May 22, 2020
STATEMENT FROM BISHOP THOMAS J. BICKERTON
REGARDING THE OPENING OF UNITED METHODIST CHURCHES
IN THE NEW YORK ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Today in his morning press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that another 105 New Yorkers died yesterday from the COVID-19 virus. Governor Ned Lamont announced yesterday that another 53 Connecticut residents died as well. In the last seven days alone, nearly 1,500 people who live within close proximity of our churches have died from this deadly virus. These facts alone reveal that we live in a region that cannot be compared with any other place in the country or world. What others are attempting to do in other regions would only result in increased infection, hardship and death if we were to try to do the same.
Two days ago, a team of leaders in our Annual Conference completed work and issued a twenty-six page document giving specific direction and instructions on how to prepare our church facilities and our people for the potential re-opening of our churches based on the metrics and guidelines provided by the State of New York and Connecticut, thorough and carefully crafted steps provided several weeks ago by the Centers for Disease Control, and additional measures set forth by my office.
In contrast to the above statements, today, the President of the United States announced that all churches would be declared “essential services” and gave them permission to open this weekend. This directive was given with no guidance for safety precautions, sanitation guidelines, or sensitivity to vulnerable age-groups, those with pre-existing conditions, or those who have been disproportionately affected due to poverty, systemic racism, or economic hardship.
I am writing to each of you, the clergy and lay leadership of the New York Annual Conference to clarify this situation with some clear guidance and direction from my office:
There are numerous examples across the country of houses of worship that rebelled against the advice of experts, decided to open their churches for worship, choir practice, or some other activity, and ended up infecting dozens of their parishioners as a result. We must act smartly, safely, and in cooperation with one another as we seek the right answers for how to re-open our churches. In the meantime, we ARE providing essential services that care for the well-being of our people through livestream, internet, and zoom technology in worship, study, reflection and counseling. Those essential services must be maintained as we respond to the needs of our people.
Finally, these are not days to be swayed by decisions that are made for political purposes. As Governor Cuomo has been fond of saying, this is not a time for red or blue politics. It is time for red, white, and blue collaboration. And, for us, this is not a time for independent Methodists to act unilaterally. It IS a time for UNITED Methodists in New York and Connecticut to pull together and send a clear message to each of our communities that we will exercise our “essential” services by first and foremost taking care of our people in mind, spirit, soul AND body.
I look forward to worshipping with many of you this weekend during your online worship experiences.
The Journey Continues, . . .
May 8, 2020
Dear Friends & Colleagues,
Grace and peace to each of you. I pray that this latest update finds you blessed and centered on the grace of God available to us all.
As we continue working our way through this pandemic, there are some clear realities still very much in play around us. The level of pain and death all around us is sobering. When you look at maps and projections, it is clear that we are at the epicenter. Within our context of life and ministry, we having to deal with the magnitude of this virus on a scale found nowhere else on planet earth. It has affected our families, friends, and local churches. It has highlighted injustices, people on the margins, and revealed the depth of systemic racism that has lessened the importance of certain individuals at the expense of the privileged who maintain control and power-- whether it is found in the safety of our homes or in the ability to stockpile food or to have access to services to keep us healthy.
Some days it seems like too much. And yet, there are inspiring stories of determination and hope that give us reason to believe that God is at work in and through us to truly make a difference in the people we are called to serve.
Getting Back to “Normal”
One of the realities we are facing is that we are beginning to enter another phase in this pandemic. It is a phase that you can see emerging across the country related to,“When can we get back to normal?” It’s a phase where tensions and anxieties and outbursts are beginning to happen on the steps of state capitols and in the living rooms of our homes. Whether it’s the desperate need for a paycheck or the simple reality of cabin fever, some days it seems like it’s too much to handle and the outbursts appear to be more about our anxiety than it is about the particular issue being raised.
I truly worry about us in this next phase, especially as it related to our mental health and our spiritual well-being. I worry about us falling into the trap of unnecessarily focusing on things that are minor in the midst of this big major that we are dealing with. I worry about doing harm through the words we inappropriately speak or the actions that we don’t intend to do but can’t find a way to avoid because we are smothered by emotions and anxieties about our world and our lives being turned upside down.
It reminds me of the dilemma Paul described in Romans 7: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7” 15, 18-19)
It is so important for us, in this vulnerable time, to breathe, think before we speak, be in touch with our inner drivers, and set as an intentional pattern the need to be careful with one another each moment of the day.
A Time for Self-Care & a Weekend of Sabbath
I want to remind each of you to take good care of yourselves. If you are having a tough time, confide in a friend or a therapist. If you don’t know where to turn, reach out to us and we’ll help you find the assistance you need. And, remember to find time for quiet reflection, solitude, prayer and reading. Think twice about your reactions and over-reactions. Just breathe.
As you are aware, our Annual Conference session has been postponed until this fall. We are still working out the details of this much abbreviated session and will let you know about the dates and plans as soon as we know.
But the postponement of Annual Conference gives us a window for the renewal and rest I have been talking about. Our Annual Conference was scheduled for Thursday, June 11 – Sunday, June 14. Those are dates that should already be marked on your calendar, dates when pastors were already expected to be away from their pulpits and away from their day-to-day activities.
