The first several months of 2020 have been difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in sickness, death, unemployment and economic challenges of epic proportions in our state, nation and world. The Cabinet’s and my hearts are heavy for all those who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus.
Through it all, I am thankful for the creative and sacrificial ways in which our clergy and laity continue to be the church. In addition to pivoting from in-person to online worship services in order to help flatten the curve of coronavirus cases and deaths, North Alabama United Methodists are reaching out to assist the increased number of persons in our churches and communities who are dealing with unemployment, food insecurity, emotional isolation and fear.
It has now been seven weeks since the Cabinet and I requested that our North Alabama Conference United Methodist churches suspend in-person worship services and other gatherings. After much prayerful discernment and careful review of the data about reopening, we are extending our request for suspension until at least June 1, at the earliest. When we reopen our church buildings, we will continue to be guided by directives from our federal, state and local government officials, and by the recommendations of health care professionals in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
In the meantime there is much to do in preparing for reopening our church buildings. We have developed the document "Do No Harm: Recommendations for Reopening Our Church Buildings" to assist local church leaders in decisions about when and how to reopen after our request for a suspension expires. This resource emphasizes the importance of context in determining the specific date for a congregation to reopen. Factors to consider include the congregation’s: 1) demographics, 2) location (how many COVID-19 cases are in its county?), 3) size and 4) capacity to follow CDC standards about sanitation and social distancing. The document also includes guidelines for reopening in a safe way.
Next week each District Superintendent will host town hall meetings via Zoom to answer questions about markers that are important to reach in order to safely reopen our church buildings. (Check with your District Superintendent if you have questions about the dates and times of the meetings in your District). We ask all clergy and local church lay leaders to either participate in one of the town hall meetings or watch the recording that will be made available afterwards.
Participants are encouraged to prepare for the town hall meetings with three actions.
I am grateful that North Alabama United Methodists have responded so beautifully to the Cabinet’s and my request for suspension of in-person worship services and gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we have the opportunity to further our positive witness by continuing to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus through the careful way in which we reopen our church buildings.
As always it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference