|Responding to Wildfires across the Greater Northwest Area|
Friends in the Greater Northwest Area,
United Methodist leaders from across our area have been meeting to monitor and respond to the wildfires ravaging our land and threatening many communities across Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. People in many areas have evacuated or are preparing to evacuate from their homes. If you are not in immediate danger, you may be like many others who see and taste these wildfires in smoke-filled skies and with every breath we take.
People of faith want to do good in the face of danger, but we need to work to ensure that the good we intend does not accidentally do harm. Because of the massive evacuations being issued across our states, and because our churches and ministry settings are committed to doing no harm, doing good, and staying in love with God, an addendum has been added to the Reimagining Life Together guidelines for our church and ministry settings to guide United Methodist responses to the wild fire crisis.
ADDENDUM TO REIMAGINING LIFE TOGETHER for 2020 Northwest Wildfire Relief Effective September 11, 2020
For Wildfire Relief only, this addendum supersedes the Disaster Response guidance in the Reimagining document.
Ministry settings planning to provide relief and support in their communities will work with their District Superintendent (local churches) or Director of Connectional Ministries (other ministry settings) to discuss the community need and the request from a local government authority and/or established disaster response agencies (such as the Red Cross) for relief support. District Superintendents or Directors of Connectional Ministry must approve plans to use church facilities for wildfire relief support activities.
As we seek to respond to these wildfires, I acknowledge how weary everyone is right now from these demands, on top of coronavirus, on top of dismantling racism, on top of escalating partisanship that is eroding our ability to work together for the common good. Amazing disaster response teams in the Greater Northwest Area act as the hands and feet of Jesus in communities across the area and in partnership with local churches.
When a disaster strikes, survivors often lose so much – the roof over their heads and other property, livelihoods, even loved ones. These wildfires show how devastating these disasters can be. Yet this year it seems like one crisis erupts on top of the next.And so, we call out to God, seeking mercy. Seeking relief. Seeking just one day when we do not feel danger near at hand and it doesn’t feel like the weight of the world is on each of our shoulders.
Join me in praying for the safety of our friends and neighbors and for those who have already suffered loss of life. Join me in praying for the first responders and wildland firefighters putting themselves in harm’s way to help others seek shelter, save homes and property. Join me in praying for God’s good creation, that we may tend to her more carefully.
Join me, also, in a call to action through our gifts of financial resources. We know some of our communities have already been decimated by fire and know there are others in potential danger.I am grateful to report that the Pacific Northwest and Oregon-Idaho Conferences have each received emergency grants of $10,000 from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to support response efforts. But it’s just a drop in the bucket of what will be needed.Give, electronically, to the Oregon-Idaho Conference Disaster Fund
You can also give to the OR-ID Conference’s Disaster Fund (Fund #260) through your local church or by sending a check made out to the Oregon-Idaho Conference Treasurer with Conference Advance #260 on the memo line to:
Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Center
c/o Conference Treasurer
1505 SW 18th Avenue
Portland, Oregon, 97201-2524
Give electronically to the PNW Conference’s Disaster FundYou can also give PNW Conference’s Disaster Fund (Advance #352) through your local church or by sending a check made out to the PNW Conference Treasurer with Conference Advance #352 on the memo line to:
Pacific Northwest Conference Office
c/o Conference Treasurer
P.O. Box 13650
Des Moines, WA 98198
Finally, local church leaders, please stay in touch with your District Superintendents if your community is impacted by wildfire. Let your superintendent know what is going on in your community and what your church is doing – or has been asked to do – in response. Your superintendent will coordinate with the conference disaster response coordinator to help support your work during this crisis. Stay safe my friends, and know the steadfast love of God each day.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Greater NW Episcopal Area
Find this letter at www.greaternw.org
The Greater Northwest Episcopal Area provides leadership for the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho, and the Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
www.greaternw.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
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24 February, 1791
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has a black skin being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in all of our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,
John Wesley [i]
To the People Called Methodist,
BLACK LIVES MATTER
BLACK VOTING RIGHTS MATTER
BLACK VOICES MATTER
Since George Floyd died beneath the crushing knee of a police officer, the cry for justice has been heard around the world, with new urgency. The cry and demand for racial justice can be found in the very origins of the Methodist movement, in John Wesley’s letter encouraging William Wilberforce to persevere in the seemingly hopeless battle against the “execrable villainy” of racial injustice embedded in the law and practice, trusting that, “if God be for you, who can be against you?”
