A Letter to Pastors and Congregations
From Bishop Jimmy Nunn; Dean of the Cabinet, Rev. Tish Malloy; Assistant to the Bishop, Rev. Dr. Joe Harris; Director of Connectional Ministries, Rev. Derrek Belase; Interim Treasurer, Randy Compton
Date: April 24, 2020
Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord!
We want to affirm again all the ways you are reaching your churches, extension ministries, and communities in creative, inspiring, and engaging ways. Keep up the good work!
As we all know, information about COVID-19 and appropriate responses to its spread are complex. It is understandable that you and your ministry leaders would have many questions about relaunching in-person worship and reopening your churches and ministries. We all want to make responsible decisions as we transition from our current status of having no meetings of more than 10 people at safe distances from one another to a graduating increase in public gatherings with fewer restrictions.
Guided by our faith and informed by medical experts as well as national, state, and local government officials; the Cabinet has been considering the best ways for us to respond to this ever-changing situation. While this letter is full of information, we pray you will digest it and reach out to your District Superintendent should you have questions.
First, we are guided by:
- The Greatest Commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40);
- Paul’s words to the Philippians, our 2020 Annual Conference theme: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4);
- Wesley’s Three General Rules – “Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.”
These texts and rules for Christian life are the guiding principles of our response.
Second, we recognize the unique position churches and pastors find themselves in, navigating our relationship with the state while appreciating the separation afforded by our Constitution.
This did not escape the teachings of Jesus. When asked about paying taxes, Jesus responded, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15-22). What we want to provide you with is a way to keep people safe and comply with the governmental guidance while recognizing that our ultimate allegiance is to God’s kingdom.
Third, we uphold what our Social Principles affirm: “Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility – public and private” (¶162V).
How will we respond together? By following Wesley’s Three General Rules.
First, by doing no harm:
- Always follow the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the size of crowds which can be together. Currently, that is 10 people or less who are practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet.
- Recognize that these guidelines will likely change over the next few weeks. As they change, you will want to stay current and communicate updated expectations.
- Continue to reach out to your community in safe ways.
- Make vulnerable populations a priority. Urge church members to check on their neighbors and make sure they have what they need, including care for body and soul.
Third, by attending upon the ordinances of God:
- Offer online worship, discipleship opportunities and appropriate pastoral care.
- Offer the sacrament of Holy Communion as you see fit for your context. (See our pandemic resource page for further guidance on this.)
- Engage your church leadership team in Christian conferencing as you plan and prepare for next steps. There will be a time when you will have some clearance to reopen and you will want to be ready. If you need assistance in doing this, please communicate your need with your district office.
It is our expectation that all United Methodist Churches remain closed and that staff work from home as much as possible. We do not recommend that any in-person gatherings take place for any reason except for recording worship services and messages of devotion and encouragement and small groups to provide for community needs. As a reminder, the guidelines are 10 people or less who are practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet.
Will our guidance change?
In a Wednesday, April 22 press conference, you may have heard the Governor’s office saying that churches could reopen as early as May 1. While we deeply appreciate the desire to re-gather in-person, we will continue to follow the CDC guidelines and expect United Methodist pastors, churches, and ministries in Oklahoma not hold public services until Bishop Nunn gives specific instruction for when and how to do so. We will follow closely how Oklahoma moves through this phased reopening and we will communicate any updates to this communication after May 17. We have noticed so many of you who are fulfilling the ministry to which you are called using safe practices. Thank you! If you or your church need support in this difficult time, please contact your District Superintendent.
When will we communicate with you?
For the foreseeable future, we will be communicating with you via email each Friday. These regular Friday communications will allow you to know when to expect any updates.
Camps (from the May 1 letter)
The Board of Trustees of Camps and Conferences, led by director Ed Parker and chairperson Herschel Beard, met in special session on Tuesday and made two decisions of note. First, all scheduled OKUMC Camps for the 2020 season have been canceled. The second decision was to look at possible alternatives to bring people to the campsites after July 1. A tremendous amount of planning has already gone into developing these alternatives, but details have not been finalized. Please watch this communication as well as the Camps social media accounts for further decisions.
How can we help?
We have launched a new web hub called “Resources for Relaunch.” These resources will help church leaders and pastors facilitate conversation and make plans amid uncertainty.
We highly recommend that those of you who will be relaunching worship services watch the video produced by
Path 1 (Discipleship Ministries) and use the accompanying discussion guide. A guide for creating a relaunch team is also provided. We believe that every congregation and ministry can benefit from doing this strategic work together. You can expect that more resources will be added including reconnecting with your community in mission. We will include links in the Friday updates along with alerts as the web hub is updated with new information. We pray that these resources are a blessing to you and your leadership teams.
A Call to Prayer
We want to close our letter inviting you to pray without ceasing (1st Thessalonians 5:17). Let us be in prayer for each other, our churches and communities as well as leaders at all levels of our government. Let us remember those who have contracted this terrible illness and the families of those who have died. Let us intercede for those who have to work on the front lines and in the sectors of public safety and healthcare. Let us lift up those who have lost their jobs and have nowhere to lay their heads at night. Pray for this and so much more.
Should you have questions, need clarification or simply want to discuss how to proceed in your own context, reach out to your District Superintendent.