Ever since the COVID-19 began spreading throughout Louisiana, United Methodist churches have been asked to not hold in-person worship until May 31.
In the meantime, United Methodists in the Louisiana Conference have done and continue to do amazing work during this crisis period.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey has consistently praised the efforts of Louisiana Methodists. "I am reminded each and every day that the church is not the building but the people. The “people” are our greatest concern," said Bishop Harvey in a recent statement. "From the moment this pandemic began to affect how we minister and share the Gospel, I have continually been amazed by the creativity and extraordinary innovation with which you and your churches have embraced online worship.
"You continue to find imaginative and productive ways to reach people for Jesus, whether it is proclaiming the Gospel with your iPhone or praying with individual members over the telephone," she continued. "I celebrate you and your extraordinary ministry. I know that the last month has been exhilarating but also exhausting as you have adapted to new ways of worship. You have held nothing sacred but the mission. You have proclaimed and lived a resurrection hope in a dark and uncertain time. You have kept the connection alive and well like never before."
As we now begin to anticipate a return to public, in-house worship, Bishop Harvey shares her thoughts as United Methodists prepare to re-gather.
First, I want to start by saying thank you. People have been patient and they have been thorough, our pastors have done a lot of homework and, for that, I am just really, really grateful. They've taken great care of how we actually regather in person for worship.
We have talked about May 31st for quite awhile. It is Pentecost Sunday. It's a day where people gathered and they understood one another, even though they spoke different languages and they came from different cultures, and that's what we do when we gather as God's people. I know that people are really looking forward to this day, as I am, but I am a little anxious as well.
I know that for some, this is a perfect time and I know, for others, it might not be the right time quite yet. We need to honor that. Even though we said May 31st was the right date to begin worship, that was just the time for us to give us time to prepare, as you remember, and to review the guidelines and make sure that we were ready to receive people because we are about hospitality after all.
I recognize that for some of our churches, they may not be ready for this. I pray that there's no shaming in any of this. Some may be ready, some may not, but I pray that people will be thorough, that people will take this seriously. You know what, if the wheels fall off this week, we can pivot again. If you've said all along, "May 31st, May 31st," and something were to occur or something happens in your particular community that you have to change that, we know that we can pivot pretty quickly.
We did that way back in March; we pivoted over just a few days. We can do that. There is no shame in that because, after all, we're doing this not for ourselves; we're really doing it for the community. I know that those people are serious about it, and I just pray that they will take it seriously all the way up to May 31st or whatever day that people choose to gather.
I've heard of some really creative ways that people are going to gather at 25% capacity, six feet apart, and I think that's really, again, some extraordinary imagination and innovation that's had to occur over these last few months as we've learned how to gather God's people. I also hope that we don't just push reset and go back to the way things were because that day's gone. Those days are long past us.
I hope that the online worship and online Bible study and prayer and all of those things that people have done to stay connected to the community that they serve will continue. While our buildings might have been closed, we never stopped worshiping. I think that's really, really important that people understand; we never stopped worshiping. Actually, we have worshiped together more perhaps than we ever have as we've connected in these new and creative ways.
I look forward to this day. I will be in fervent prayer. If you're not well, please stay home. If you've been around anybody who is not well, please stay home. Please wear a mask. We don't wear a mask just for ourselves. We wear our mask for others. That's another way for us to express loving our neighbor. If people ask you, when you get to church on Sunday, to do something that just feels a really a little unusual, please do it anyway, because that's been thought through; all of those things have been thought through.
If your church has chosen not to gather on May 31st, it's really okay. You will still gather online and the ways that you have learned to gather so faithfully over these last several months.
As you prepare to gather as God's people, either in person or online, know that I continue to pray for you every day as I always do. I leave you today with my mother's blessing that she always blessed me each time that I left home, anytime that something important was happening in our lives, she would say, "God bless you and keep you"; that is my prayer for you this day, as it is every day.