Message from Bishop Schol – Grace for Shared Ministry and Coronavirus Resources

March 17, 2020 | Messages from the Bishop

Dear GNJ Clergy and Lay Leadership,

Grace and peace to you in very difficult and trying times in which all of us are learning to navigate. Thank you for your patience and flexibility. I am praying for you and your congregation daily and I have been overwhelmed by all of your prayers for me, the church and our world. Today, I want to update you about three important areas we are addressing during these early days of the coronavirus pandemic – financial concerns, protocols and new resources to support congregations.

Financial Concerns

  1. Shared ministry grace – The leadership of GNJ is advising congregations to postpone paying their shared ministries for April and May in an effort to alleviate some of the challenges they are facing. To sustain the work of the conference during this time, we will borrow money from the Harvest Mission Fund, a fund that traditionally helps us make grants to congregations. We pledge to work with you during this challenging season and recognize that ministry and finances will vary from congregation to congregation. While we would have liked to have done the same for billables (pension and insurances), we do not have the resources to sustain these financial obligations, as these costs are directly paid to outside providers.
  2. Giving – I am hearing reports of generosity across GNJ during this difficult time. One church member paid their entire pledge for the year. Others have increased their giving during this challenging season. These will be difficult times financially for the church. In addition to the tithe that Beverly and I give to GNJ and other ministries, I will be giving one month of my salary to GNJ to help GNJ during this time. I invite everyone as you are able to make additional sacrifices for your congregation’s ministry.

Protocols

  1. Following governmental directives – As you may have read, the president and governor have issued a directive that there are to be no gatherings of more than 10 people. This includes worship. All pastors and congregations are to follow the directives of federal, state and local municipalities.
  2. Weekend worship – Worship is a core practice within the church. It is the coming together of people to magnify and glorify God. It is a cornerstone of our community life together and builds up our faith.

    • While the pastor by our polity has authority to hold or cancel worship, there are several reasons why congregations are not to be gathering people together for public worship and meetings.
    • We want to take every means possible to protect people’s health and stop the spread of the coronavirus. The sooner we all work together to stamp out the virus, the sooner life gets back to normal.
    • Governmental officials, including the president, have said there are not to be gatherings of 10 or more people.
    • While your town may not be affected yet, we want to be in solidarity with our sister congregations that are in affected areas.
    • We want to be a witness and example of what are appropriate behaviors and practices during a pandemic.
    • For all of those who are sick or who have died, we want to honor them through our actions.
    • The number of reported cases in the United States grew by over 25% overnight. This is a serious health pandemic, and the church should be part of the solution.

  3. Inappropriate faith teaching – I have received reports that there are pastors and church leaders who are sharing that God is over the coronavirus and that God will protect us from the coronavirus. THIS IS NOT TRUE. While God is sovereign, throughout history, good Christians, faithful Christians have died through disease. Jesus was clear, “It will rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God does not protect us from foolishness and flaunting safety in the name of God. This is a serious virus that kills and is highly contagious. Such preaching and advice are not of God. We are called to be healers and protectors of God’s people and not to suggest they should make unwise decisions about safety to demonstrate God “is on their side.” God is for everyone and expects the church to model faith tempered with wisdom.
  4. Coronavirus reporting  – If any pastor has symptoms, contracted or associated with someone affected with the coronavirus, they are to contact their doctor or medical professional and their district superintendent immediately. Also, if any church member is affected, the pastor is to contact the district superintendent immediately. The district superintendent will share with the pastor the steps to be taken. All information will be kept confidential except to notify persons who may be vulnerable to the spread of the virus.
  5. Pastors affected by the coronavirus – Presently we have no report of any pastor or church member who has the coronavirus, but we have two reports of pastors and family members who either have symptoms or where indirectly in contact with someone with the coronavirus. In both instances, the two pastors and family members are quarantined and as appropriate working with medical professionals.
  6. MRC (Mission Resource Center) hours of operation – Monday through Friday during regular business hours, a few essential staff will be in the office. Most staff will be working remotely. We continue to receive mail, answer phone calls and respond to emails. There will be no onsite conference meetings. All will be done electronically through video and phone until notified otherwise.

Support Congregations
Our number one priority is to support our congregations so that we may serve our communities. During this season we have identified the following to guide our leadership and ministry.

  1. Our Values
    Faith – During uncertain and fearful times, God is our creator and Jesus our healer who will lead us through this time.
    Compassion – We care deeply about all people, those in our congregations and the people in the communities we serve.
    Health and Safety – The health and safety of people is of primary importance.
    Mission – The urgency of the virus calls us to serve the people in our communities and to witness the love of Jesus Christ within us in new and innovative ways.
  2. Our Outcome
    Eliminate the spread of the coronavirus and increase faith and healing throughout GNJ
  3. Our Goals
    While dis-ease spreads, we will be the church of Jesus Christ, sharing and living the Good News so that we:
    Grow faith in our people and extend the love of Jesus Christ to our communities.
    Practice safe and healthy ministry engagement so that we stop the spread of the coronavirus.
    Embody the love of Jesus and turn the church outward toward our communities to provideappropriate ministry and services with people  living in the Greater New Jersey area.
  4. Our Resources
    Staff, clergy and laity from across GNJ spent time on Monday reviewing what people are asking for during this season, and we are enhancing resources in the following areas:
    Worship – robust materials for online worship and the ability for our smaller congregations to access worship online through GNJ.
    Technology – step-by-step guides for using technology, interactive resources for asking questions and getting help and tools for innovating ministry online so that people can connect when they cannot meet at the church.
    Connecting people – information for connecting small groups, youth groups, bible studies and other fellowship.  As social distancing becomes the norm, people will need to find new ways to connect to each other.
    Mission – New ways to serve communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Giving – How to continue giving when people are not meeting regularly.

Some of these resources are already available here. Others will be developed in the coming days and weeks. Look for announcements in the Digest and social media, and please continue to check back to see updated resources and information.

For this weekend, we will provide online worship for the people of GNJ whose congregation may not have online worship that will include music, liturgy, prayers and a message. This resource will only be for people whose congregation will not have online worship and will promote the worship later this week.

I am especially proud of you. You have been praying, keeping people safe and healthy and developing creative solutions. It is truly the work of God among us. Thank you. God will see us through this time because of faithful people like you.

Keep the faith!

John

John Schol, Bishop
United Methodists of Greater New Jersey