Nearly 230 years later, this villainy has not been rooted out, but embedded in systems that we mask with words. A new generation of activists for the just treatment of Black people joins generations who have fought for decades and centuries to put right what is so very wrong and corrosive of the principle that all are created equal. The struggle is long and hard, and many people who benefit from the injustice work to perpetuate the unequal, cruel and even lethal treatment of Black Americans.
Today is celebrated as Juneteenth, remembered as the day emancipation of slaves was announced to the last state in the United States on June 19, 1865, following the Civil War. I pray that God continues in the midst of the struggle, with people in police departments, courtrooms, on the streets, in worship, attending funerals, behind prison bars. I pray that God is using the people called “Methodist” in our day to continue the struggle.
May all who see the injustice, say what we see, share what we see and never “never be worn out by the opposition of men and devils” who stand against justice. God is with all who stand and speak and work for racial justice.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5: 24
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
[i] John Wesley’s last letter before his death, sent to William Wilberforce, quoted in https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/wesley-to-wilberforce/
Elaine J.W. Stanovsky intends to appoint the Rev. Liv Gibbons as Associate Pastor of Pioneer United Methodist Church in Walla Walla, Washington, effective July 1, 2020.
Rev. Gibbons is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
United Methodist Clergy and Laity of the Greater Northwest Area,
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
guide our feet into the way of peace.
EXTENSION OF WORSHIP SUSPENSION AND BUILDING CLOSURES
As bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church, I am extending the suspension of in-person worship in United Methodist Churches and other ministries and the closure of church facilities to all but essential services throughout the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences through May 30, 2020, despite the loosening of restrictions in some or all of the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. This date may be reconsidered as circumstances change.
How did I come to this decision, and what does it mean?
MARCH 24: Suspension of In-Person Worship and Closure of Buildings.
On March 24 I directed that in-person worship and other gatherings be postponed in United Methodist Churches and other ministries through April 30, 2020. At the same time, I directed that all Church facilities were to be closed except for essential services. These actions were taken to protect the health of vulnerable people, to slow the spread of the disease, and to prevent health care systems from becoming overwhelmed by a sudden surge of cases needing hospital beds and equipment.
You helped keep people HEALTHY!
You did it! You made adjustments and found ways to be church without gathering for in-person worship. Your actions, and the general population’s compliance with the orders of the governors appear to have slowed the spread, flattened the curve of the crisis, and averted a crisis in our health care systems. I thank God for the incredible ways you have contributed to these outcomes. At the same time, we grieve over people who have contracted COVID-19, some of whom have been hospitalized and even died. And we continue to hold in our hearts and prayers all who are at risk for this disease because they render essential services, or have compromising health conditions, or who, because of systemic inequities in our society live with little or no social safety net.
EASTER: You celebrated Resurrection in the Shadow of Death. Alleluia!
You found ways to overcome all kinds of obstacles to celebrating Easter. Your clergy and lay leaders have demonstrated an adventuresome spirit, as you learned how to care for one another, conduct worship and support vulnerable people in your neighborhoods, while maintaining physical distancing and suspending all gatherings. Christ the Lord was Risen again this Easter, with shouts of Alleluia!, prayers for strength and healing, and acts of generosity. Well done, good and faithful servants.
We are now approaching the end of the directives I gave on March 24 and many of you are eager to know whether the restrictions will be lifted or extended. I am closely monitoring the guidance and criteria for loosening restrictions in each of our four Greater Northwest states, as well as the daily reports of new cases, deaths and health system capacity. As you know, the disease has unfolded at different rates across the area. And the cultural and political climates across our region are varied, leading to different assessments of the risks involved. I find myself leading in the midst of continued uncertainty and significant controversy about the best course of action. Three value-based priorities inform my leadership as your bishop.