I am announcing today that the dates originally scheduled for Annual Conference, Thursday-Sunday, June 11-14 are being set aside for a period of pastoral respite and renewal. I am asking for local churches to support their pastors taking these four days for rest, renewal and reflection. Our Conference staff will be organizing an online worship service on that Sunday, June 14, to be made available as a substitute for every worship service across the conference so that our pastors and their worship teams can have a break from their preparation on that Sunday.
There is much being asked of all of us. I pray that we can be supportive of this need to provide our leaders with an intentional time of rest and that our leaders can take advantage of this opportunity.
Remaining Centered on our Values
One of the things that I frequently celebrate is being able to claim my faith as a United Methodist Christian. The combination of the gospel message and directives of Jesus to love God and love neighbor with the unique features of our Wesleyan understanding of faith based on Personal Holiness & Social Holiness, as well as the directive to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God, and the core principles of Saving Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace; these cause me to celebrate how I have been formed and am being formed into the likeness of Christ every day.
Those are the values we hold dear as United Methodist Christians and they are the values that will continue to inform every decision we make moving forward in the midst of this pandemic. We cannot do anything less than that.
Specific Actions Moving Forward
That leads me to some specifics related to where we are and where we are going as an Annual Conference.
As you know and as you feel, the questions about when to re-open our churches is a burning question. As I have stated before, we are going to take our lead from the state governments in New York and Connecticut. In those governments there are game plans being developed for a gradual re-opening based on the fulfillment of certain criteria. We will comply and follow those guidelines completely. Here are some specifics:
As a result of the major impact on our region due to the Coronavirus, there are several announcements I am making:
What all of this means is that in some areas we are moving quickly (outreach and intentional caring ministries) while in other areas we are moving slowly and methodically (re-opening and intentional steps to take extreme care for how we re-enter once again) in others.
In the midst of it all I urge you to: breathe, remember our values, treat each other with grace and patience, and in every situation you face, especially in the places where you are tempted to react in ways that may do harm to others by the words you say/actions you take, demonstrate your deep love for God and for one.
In his unique book, Guerillas of Grace, Ted Loder writes:
O God, complete the work you have begun in me.
Release through me
Waken in me
Renew my faith that you are God
O Keeper of Promises, composer of grace
I like that. Glee in our blood. Prayer in our hearts. Trust at our core. Songs for our journey. And a clear sense of God’s kingdom.
That is my prayer for you.
Be well. Stay healthy. And know that you are loved.
The Journey Continues, . . .
Watch The State of the NYAC on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/NYACUMC/
Poem take from: Loder, Ted, Guerrillas of Grace, 1984, Innisfree Press, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
April 22, 2020
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5: 13-14 (NRSV)
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Yesterday I opened my mail to find a “prayer square” sent to me by a friend in Ohio. This is the fourth “prayer square” or “pocket prayer shawl” I have received in the last couple of weeks. This kind and wonderful gesture encourages the recipient to hold the piece of cloth in their hand or place it in their pocket as a reminder to trust in God’s grace in times of need. With the news of my father’s infection from the Coronavirus, as well as the steady number of reports flowing into my office of others who are infected, these gentle reminders of the ties that bind us together in loving devotion and prayer mean so very much.
Even though there is not a prayer shawl attached with this latest update, there is attached a sincere prayer and a genuine concern for each of you. You remain in my prayers each day and, as the Apostle Paul said, “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.” (2 Timothy 1:4)
The news filling the air waves is providing words of encouragement about the flattening of the curve of this virus. Hospital admissions, intubations, and death rates are dropping. Yet, the news is also filled with emerging anxieties. Mental health difficulties, cabin fever, economic struggles, and questions of when to re-open are now growing. Adding to the struggle is the reality that different regions of the country are responding in different ways based on their context.
Here is the latest update from my office:
These kinds of issues and more are discussed in depth in the two articles below:
In her wonderful book, Out of the Ordinary: Prayers, Poems, and Reflections for Every Season, Joyce Rupp shares this wonderful poem, entitled “Blessing Prayer for Healing:”
May you desire to be healed.
May what is wounded in your life be restored to good health.
May you be receptive to the ways in which healing needs to happen
May you take good care of yourself.
May you extend compassion to all that hurts within your body, mind, spirit.
May you be patient with the time it takes to heal.
May you be aware of the wonders of your body, mind, and spirit and their amazing capacity to heal.
May the skills of all those who are caring for you be used to the best of their ability in returning you to good health.
May you be open to receive from those who extend kindness, care, and compassion to you.
May you rest peacefully under the sheltering wings of divine love, trusting in this gracious presence.
May you find little moments of beauty and joy to sustain you.
May you keep hope in your heart.
This is my prayer for you and for all the people you faithfully serve. I pray it today, for you, holding a pocket prayer shawl from someone who cares.
The Journey Continues, . . .
“Blessing Prayer for Healing” taken from Out of the Ordinary ©2000 by Joyce Rupp. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press. All rights reserved
Content copyright 2018. Merrick United Methodist Church. All rights reserved.