The glory of the LORD will be revealed. – Isaiah 40:5
Happy Advent Congregational and Clergy Leaders of GNJ!
I give thanks to God for you because throughout this year our church leaders have worked together, demonstrating deep faith and great courage. You will be known as the ones who brought us this far by faith. Thank you.
Today I want to talk with you about three things – 1) Ministry during the pandemic surge, 2) Clergy renewal leave in January, and 3) Election results.
Ministry during the Pandemic Surge
We all know we are in the midst of a pandemic surge that was predicted back in the summer. As the weather turns cooler, people are moving inside where the virus has greater opportunities to spread. The number of COVID-19 cases grew by 20% in just two weeks. Cases will reach 200,000 plus a day and in January and February could reach 400,000 a day. The stress on the healthcare system will mean significant increases in deaths. We praise God that the vaccine is on the way, which is not a cure but will prevent the spread of the virus. We are learning that most of the public will not be able to access the vaccine until April or later and the decrease in the virus that we all have prayed for will not occur until the summer.
I give thanks to God for congregational leaders and pastors who have continued or moved back to online worship. God has always coupled belief and wisdom, faith and science. They are all gifts from God and inform each other. Those who are returning to online worship have demonstrated courageous faith, and I am grateful. We set the goal of zero spread of the virus by United Methodist activity. While we are living this goal, we have reports of two instances that activities in our congregations have led to the spread of the virus infecting dozens of people. Let’s all work together to keep each other safe by continuing online ministry, bearing witness that God seeks to preserve life by wearing masks and social distancing.
Clergy Renewal Leave
This has been a very difficult year for all of us. Clergy in particular have had to learn and apply new skills without adequate equipment and training. They have done a remarkable job. Thank you for your continued commitment to share and be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This has also been a year in which we have witnessed increased illness and marital separation among clergy. We have had a higher than usual increase in cancer, heart problems and other sickness this year. Stress is an enemy of health and relationships. For this reason, after prayer and conversation with the cabinet, I am inviting all clergy to take a two-week renewal leave after Christmas or at a time that meets your and the congregation’s needs. I will be offering worship services for the first two weeks of January for all our congregations that would like to participate. There will be three versions of the services in Korean, Spanish and English. I call all staff parish relations committees to encourage their pastor to take renewal leave after Christmas. There will be more information on how to access the worship services in the coming weeks.
Recently I have been in communication with two friends who have different responsibilities for processing and governing the recent presidential election. Due to the work and decisions they made, which were guided by the law, they now require personal security because of the threats against them.
Over the last several years we have experienced rhetoric and even bullying. This leads to people taking it upon themselves to change things they do not like through fear tactics, harassment, threats and physical harm. I am calling all United Methodists to engage in public discourse that models the life of Jesus and to intervene when you hear or witness hate speech, bullying and people inciting others because of different political beliefs, or faith understandings, or race and ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or gender. I give thanks for the people of GNJ who, while not always agreeing, have come to respect and genuinely love one another in the midst of our differences. This is the witness the world needs to see and experience.
We are called to be bearers of the glory of God. Let’s all do everything we can to heal our nation and work together toward our nation’s prosperity, security, freedom and education for everyone.
The glory of the LORD will be revealed this Advent Season, because of your faith and courage to lead and journey through the most difficult of time. You are bearers of the light.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
United Methodists of Greater New Jersey