These are unbelievable times for us all. As one who could not imagine canceling worship services, I cannot remember a circumstance in my lifetime when churches were asked to suspend worship services and meetings.
As I watched social media this weekend, I marveled at the creativity and leadership of our churches and pastors. The Alabama-West Florida Conference is filled with Christ- centered followers. It is a blessing to be your bishop.
Yet, I write to you today specifically around the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts warn us that it is in the best interest of church members, especially those in the high-risk categories, the community, the states of Alabama and Florida, our nation, and the world for us to stop assembling for a time of worship services and other group meetings. We have been told the best time to slow down the spread of the contagious coronavirus is now. We need to take measures to avoid large gatherings of people along with practicing social distancing. Many of you did that this past Sunday by canceling worship services and using social media to reach your congregation and beyond.
It is out of the plea from national and local health officials that I urge and request for at least the remainder of March all our Alabama-West Florida United Methodist Churches suspend in-person worship and other large gatherings. We will assess the situation week-by-week to determine when it is safe to resume worship services. It is a day-to-day, week-to-week and at times hour-by-hour situation.
In the spirit of this request, we have already planned to close conference office for meetings. Staff are working remotely except for a few people each day. Click here to read the full statement.
Though we are calling for a suspension of in-person church worship services, the church will continue to be in ministry. Some of our churches offer on-line and Facebook live stream or video service. I have been blessed by the number of our churches already reaching out in creative and caring ways. I have heard several stories of how churches are assisting the neighborhoods where they are located. The conference staff has put together a tool kit and resources of how to assist you in carrying out the mission of the church in these uncertain times. Click here to access this information.
Please remember that although worship services are canceled for a season, our relationship with Jesus and the Church continues each day. Be mindful, expenses of each local church continue everyday as well. Please look for a way to give electronically or simply mail in your tithes and financial offerings. Click here for information about electronic giving methods. Your continued faithful giving will ensure the church is ready to respond to the needs as they arise. In fact, I feel the church will be asked to do more in these days. Therefore, your faithful giving is critical. As I think about all these things, I continue to recall this scripture from Ephesians 3:14-19 NLV, When I think of all this, I fall on my knees and pray to the Father. The Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And you may have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Thank you for being who you are. I just believe amid all we are going through that this will be one of the church’s greatest moments that we have seen in a long time. Revival!
David W. Graves