“We have and are giving up a lot,” says Bishop David Bard to the United Methodists in Michigan. He encourages churches to plan now to be ready to return to in-person activities.
Dear friends in Christ, I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
Echoing again the words of Paul, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for you, because of your sharing in the work of the gospel from the first day until now.”
Thank you, Michigan United Methodists for your patience, your persistence, your energy, your creativity in being the church in ministry for Jesus Christ in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Thank you to the Michigan Conference district superintendents and staff for your tireless work in supporting local churches and pastors in their ministry. To you all, your work brings me joy in this tremendously difficult time.
In mid-March, when I first asked us to refrain from in-person gatherings, including worship, who could have known we would be here as April comes to an end. In Michigan, over 38,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and we’ve lost over 3,400 of our fellow Michiganders. The African-American community has been hit particularly hard, as have the elderly.
In late-March I told you when we next were able to gather, I would declare it to be Easter, but honestly coming back together will be more like the raising of Lazarus, slow, awkward, aching, a strange mixture of joy and tears. By week’s end, the Michigan Conference will provide a set of questions for us all to consider as we think about being ready to come together again. Next week we will share a more detailed resource on re-opening. This time between now and May 15, when I’ve asked us to continue to refrain from in-person gatherings, should be used to consider important plans for returning to church buildings for gatherings and activities.
In addition to providing guidelines for churches, the Michigan Conference continues to look at options for Annual Conference 2020, and announcements about this are coming soon.
Friends, we have and are giving up a lot. I miss not being with you in your churches. I miss the simple gifts of a handshake or hug, and I grieve that such gifts will have to wait even longer. This is such a time of grief and sorrow, and for many the grief is profound. I am also moved by you, the United Methodist Church in Michigan. We are giving up a lot. The very idea of “church” conjures up in our imaginations gathering together. We are giving up a lot, but self-giving is part of our identity as followers of Jesus, who emptied himself, who gave of himself. We stay home, not only for our own health but for the well-being of others. We will wear masks, awkward as that may be, out of love and concern for others.
Easter came and our in-person celebration is still a way off, but we remain Easter people. Every day to us is Easter, with its resurrection song. Every day we proclaim in our self-giving, in our loving, the resurrection, the ultimate triumph of grace, kindness, and love. It is an honor to be Easter people with you.
Thank you. Be well. Know God is with you.
David Alan Bard
Michigan Area Bishop