities, especially with the most vulnerable. During this time of crisis, it is critical that we find creative and non-traditional ways to practice and sustain our faith and witness through virtual worship, bible studies, and outreach that does not put people in harm’s way.
World Health Organization tips for keeping you and others healthy:
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
Fax: (330) 499-3279
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
© EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.