With the recent COVID-19 spikes throughout the nation and world, and no decrease in cases and hospitalizations in our own area, it looks like we are in for another season of limited in-person worship and church. Many of us were optimistic that we would see a decrease in COVID-19 cases, and a gradual return to normalcy. However, it looks like we are in this for the long haul, and earlier predictions of it being limited in duration are not the case. Remember Andy Crouch’s question if the pandemic will be a “blizzard” (a passing but devasting storm), a “winter” (an ongoing season of deep crisis), or the beginning of an “little ice age” (a monumental epoch that changes the very fabric of the entire planet). We are clearly pass the “blizzard” and “storm” periods, and with news that the COVID-19 virus can mutate, we might be entering a “mini ice age.”
This is not good news to our church clergy and lay leaders. As I listen to our clergy and lay leaders from around the annual conference, I hear the weariness and exhaustion in their voices and stories. It is one thing to adapt to new platforms like online services for a short time, but as the months drag on, the intense work and stress becomes cumulative. We are going to have to continue in this medium for a while, and we need to find ways to make it easier and less intense to create.
One alternative we will offer in the month of December is a complete worship service that you can substitute on a Sunday and take some time off from the production end. We hope to have this available in early December, and you can use parts of it or the entire service.
We are also asking all of our local church Staff-Parish Relations Committees to allow extra time off for their clergy in the month of December. Our District Superintendents will be writing to our SPRC Committees requesting this time off.
Of course, these are only stop-gaps to the problem, and the only systemic solution is for us to move from the individual to the collective. Our United Methodist ethos has been to send and appoint individual clergy to individual charges, and this has to change. This practice has fostered a sense of competition rather than collaboration, and goes against the very nature of our Gospel message. We have to move to a collective ethos, where 3 or more local churches in a geographical area work together in mission and ministry. For example, if 3 or more local churches banded together and rotated worship responsibilities, it would ease the burden on each individual church precipitously. Many other programs could also be shared: such as church school, VBS, youth and young adult programming. Our Cabinet will be strategically working on this intentionally, but it will also require cooperation and openness on the part of each local church. I am asking all of us to pray upon this, and to seek God’s greater wisdom in bringing us closer together rather than working separately.
As we accept the long-term consequences of COVID-19, we must seek a greater patience and look to the future with hope. God will not abandon us in this hour of need, but we have to pace ourselves and turn to self-care in order to survive the long-haul. Be kind to yourselves, and turn to family and church friends in order to get through this. WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS!
For inspiration this week, let me remind us of Psalms 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because God has dealt bountifully with me.
Be the Hope!
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop