Bishop David Bard encourages local churches to seek the latest public health guidance in determining when to re-open safely. This in response to the recommendation by the President to open this weekend.
Dear Michigan United Methodists,
This morning I prepared a video for release updating you all on our response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be released next week, as planned, to coincide with the time when we would have been meeting as an Annual Conference.
This afternoon, President Trump, in a brief statement, called for the immediate opening of all houses of worship. He rightly identified places of worship as communities that hold society together, and he appropriately identified our deep need for prayer.
The message was mixed, however. The President said churches should “open right now,” but then also said that religious leaders should take the lead in protecting their people because we love our people and want to keep them safe.
It is out of love for the people of the Michigan United Methodist Church that I continue to encourage you to pay attention to public health guidelines as you consider how and when to re-open your church buildings for learning, praying and worship. It is vitally important to remember that re-opening does not and cannot mean opening again as if there is no virus. We cannot go back to a time before COVID. As we re-open our buildings for gathering, please attend thoughtfully and carefully to public health, the common good, and the well-being of others. The Michigan Conference issued a document of principles and guidelines for re-opening that contains our best thinking to date, and I encourage you to read this carefully.
Finally, I implore you not to let your decisions about opening your facilities be influenced by politics. In words written by Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). Don’t be conformed to this world by letting decisions about how to re-open church buildings be decisions about the President or the Governor or any political affiliation. Public health, the common good, the well-being of others, let these guide you as we move forward in ministry together.
In the interest of moving away from politicization, I think it wise to move away from the essential/non-essential language. In a letter I wrote recently to one of our pastors, I said this: “Corporate worship is a necessary spiritual discipline for followers of Jesus Christ. Yet the means for gathering in worship may vary. Worship remains essential. How we worship is more variable. Should we say to our high-risk members, who should probably not gather with us when we gather that their participation online is less worshipful?” The essential/non-essential language is not helpful to us.
Rather I invite us to call on the language of our faith. In another of his letters, Paul wrote, “Let all that you do be done in love.” The first rule for Methodist societies laid out by John Wesley was “do no harm.” Friends, let’s continue to meet the challenges of this pandemic with love and an intention to do no harm.
Grace and Peace,
David Alan Bard
Michigan Area Bishop
~ Editor’s Note: The Detroit Free Press reported at 5 pm, May 22, that Governor Gretchen Whitmer has extended her stay-at-home order to June 12, 2020. Temporary closure continues of places of large gatherings of people, such as theaters, gyms, and casinos.