Praise be to the God and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the God of compassion and all comfort,
who comforts us in our affliction, so that we can comfort those in affliction.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (paraphrase)
Friends in Christ,
Does it seem lately like the challenges of life and the church increase with each passing month? This is a time to cling to the promises of God who is in the midst of us during affliction; this is a time to join with one another, to set aside the differences among us and to bring healing prayer, comfort and hope for the people of our congregations, our communities and the world.
The spread of the Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, has brought questions and fear as well as renewed commitment to be the church. We are encouraging church leaders to stay informed and lead the congregation in making appropriate decisions about ministry and programs.
The cabinet and I recommend every church follow governmental direction for your community and to use good common sense. We will provide guidance but recognize that different communities are facing different challenges and how a church responds depends largely on their situation and context.
Several websites are providing helpful and current information:
We are providing regular updates and resources on our website.
Our Connectional Ministries Team is providing resources for conducting online activities that include meetings, small groups and worship, and how to keep your congregation informed and encourage continued giving during this season.
Superintendents have been sharing with me the thoughtful, innovative and appropriate leadership our pastors are providing, including excellent resources. We will be sharing these resources on our webpages.
Presently we have a staff team that is meeting every morning to receive updates from state agencies. Rev. George Morris has graciously agreed to coach clergy on steps that are appropriate for their congregation and location. Pastors may email Rev. Morris questions or set up a time to talk about how to lead and set up appropriate measures in your congregation.
We are reviewing circumstances each day and making decisions about GNJ events and meetings to determine what events we will proceed with and what events will be rescheduled. We are already considering contingency plans for our annual conference session. We will open registration as planned on March 18 and will make a final decision as we get closer to the annual conference session. There is also close monitoring by denominational officials about holding General Conference. We will announce cancellations of conference events on our web pages here. A decision will be made no later than four days prior to the event.
Already GNJ has postponed its June mission trip to Tanzania and Yes, We Can!, the Rise Against Hunger meal packing event, and in case we need to postpone or cancel the annual conference session, we are looking at potential contingency plans.
God comforts and offers compassion to us, so that we may offer it to others. The church is important to our people and to the people of our community during this time.
What does it look like for your congregation to ensure the elderly in your community have supplies and other needs during this time? What does it look like to offer childcare for your neighbors if schools close? What does it look like to pray with family members and neighbors for health and healing for one another and our world?
This horrible virus will pass. It may take time, but by working together, taking precautions and praying faithfully, God will see us through these challenges. Once we are on the other side of these challenges, we will continue our mission partnership with Tanzania, we will pack a half a million meals and we will continue the important and strong ministry of GNJ.
Keep the faith!
Bishop John Schol
United Methodists of Greater New Jersey