January 4, 2022
Dear Clergy and Laity of East Ohio,
Happy New Year! I rejoice in this New Year and celebrate that we worship a God who has plans for our good and not for our harm, to give us a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11). I rejoice that God has carried us through another difficult year. By God's grace, we have been given the gift of a new day and a new year, filled with many new possibilities. God is always making all things new!
I know that navigating life and ministry during this time of pandemic has not been easy for any of us. I understand the frustration, anxiety, and exhaustion you're experiencing and know that all of us are ready for this pandemic to end. This dangerous and invasive virus has caused sickness in many of our households and faith communities and has claimed the lives of some of our loved ones and many others, too many to count. I pray for you and for all who are grieving and have suffered loss. I also pray for your resilience as you seek to remain steadfast in the Lord as we continue to face the uncertainties of the pandemic. The Lord will see us through these challenging times.
Thank you for all the efforts you have made and continue to make in caring for the safety and well-being of yourself, your family, and your neighbor. I thank you for the attention and care you have given as you adhere to the East Ohio Conference COVID guidelines and the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and your local health department. I also want to thank you for working together as a team, pastor and lay leadership, to implement safety guidelines for your local church for the sake of everyone's well-being and life.
I remind us that we are still in a pandemic. The pandemic is not over! Great progress has been made over these past two years with more health data, testing stations, and the development and access to vaccines. However, there is a rampant spread of the virus, and it is affecting many lives in alarming numbers across Northeast Ohio. I encourage you to not relax the health and safety precautions in your church and in your personal life, instead I encourage you to double down on your efforts to preserve your health and the health of others. Everyone's health matters.
The United Methodist Church has a commitment to the common good as we seek to do no harm and love our neighbors as ourselves. Abundant health is a matter of discipleship, and The United Methodist Church is making it a missional priority to educate people about the COVID-19 vaccine – and make the vaccine accessible to everyone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to love each other, to work together and to do all we can to offer ourselves in service to protect the most vulnerable and engage in behaviors that build healthy communities. We are called to "love each other with genuine affection, and to take delight in honoring each other" (Romans 12:10).
I encourage everyone to get vaccinated. If you have not been fully vaccinated and are eligible to receive the vaccine, do it. And if you are eligible for a booster, get it. It is the single most important thing you can do to care for yourself and others. Encourage your fellow colleagues and church members to get vaccinated. Being vaccinated can help slow the spread of the coronavirus and slowing the spread can also prevent the virus from developing into new variants, like Omicron.
I encourage pastors and church leaders to be bold and courageous in holding to the highest standards of care and well-being of yourselves, your families, your co-workers, and your community. We are each called to take personal responsibility for the well-being of all.
I and my Extended Cabinet created COVID-19 guidelines that have been shared, updated, and linked on both the homepage of the East Ohio Conference website and under the Resources tab. These guidelines are still relevant and should be followed. View the COVID-19 Resource page at www.eocumc.com/coronavirus.
Adhering to the health and safety guidelines is critically important—even though doing so will not be popular with everyone. I am also providing additional guidance to keep us ever vigilant in mitigating health risks and the spreading of the virus.
Friends, these are the loving, faithful and caring things we are called to do:
- Reinstitute pandemic precautions immediately, if you have relaxed them, and keep them posted.
- Urge people to stay home when they are not feeling well or are exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus.
- Encourage wearing masks when inside the church.
- Open windows and doors for ventilation.
- Continue to practice appropriate distancing.
- Encourage people to get vaccinated.
- Continue to offer alternative options/platforms for engagement for worship and ministries.
- Continue to work as a team (pastor and church leaders) to determine what are the best healthy practices for your church.
- Stay informed about the latest updates from your local health department and the Ohio Department of Health. The ODH website is linked on our EOC COVID-19 Resource page.
Someone has put it this way: "Mask Up, Wash Up (your hands), Back Up (distance), Open Up (windows), Lay Up (at home if you are sick), Roll Up (your sleeves for vaccination/booster), and Look Up (to the hope that is ours in Christ)."
Let us be encouraged as we continue to work together, support one another, and pray for each other, as we stay focused on our vision of being disciples, making disciples and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ; being God's agents of healing and transformation in our communities and throughout the world; and being bold and courageous in reaching new people, younger people, and a more diverse people.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians. 6:9).
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Tracy S. Malone