In this pastoral letter to Michigan United Methodists, Bishop David Bard encourages pastors and laity to care for the well-being of themselves and others as COVID caseloads increase in the state.
Dear Friends in Christ in the United Methodist Churches of Michigan,
I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
This past Monday, October 18, three difficult news stories captured my attention.
The first was the announcement that former Secretary of State Colin Powell died from complications related to COVID. Though vaccinated, Powell’s underlying health conditions contributed significantly to his vulnerability.
In a related story, the five states with the fastest rising caseloads for COVID are Vermont, Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota. This time of year, many want to see Michigan or Michigan State in a top-five list for NCAA football. The top-five list for rising COVID caseload is a list we would like to avoid.
Allow me to take this opportunity to remind you of my consistent encouragement to promote public health, further the common good, care for the well-being of others, do no harm, do good, and love your neighbor, all in the name and spirit of Jesus.
Specifically, I encourage you, if you have not been vaccinated and are eligible to receive a vaccine, do it. It is the single most important thing you can do to care for yourself and others. The unvaccinated remain those most likely to be hospitalized and suffer severe illness or death because of COVID. They are also capable of spreading the disease for longer periods of time. Get vaccinated. Encourage your fellow church members to get vaccinated. If you are eligible for a booster, get your booster shot.
To our pastors, I particularly encourage you in the strongest possible terms to get vaccinated. Even if you have had COVID, health officials still encourage vaccinations to maximize your immune response and prevent a new infection. As a pastor, you are a leader in encouraging the love of neighbor. As a pastor, you are vulnerable as you stay connected with the people with whom you are in ministry. As a pastor, you have the unique risk of being able to spread the disease widely if you are sick.
Given rising caseloads across the state, it still makes sense that our churches strongly encourage masking by everyone when meeting in person and indoors. Vaccinations, when combined with indoor masking, are proven to slow the spread of the coronavirus and keep the virus from developing into new variants. Together, masking and vaccinations will help us stem the rising tide of the coronavirus.
Allow me also to say a word about the United Methodist tradition and religious exemptions for vaccinations. The United Methodist tradition of the Christian faith does not provide much support for a religious exemption for vaccinations. John Wesley promoted the best cures and preventative measures of his day in his work “Primitive Physick.” Founding hospitals was a significant part of our history as Methodists. Our Social Principles assert that “health care is a basic human right.” I have consistently encouraged Michigan United Methodists to get vaccinated. It would be extraordinarily difficult to use our United Methodist tradition to substantiate a religious exemption claim for a COVID vaccination.
Finally, the third story that caught my attention this past Monday was of the continued suffering in Haiti, and a call for prayer for the missionaries recently kidnapped there. Pray for their safe release and pray for a Haiti that is safer and turning a corner toward peace and shared prosperity.
Friends, I continue to believe that by God’s grace, we can muster the resilience, the kindness, and the determination to do what needs to be done to get past this pandemic. As followers of Jesus, we can lead in promoting public health, furthering the common good, and caring for the well-being of others. When we act out of love for neighbor and care for our community, we offer a powerful witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Bishop David Bard
Michigan Area United Methodist Church