Dear GNJ Clergy, Congregational Leaders and Worshipers,
Our President has declared houses of worship essential services. We agree that our congregations are essential and that is why 99% of our congregations have continued worship, ministry and mission online while our buildings are closed. We thank God for each of our congregations and the essential ministry you have been providing prior to and during COVID -19.
After thoughtful analysis and assessment, Greater New Jersey has committed to a goal – Spread the Good News of Jesus Christ as together we flatten the curve of COVID-19 and ensure zero infections are spread by United Methodist activity. We also have said that part of meeting this goal, particularly in opening our church buildings for worship, is that three things must occur (as outlined in detail on our website here.)
- Your Governor indicates that churches may open for worship. The Governor of New York has said that groups of 10 may gather for worship, and the Governor of Pennsylvania has said that groups of 25 may gather for worship only in designated counties. Pike County in Pennsylvania, where GNJ churches are located, is one of the counties where no worship is permitted. The Governor of New Jersey has indicated there may be drive-in worship and outdoor worship of 25 people if they maintain proper social distancing.
- Your congregation develops a plan that includes addressing the eight health and safety issues (found here) and responding to a series of questions.
- The church council approves the plan and sets a date to open the church building or outdoor worship.
These three steps are in place for our churches in GNJ because we are experiencing a high number of cases and deaths and, most recently in some counties, continue to see the doubling and tripling of the virus.
I am grateful that the President has recognized the essential nature of our ministry, and I urge all our churches to continue their ministry as they have been since mid-March. I particularly call upon our clergy and lay leadership to lead so that you care for God’s creation and people during COVID-19. We trust your leadership and that you will ensure the safety of your people and the community. COVID-19 may change how we do church but does not change us as the body of Christ.
Keep the faith!
Bishop John Schol
United Methodists of Greater New Jersey
You are encouraged to share this letter with your congregation.