Dear United Methodist laity and clergy,

Grace and peace today in the name of the One who says, I am the Lord who heals you.*

In these uncertain days, we draw upon the gifts of the Triune God and experience the deep well of strength, hope and love. Thank you for your creativity, patience, perseverance and faithfulness as you lead your church in virtual worship, telephone communication, prayer and mutual support.

We will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and executive offices of our state and nation in regard to gatherings for worship. It is likely that the current reality will be in place for a number of weeks; therefore it will be wise to plan with this awareness for Holy Week and Easter. Many families decide with pastoral guidance to have small family funerals with larger memorial services later.

Some may ask if suspending public worship is essential. John Wesley reminds us, First, do no harm. I also honor the wisdom of my neighbor, a public health professional: You won’t ever know if what you did personally helped.  That’s the nature of public health. When the best way to save lives is to prevent disease rather than treat it, success often looks like an over-reaction.

We are aware that the financial situation of our churches will be impacted by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we are looking at every possible resource and support for your ministry. Online giving for every local church is now available.

The COVID-19 Response Fund is initiated today. This is a Conference Advance for the support of local churches. Please share this opportunity for generosity with your church as a witness of our shared life and an opportunity to support those most impacted.

The Cabinet and Conference Staff are working together to conserve resources, to share creative ideas for ministry and to encourage and support you. We receive your questions and suggestions and hopes with thanksgiving, thankful for email and phone connection in this time of ceasing to gather in person. Please check regularly for updates and creative ideas for worship and service.

We offer you a resource drawing upon our strong tradition of the Love Feast and urge the sharing of the Love Feast in this time of virtual worship when we are hindered from gathering together for Holy Communion.

The postponement of General Conference has been announced, and we pray for the Commission on General Conference meeting next week to discern next steps. Our Annual Conference Planning Committee is aware that restrictions on gathering in the Greenville Conference Center may continue into the summer. As we pray for diminishing of the virus, we are considering options if needed to care for the life of our local churches and our connectional church.

In this time, we are reminded daily that we share life together. No one is a solitary Christian, and no one is a solitary citizen. We are bound together in this life as a gift of God, who created us for community. In this time of challenge, let us continue to be vigilant, creative and faithful as we lead our communities in wisdom and compassionate care for all, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

With gratitude to God for each of you and for our life together,

Hope Morgan Ward

*Exodus 15:26