COVID-19: Update from Bishop Leeland and Other Resources for Preparedness
UPDATE TO SUSPENSION of PUBLIC WORSHIP GATHERINGS and GUIDELINES FOR COMMUNION
March 24, 2020
Dear Western North Carolina Conference UMC Family and Friends,
The decision to suspend all in-person worship and gatherings is an effort to assist in halting the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). This change certainly creates a new set of challenges for all of us. We really are building the bridge as we are walking across it. One new challenge we are facing is addressing ministry needs in situations that are different from our traditional ways of doing ministry. Our District Missional Networks are needed more than ever to meet the needs of your community, to collaborate on virtual offerings, and to provide care for one another. Another challenge is how to offer the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This letter will provide suggested guidelines that should prove helpful.
Please know that your Bishop, Conference Staff, District Superintendents, Vitality Associates, District Administrators, and support staff are all available to assist and help. While we are available by email or phone, we want you to know that all in-person meetings at the Conference and District levels are either postponed or being held virtually. We strongly urge all our WNCC churches to do the same as we follow the advice of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Please continue to discontinue services until further notice. We will monitor the CDC’s recommendations and will let you know when it’s appropriate to gather in person for worship once again.
During this unprecedented time of a global pandemic, the Church is more important than ever. Each church and ministry have a unique opportunity to serve as channels of grace, mercy, and love, as we do what Christ has commissioned us to do. If possible, please continue to offer food pantries and other resources following the guidelines of the CDC as well as these from Second Harvest Food Bank. God put us in our communities to offer Christ, especially in times of testing and crisis, and to be a shining beacon of hope in these dark times.
As difficult as it is to suspend in-person worship and to practice social distancing, it is necessary to do so to protect the larger community and therefore save lives. As we hear the news of increasing cases of infection throughout our state, it becomes more apparent that these prevention measures will not end quickly. Thus, churches need to plan creative ways to worship and share the good news. We give thanks for the many other ways we can connect while being physically apart. The CHURCH has never been the buildings in which we worship.
By now you have heard the news that the Commission on General Conference has released a statement announcing the postponement of General Conference 2020. Please pray for Commission members as they work to schedule new dates. It is premature to make any decisions about our own Annual Conference at this point. We will offer further information regarding the WNCC Annual Conference by May 1, 2020. I will be meeting tomorrow, March 25, via conference call, with the College of Bishops to discuss plans regarding the rescheduling of General Conference and other events.
As you explore and use new technologies to engage in virtual worship, please ensure you are conducting your worship legally, as there are some different laws for livestreaming. If you are uncertain and need direction, Havaleh Havelka, our Conference Training and Resource Specialist, has compiled these resources for you.
Remember you can and should provide pastoral care by phone calls, cards, and letters. You are encouraged to connect with members and with each other in as many ways as you can. Make sure that your church leaders develop a plan for your church to care for the community while practicing social distancing. Let this time be an opportunity to develop a network of care
Please continue and encourage Christian stewardship, making every effort to support your church’s financial obligations. Urge your people to be faithful in giving and wise in spending. For this reason, our WNCC has established an on-line giving portal available to all our congregations, but especially to those who do not currently have a way to receive electronic contributions. Use this link and follow the prompts. Your contribution will then be forwarded to your local church.
Furthermore, the Council on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table will be asked to set up the WNC Connexion Clergy Relief Fund to assist churches who are struggling to pay clergy salaries due to this crisis. An on-line portal will be established to make gifts that will help our congregations support clergy and their families as they continue to lead our ministries.
I give thanks for the innovative ways that you are adapting to this new reality, which thankfully, will not last forever. Please know that you are prayed for daily as you care for those around you. You are not alone. Especially now, we find great hope in the promise of Jesus, "I am with you always, to the end of this age." (Matthew 28:20). "The Best of All is God is With Us." (John Wesley)
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Extending Christian Hospitality During the COVID-19 Crisis
(This is only to be viewed as temporary.)
The sacrament of holy communion is essential to Christian worship. Because of the pandemic that we are currently facing and the limitations that it imposes, we are offering an alternative way to share in this means of grace. This virtual communion service is a symbolic way of allowing the body of Christ to share in the Lord’s Supper. This temporary practice will allow the people of your congregation and online community to participate in Holy Communion from their homes as you lead online worship. Please note that is not a license to continue this practice when life returns to normal.
You might also consider the Wesleyan tradition of the Love Feast, which recalls the many meals that Jesus shared with his disciples and expresses the fellowship enjoyed by the body of Christ.
Specific Guidelines for the Practice for Online Communion:
(It is the position of this Bishop, that this privilege is for a season and that there will be a return to traditional practices in accordance with our liturgy as soon as possible.)
Within our Wesleyan heritage, we must remember the place of Elders, Deacons and Local Pastors licensed for sacerdotal (priestly) ministries, and thus Elders and Licensed Local Pastors will continue to have the authority to preside at the table.
Instructions for Leading Online Communion
“We believe the Sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening and confirming our faith in him.”
“We believe the Lord’s Supper is a representation of our redemption, a memorial of the sufferings and death of Christ, and a token of love and union which Christians have with Christ and with one another. Those who rightly, worthily and in faith eat the broken bread and drink the blessed cup partake of the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual manner until he comes.” The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, Paragraph 104: Article VI – The Sacraments, pages 73-74.
With this in mind, the members of your congregation and online community may participate in Holy Communion from their homes as you lead online worship.
Scriptural setting -
Holy Communion is celebrated in the context of worship. When you worship online, you are part of the context. When a Scriptural context has not been presented, read one of the following Scriptures, (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29), along with the following directives:
- Pastors are encouraged to lead the liturgy. You, as the pastor, should take the lead. Online Holy Communion is still a community act of worship best led by Clergy.