Do No Harm: Protect the public health
Do Good: Share the financial burden with persons most vulnerable to economic impacts
Stay in Love with God: Promote the life-giving ministries of the Church
DO NO HARM. Protect Public Health
Following the leadership of four very different governors, our four states are all weathering the pandemic better than expected. All four governors have laid out the criteria that must be met before incremental, phased loosening of restrictions within their states begins. I am pre-disposed to trust the governors of each state to listen to their health care advisors, know their regions and give prudent guidance. At present none of these four governors has reported that the criteria within their state have been met. As Christians and citizens committed to protecting public health, we are responsible both to abide by the guidance of government and health officials, and to assess whether the Church holds itself to a higher standard of caution than the states direct.
First, we need to evaluate whether the governors’ own criteria have been met before loosening restrictions. As of this writing (4/27/2020) Alaska and Idaho have begun to loosen restrictions on gatherings of faith communities. Oregon and Washington have not taken similar actions at this time. Despite the affirmation by governors that testing and case tracking are necessary to protect public health, based upon their own published documents and reports, I cannot verify that each state has the capacity for testing and case tracking necessary to prevent spread of the disease.
Second, if a state meets its own criteria, and loosens restrictions, I will continue to ask whether it is prudent for the Churches to do likewise. Without adequate testing and case tracking, church gatherings may allow the virus to spread unchecked and expose people who are at most risk for severe illness, due to age, access to health care or compromising health conditions.
DO GOOD. Share the Burdens of Most Vulnerable Persons
During this season of closed buildings and postponed in-person worship, I hope that every congregation will re-engage its neighbors, by partnering with community organizations that are directly involved with people who are most vulnerable to the economic impacts of the pandemic. How this neighborhood engagement looks will be specific to your congregation, its context, and the partnerships you are able to form to serve people most at risk during this crisis. I heard the other day of a church in a small town that set up a “tab” with the local grocer so that people who needed food could “shop” for what they needed and charge it to a tab that the Church paid. In this win-win-win arrangement, people get food, the church serves people in need whom they may not even know, and the grocer’s business is supported in the process. There is no recipe for this kind of innovative response. It’s all based on local relationships that can become networks of care.
STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD. Promote the Life-Giving Ministries of the Church.
While I know that the effectiveness of ministry and health of congregational life suffer when people are not able to gather for worship, this hardship does not justify taking the risk of spreading the disease through church gatherings, or exposing older and health-compromised people to infection and possible death by re-opening our church gatherings too soon. I trust and know that the leaders and people in each church are finding creative ways to continue to serve God’s promise of abundant life for all people and the whole creation despite these extreme circumstances. When the time is right, we will gather again and re-build and renew our ministries.
MAY 31 – PENTECOST
As we enter another month of some level of physical separation, let’s hope that we will be able to gather in our churches on Pentecost, May 31. Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, when people from many nations gathered in Jerusalem to hear Peter preach. The book of Acts describes how the people understood what he said, even though they spoke many different languages. I hope that we will be able to gather in worship that day – maybe sooner. Let’s hold it as a date to hope for, to pray for, to work for. And if it can’t be May 31 – if it comes sooner, or later – then, we’ll adjust, just as we have been adjusting for these many weeks.
I don’t need to remind you that God is with us and at work. I don’t need to remind you that miracles happen every day, even in the midst of disease and death, as people of generous hearts pour their lives out in love and service where there is need. We are blessed to be a blessing. Thanks be to God, who opens the way of life before us.
May God bless you and keep you today and through the days ahead.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
FOR FURTHER READING
- https://covid19.alaska.gov/health-mandates/ Health Mandate 016 and Attachment D
- https://rebound.idaho.gov/stages-of-reopening/, especially sections titled:
- Meeting Idaho Criteria Means Advancing to a Staged Approach
- Strategies, Responsibilities, and Capabilities Needed
- Stage One – After all criteria are met (May 1 – May 15)
- Governor Little’s press conference April 23, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSu-cIYkN8E
|“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”|
Luke 10:25b, 27
|In the midst of a crisis beyond our imagination, it’s good to go back to basics:|
Love God | Love your neighbor | You will live
Jesus doesn’t say that if you do this you will not get the Coronavirus or that if you get it you will not die. Jesus says that, no matter what happens, if you live your life in love with God and neighbor, you will experience the blessing of living life in all its fullness. I pray this for all of us who try to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.
