Take this beautiful tour of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. As you sense the amazing diversity of people, locations, and situations in our region, think about your own mission field…what is God calling you toward?
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/
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 indefinitely, 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?
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.
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