COVID-19: Update from Bishop Leeland and Other Resources for Preparedness

April 1, 2020

UPDATED: March, 24, 2020
March 24, 2020
Dear Western North Carolina Conference UMC Family and Friends,
The decision to suspend all in-person worship and gatherings is an effort to assist in halting the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).  This change certainly creates a new set of challenges for all of us.  We really are building the bridge as we are walking across it. One new challenge we are facing is addressing ministry needs in situations that are different from our traditional ways of doing ministry.  Our District Missional Networks are needed more than ever to meet the needs of your community, to collaborate on virtual offerings, and to provide care for one another.  Another challenge is how to offer the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This letter will provide suggested guidelines that should prove helpful.
Please know that your Bishop, Conference Staff, District Superintendents, Vitality Associates, District Administrators, and support staff are all available to assist and help. While we are available by email or phone, we want you to know that all in-person meetings at the Conference and District levels are either postponed or being held virtually. We strongly urge all our WNCC churches to do the same as we follow the advice of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  Please continue to discontinue services until further notice.  We will monitor the CDC’s recommendations and will let you know when it’s appropriate to gather in person for worship once again.
During this unprecedented time of a global pandemic, the Church is more important than ever. Each church and ministry have a unique opportunity to serve as channels of grace, mercy, and love, as we do what Christ has commissioned us to do. If possible, please continue to offer food pantries and other resources following the guidelines of the CDC as well as these from Second Harvest Food Bank. God put us in our communities to offer Christ, especially in times of testing and crisis, and to be a shining beacon of hope in these dark times. 
As difficult as it is to suspend in-person worship and to practice social distancing, it is necessary to do so to protect the larger community and therefore save lives. As we hear the news of increasing cases of infection throughout our state, it becomes more apparent that these prevention measures will not end quickly. Thus, churches need to plan creative ways to worship and share the good news. We give thanks for the many other ways we can connect while being physically apart. The CHURCH has never been the buildings in which we worship.
By now you have heard the news that the Commission on General Conference has released a statement announcing the postponement of General Conference 2020. Please pray for Commission members as they work to schedule new dates. It is premature to make any decisions about our own Annual Conference at this point.  We will offer further information regarding the WNCC Annual Conference by May 1, 2020.  I will be meeting tomorrow, March 25, via conference call, with the College of Bishops to discuss plans regarding the rescheduling of General Conference and other events.
As you explore and use new technologies to engage in virtual worship, please ensure you are conducting your worship legally, as there are some different laws for livestreaming. If you are uncertain and need direction, Havaleh Havelka, our Conference Training and Resource Specialist, has compiled these resources for you.
Remember you can and should provide pastoral care by phone calls, cards, and letters. You are encouraged to connect with members and with each other in as many ways as you can. Make sure that your church leaders develop a plan for your church to care for the community while practicing social distancing.  Let this time be an opportunity to develop a network of care

Please continue and encourage Christian stewardship, making every effort to support your church’s financial obligations. Urge your people to be faithful in giving and wise in spending.  For this reason, our WNCC has established an on-line giving portal available to all our congregations, but especially to those who do not currently have a way to receive electronic contributions.  Use this link and follow the prompts.  Your contribution will then be forwarded to your local church.
Furthermore, the Council on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table will be asked to set up the WNC Connexion Clergy Relief Fund to assist churches who are struggling to pay clergy salaries due to this crisis.  An on-line portal will be established to make gifts that will help our congregations support clergy and their families as they continue to lead our ministries.

I give thanks for the innovative ways that you are adapting to this new reality, which thankfully, will not last forever. Please know that you are prayed for daily as you care for those around you. You are not alone. Especially now, we find great hope in the promise of Jesus, “I am with you always, to the end of this age.” (Matthew 28:20). “The Best of All is God is With Us.” (John Wesley)
God bless,
Bishop Paul L. Leeland