LOVING GOD WHILE PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH
Suspension of In-person Worship and Other Gatherings through April. As your bishop, I am charged to lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of The United Methodist Church. For the love of God and of our neighbors in every place, today I am directing continued suspension of in-person worship through April 30, 2020. This directive is in effect for United Methodist Churches across the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and anywhere in the Greater Northwest Area served by United Methodist clergy under my supervision. This suspension of worship includes Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. It applies to both indoor and outdoor worship, weddings and funerals and to all days of the week. Please continue to conduct worship, bible study, prayer groups, and fellowship groups if you can do so remotely.
The virus is spreading in every state in the country in an invisible, vicious cycle. When a person becomes infected, symptoms don’t appear for up to two weeks. If they don’t follow hygiene and social distancing guidelines, they will expose others, who won’t show symptoms for two weeks, while they, in turn, expose others. In order to slow the spread of the virus, and to protect health care systems from being overwhelmed, each of us must take precautions to protect ourselves and others as if we are carrying the virus ourselves and as if the people around us are infected. This is what loving ourselves and our neighbors looks like for the foreseeable future, no matter where you live or whether you know anyone who has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus.
Holy Week and Easter. For churches that are unable or choose not to lead worship remotely, I am working with a team to produce an Easter Sunday worship video resource that can be accessed by local churches at any time and in any place with internet service. It will include a variety of voices, faces, and landscapes from a wide variety of people and places across the greater northwest. We will encourage groups to organize watch parties on Facebook to share Easter together/apart.
Communion. The bishops in the Western Jurisdiction are issuing a letter regarding the online celebration of Holy Communion when we are not “congregating” for worship. This guidance will be available tomorrow.
Closure of Church facilities to all except essential services. All United Methodist church buildings and other facilities are to be closed, effective March 28 to all but essential services and only to the extent allowed by state and local government restrictions or advice. Protective cleaning and hygiene practices are mandatory for all exempt essential services held in United Methodist facilities:
– Sanitizing cleaning of the building before and after every use6 feet social distance among participants
– Handwashing with soap and water or hand sanitizer
– Coughing and sneezing into tissues which are discarded into closed containers
God loves the faithful, so the faithful can love God’s vulnerable children. This pandemic is putting many people at dire risk of disease, isolation, hunger, unemployment, mental illness. Protecting people from the virus is just the beginning. Our calling is to form life-giving relationships with people who are poor, homeless, outcast, unemployed, abused, despised or forgotten. In every place, I challenge you to think creatively about how your church can hear the cries of the needy and respond in ways that offer dignity, self-determination, and hope. Gift cards to grocery stores, drive-through food pantries, volunteers to purchase and deliver food to people with compromising conditions, phone calls, hygiene kits for homeless. If you ask people in your community what they need, they will tell you.
SHARING THE BURDEN IN CONNECTION
We know that this crisis will create hardships for local churches. Church budgets will be strained as people are laid off from their jobs, struggle to buy food and pay rent, and watch their retirement savings plummet. Your conference leaders are planning for reduced income in local churches and at the conference level. My priorities, as we make adjustments are
– Finding ways to lighten the burden on local churches
– Protecting income security for clergy and staff in our churches and conferences
– Re-directing resources to relieve financial strain among the most vulnerable
– We recognize that funds saved for a rainy day, are needed now. Watch for concrete plans.
LET’S MAKE IT A STANDING DATE
Every Wednesday morning through April, clergy and lay members of the Annual Conference can join a Zoom webinar with me and other conference leaders at 9 am PDT (10 am MDT, 8 am AKDT). If you want to be part of these gatherings, mark your calendar now for this hour every Wednesday and watch for the links.
May God bless you and take care of you;
May the GOD be kind and gracious to you;
May God look on you with favor and give you peace.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky