Dear Ones in Christ Jesus:
My hope and prayer are that this note finds you well in body, mind, and spirit. I was not scheduled this week to offer any word about our practice of ministry in a COVID environment. But you cannot unhear what you have heard. I experienced yesterday as an information and exhortation dump. We heard from Governor DeWine and I was able to talk directly with some staff leaders at OhioHealth. That said it is at the very least time to revisit how we go about our ministry in this season. It feels like in many ways and places we were hitting a new stride in local church ministry. I am ever so grateful, humbled, and pleased at the progress we have made in West Ohio. But we do not live just to ourselves or for ourselves. We live in a connected interdependent world. The question that we are always called to wrestle with is in Luke 10:29: …and who is my neighbor?
The current COVID data on infections, transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths are moving in the wrong direction. In some instances, current numbers are exceeding what we saw in the Spring and Summer. So, it is time to pull together to seek the best for ourselves and our neighbors. I join you in feeling exhausted so to speak from all of the preemptive practices, but this is a moment to choose again to think about the long haul. Not a day goes by now when there are not new reports from all over the conference of multiple people exposed or diagnosed with COVID. This includes pastors, church staff and members. One colleague at this writing has eight parishioners hospitalized with COVID and over the last month has had six COVID involved funerals.
So, you need to know I am not “shutting you down.” I am however asking you in your context to do what will protect and preserve life. If you are able to pause some in person gatherings for the next couple of weeks without your bottom falling out you have my support. If you chose to have in person church gatherings and will do so employing clear and strict protocols you have my support.
Many of our churches have done this exceedingly well. I have worshipped and preached in a number of these settings. Their best practices and what I commend to you and expect from you look like this:
- Defined limit on the number of people in the room based on the room size
- Clear and observed distancing guidelines sitting or standing; six feet is the minimum
- Wiping down surfaces that people use and will use in bathrooms, offices, sanctuaries, and meeting rooms
- Temperature checks for all people entering the facility
- Masks or shields worn consistently
- Visible and easy access to hand sanitizing
- As you are able improving air movement and filtration systems
The Gospel reading for Sunday October 25 included this exchange between our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and an unnamed inquirer:
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Doing our part in this crisis as followers of Jesus calls for us to do good and seek life for ourselves and our neighbor. Be encouraged once again with these words from John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
Yours in Christ,
+Bishop Gregory V. Palmer