Bishop Bruce R. Ough disseminated the following message to Minnesota United Methodists on Sept. 18 as we head into fall.
Friends in Christ,
As you know, this has been an intense season for our churches. But you have risen to the occasion by pivoting to move your ministry online. You have responded to the call for racial justice and played a key role in rebuilding our communities following the killing of George Floyd. You have been diligent in developing practices to keep your congregation safe amid COVID-19 by caring for one another and gathering in creative ways. I am so thankful for your perseverance and innovation in the face of these unrelenting challenges.
As we turn the page to fall, a time when we’re used to kicking off a new year of programming and children’s ministries, we find ourselves still in “Stay Safe MN”mode and needing to continue to significantly limit our in-person gatherings. Everything is different, and it looks like this will be our new normal for the foreseeable future. As we head into this new season, I want to offer some reminders and encouragement:
- Pandemic fatigue is real, but we cannot relax in our efforts to keep people safe. With cold weather approaching, it will be tempting to think we can be the exception—that we can gather like we used to and no one will get sick. Unfortunately, there are tragic stories of church-related coronavirus outbreaks from all over the country. Gathering indoors in groups is still a high-risk activity. It is critical that you, as leaders, have developed your COVID-19 preparedness plan in accordance with our phased re-gathering plan and that you hold to it for the sake of the most vulnerable in your midst. We are called to make our love for one another incarnational. We do this by protecting each other and our neighbors. If you and your church leadership team or council has made a thoughtful and prayerful decision to resume in-person worship, your preparedness plan needs to include:
a. a requirement for masks to be worn by all persons
b. people staying at least six feet apart
c. strict adherence to the state-mandated capacity limits (we strongly recommend staying well below them)
d. no congregational singing
e. cleaning and sanitizing public spaces between each group gathering
- Christmas is coming. As painful as this is to think about, it is unlikely that we will be able to have a large number of people together, shoulder to shoulder, on Christmas Eve holding candles and singing “Silent Night.” Take a moment to lament this loss. And then, remembering Mary and Joseph who left what was comfortable to go on a journey to Bethlehem, start planning for how you can help bring Christmas to your community in fresh and new ways. Things won’t look and feel like they used to, but that was the case at Jesus’ birth too—he was God’s in-breaking in startling new ways. We have an important opportunity to try something completely different that reaches people in our mission fields in new ways.
- Continue to be kind and generous to yourselves and one another. This is a hard time for all of us. Give yourself grace. We are all doing the best we can, and we are all making decisions based on our particular context. Be wise about how you steward your time, resources, and energy. Ask the tough questions that lead to clarity about where to invest and where to let go so that you stay true to your mission while continuing to adapt and refine your methods for growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world in this unique season of ministry.
I pray for you and our world daily. May we be people who offer light and hope to a weary world!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
Resident Bishop, Dakotas-Minnesota Area
The United Methodist Church