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Continued Encouragement to Do No Harm

Dear ones in Christ Jesus:

I want to move through three topics rather quickly and efficiently.

I continue to be deeply grateful for your love, care and support. Most recently, as I observed another birthday, you showered me with acknowledgements. Thank you.

You have heard the quip, “If had known then what I know now.” What do I mean by that? Thanks for asking. In my last column, I referenced our continuing attention to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to up the ante this week. I gratefully acknowledge the great progress that has been made. It is also the case that we (meaning the society writ large) still have some heavy lifting ahead of us. The rate of vaccinations and the presence and spread of variants make this so. That said, I want to continue to see access to in-person worship, children present in school and so much more. If these are to continue, we must encourage more people to get vaccinated. The United Methodist Church and individual congregations have influence and have multiple mediums to communicate the importance and safety of vaccines. Let’s use our voice and our facilities to make vaccinations possible for all.

While we may not need to wear masks at the same rate we did a year ago, I want to emphasize that they can be a big part of keeping self and others safe. There is no mandate here. But let me share with you that even when I do not have a mask on, I always have a couple in my pocket so that I can quickly put one on. As various circumstances have presented themselves, I have done this on several occasions. Our declaration that we love our neighbor must be matched with action. I know you join me in wanting:

  • Churches open
  • Schools open
  • Other venues open
  • Hospitals and clinics not overcrowded with COVID-19 patients
  • Unvaccinated children safe
  • Immunocompromised individuals not made more vulnerable
     

Let’s not be the people who say such outrageous things as “You can’t come to this church if you wear a mask.” Let’s stop pitting individual rights against the good of the community. This is a tragic social and theological mistake. Frankly and disappointingly, it is not new.

My final point, the delayed 2020 Olympics are now over. There is lot to celebrate and contemplate. In the category of reflection, one of the things that clearly needs attention is the failure of many to deal, in the healthiest ways, with people all around us, who struggle with their mental health. For some, the struggle is episodic. For others, it is chronic. But the dramatic negative reactions to people in public spaces who needed to step aside from what they hoped to do because their struggles rose to the forefront, is embarrassing.

When we shame people for naming their struggles because they are easy public targets, we demean them and ourselves. But more importantly, we create a hostile environment for the non-celebrity, where they don’t feel safe to say, “I’m not OK.” The church, out of our understanding of God, human dignity and the gospel, should be voice and advocate in church and society for those who grasp for high quality mental and emotional health. If we assume this part of our collective vocation, we just might discover Jesus working right beside us. Or maybe, it’s the other way around.

 

Yours in Christ, 

† Bishop Gregory V. Palmer