- Use the Communion Liturgy of Service of Word and Table found in The United Methodist Hymnal, or the United Methodist Book of Worship.
- Grape juice is preferable. (Please give prior notice to participants so that they have enough available for those worshipping in their location.) If online participants do not have grape juice, use your best judgment in recommending a suitable “fruit of the vine” replacement (like grapes). The main point is to participate in the body and blood of Christ.
- Use bread or crackers. (Please give prior notice to participants so that they have enough available for those worshipping in their location.)
- As with each pastor and local church, there are numerous expressions of presenting and receiving the bread and the cup, Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Individual cups are encouraged but intinction may be practiced in individual home settings. Please also remember that communion may be celebrated using just one element, either the bread or the juice, but it will be important for you to explain that to those worshipping with you as they may not be aware of that practice.
- Be sure to close the Communion Service with prayer. If the Lord’s Prayer has not already been incorporated in the service, it can be used as a close to the communion time.
- Share your experience(s) of encountering the presence of Christ during this sacrament. Sharing your experience helps all of us learn, grow and find new ways of being in relationship as the body of Christ.
The Holy Bible
The United Methodist Hymnal
Bishop Paul L. Leeland, Western North Carolina
Bishop Tracey Smith-Malone, East Ohio
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, West Ohio
UPDATED: March 20, 2020
Bishop Leeland shares a video message of encouragement in this time of social distancing and COVID-19. Links to additional resources for church and community preparedness can be found following the Bishop's message.
UPDATED: March, 17, 2020
(2 Timothy 1:7)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
During this health crisis, may we use this time to provide a clear and strong witness for Christ in our community; to truly be the Church.
I give thanks for the creative ways in which so many of you led online worship experiences on Sunday. With short notice, you offered words of hope and comfort to those who gathered for worship on their phone, computer, or tablet. This week, you are offering virtual Bible study, prayer services, and Sunday School. Some of you are even reading bedtime stories so that the community you serve will still feel connected to the church during this time of social distancing. I am proud of your extra efforts and faithful leadership in such a time as this.
I do ask that you continue to follow the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and suspend public worship, as well as other group gatherings, at least until the end of March. Please follow the CDC guidelines, State guidelines, and the direction of county and city government. These precautions are not only important for your own safety but for the health and welfare of the entire community. Social distancing can and will slow the rate of infection in order to allow our health care services to respond appropriately.
Now is the time for the church to be the Church. The CDC and the Conference continue to offer resources for faithful and appropriate ways to respond. Please pray for all those who are infected with this virus and their families; for those who have lost loved ones; for medical personnel who are offering care to those who are sick; for scientists who are working diligently to create a vaccine; for governmental leaders as they make difficult decisions. Please connect with those who are most vulnerable in your community and help to meet their needs. In a powerful email which I received late last week, Matthew Till reminds us that we also have the opportunity to “use time in social distancing as an extended period of sabbath rest through reading, prayer, abiding in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and connecting with loved ones in your home. Your soul needs it and God will use it for God’s glory.”
Like the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness, we find ourselves in unchartered territory. However, the God who led Moses and his people with a cloud by day and a fire by night, leads us as well. May the Lord, who is our light and salvation give us grace and strength for this and every time of need.
With gratitude for you and your leadership,
Paul L. Leeland
March 12, 2020
As we continue to receive communications and information regarding the COVID-19 virus, we are aware of the significant challenges arising on a daily basis. The virus is spreading rapidly, and there are an increasing number of cases reported throughout the state. We know the virus is highly contagious and that mitigation is possible with cautious measures.
It is extremely important that we slow the rate of infection in order to allow our health care services to respond appropriately. If the infection rate increases too quickly, we may not have the health care support required for everyone needing treatment.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference and I agree that it is important to suspend public worship for the next two weeks, beginning today. Please use your discretion regarding smaller gatherings like small groups, Bible studies, etc. These precautions are not only important for your own safety but for the health and welfare of the entire community. While we are in unfamiliar territory, health care professionals advise that this is necessary for slowing the rate of infection.
With the awareness of so many who depend on our church ministries, we hope you will be mindful of the need to continue to support these ministries and those of your local church. Your prayers, presence (in spirit), gifts (including financial support), service, and witness are still important and needed to sustain and strengthen our ongoing mission.
Please take precautions to keep yourself, loved ones, congregations, and communities safe.
With gratitude for you and your leadership,
Paul L. Leeland
Additional Resources for COVID-19 Preparedness:
In order to facilitate continued worship during this time the Church Development office is offering resources to help churches transition to online streaming and online giving. Learn more here: https://www.wnccumc.org/newsdetail/church-development-offers-assistance-for-streaming-worship-13441647
Event Cancellations - WNCC, Districts, and Related Organizations:
Virtual Ministry Resources from our Resource Center - https://www.wnccumc.org/virtual
Wespath & Retirement Updates - https://www.wnccumc.org/newsdetail/a-message-from-wespath-13441435
Online Giving Resources - https://www.wnccumc.org/newsdetail/getting-started-with-online-giving-resources-from-wncc-treasury-services-and-wncc-united-methodist-foundation-13533414
Preparing your churches:
NC Department of Health and Human Services: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-response-north-carolina
CDC Response: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
Messages from UMC Organizations:
WNCC Committee on Relief: https://www.wnccumc.org/newsdetail/a-message-from-the-committee-on-relief-13440587
Health Benefits Committee: https://www.wnccumc.org/newsdetail/message-from-the-health-benefits-committee-13441452
Resources for Vital Congregations
GBHEM Leadership Resources
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY: