Conference clergy respond to fears about coronavirus
Clergy in the Oklahoma Conference are responding to concerns about COVID-19, the official name for the coronavirus.
Rev. Jeremy Basset, director of the Office of Mission, released a statement on March 5 that encouraged conference members to make informed decisions regarding travelling for mission trips. He said if travel does become a challenge due to concerns about the virus, the office would help churches stay connected to the mission in other ways.
“While taking the best possible precautions in the face of this virus, it is also important that we continue to be about God’s mission in the world,” Basset said in the statement. “Our presence and commitment to each other is a witness to our hope and confidence in our shared journey of faith in Christ.”
As of March 5, there were zero cases of the virus in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Department of Health had tested a total of seven people for the disease: five tested negative, and two cases were still pending results. Although the virus has yet to be confirmed in the state, some conference ministries are still feeling the effect of people’s fears.
Rev. Victoria Lee said she and her team had to consider whether or not Charis Alive, a multiethnic ministry that reaches out to the Asian community in Oklahoma City, should cancel a Feb. 2 event to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which took place on Jan. 25. Ultimately, the team decided to move forward with the event.
“We took all the precautious measures that we could take; safety is our number one priority, and we want to make sure the worship area is a safe place,” Lee said. “If we had closed, we would send the signal that we are not different than the outside community, that we are for fear, instead of trusting God and taking every precautious measure.”
Unlike Charis Alive, the Chinese New Year celebration at the University of Oklahoma Wesley Foundation did need to be cancelled due to concerns about the virus, according to Fuxia Wang, the foundation’s director of international ministries. She said the foundation’s international students continue to meet for worship, bible study and English as a second language classes, but some students have families in China who can not go to classes because schools are closed.
“We took this opportunity to minister to the students and asked our students to join us together to pray and fast for China for 30 days,” Wang said. “We continue to pray for China during this Lent season, asking for God’s healing and mercy because God is our help in the time of our need. We pray and believe that God is working and bringing something good out of this situation.”
When asked whether churches who have mission trips scheduled should keep those commitments, Basset said yes, unless the trip takes place in or changes airports in one of the countries where the virus has widespread or sustained rates of transmission. As of March 5, those countries are China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and Japan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are still called to be about God’s mission, and we need to find ways to remain active, even if in the face of a possible increase in this virus,” Basset said. “(If) people want to cancel travel plans, they should not cancel their engagement in that mission. There are other ways to stay in connection and to send resources without people going there, but do not simply abandon mission because of fears about a virus.”
The statement from the Office of Mission can be found at www.okumc.org/newsdetail/statement-from-the-office-of-mission-regarding-covid-19-13428045. To learn more about the OSDH response to COVID-19, visit www.ok.gov/health. To learn more about the Commission on General Conference’s response to the virus, visit www.umc.org/en/content/public-health-awareness-planned-for-general-conference.