Gratitude and Next Steps from Bishop Leeland
May 4, 2020
As congregations, laity, and clergy, continue to deliver exceptional ministry to our communities, we have been inspired by the gracious spirit pervading our entire annual conference. Many churches have given careful thought to sharing worship online, expressing the faith of Jesus through hymns, music, scripture, and inspirational messages. Our communities have witnessed the kindness and compassion of the church through food and clothing initiatives. It has been inspirational and encouraging to see the pictures of long lines of cars moving through the parking areas of our churches to receive groceries in a time when too many have been furloughed or dismissed from their jobs.
(Photos of feeding ministry at Jordan Memorial UMC in Ramseur, NC)
Our conference staff and cabinet have continued to coordinate various ministries to assist us in the endurance of this pandemic and the preparations needed to eventually return to communities where we can once again live and worship together. The Connexion Clergy Relief Fund, created by our conference to assure that clergy families and their children, would continue to receive their salaries, is a strength of our connection. When St. Paul reminded us that we must have endurance for our tribulations (Rom.5), he encouraged us by also sharing that this endurance will produce courage, and courage will produce hope. It is this hope that I see every week. I am so proud of our churches. Pastors have found new ways to be connected to the homebound, the elderly, and those most at risk. We now see the church at its best, motivated by love of God and love of neighbor.
The gospel of Mark records Jesus asking, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4). As I share this familiar narrative with our conference community of faith, we know how important it is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus rather than the storm! This current crisis will come to an end. This is part of the human experience where we like the psalmist pray, “I cry aloud to God that he might hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord and I ask, ‘Has God forgotten to be gracious?’” (Ps.77). Then the psalmist records the assurances of God, “I relieved your shoulder of the burden, your hands are freed, in distress you called, and I have delivered you” (Ps.81).
As many of the states in our nation are now beginning to lift the stay at home restrictions, I would encourage you to continue to follow the CDC guidelines and our state recommendations to ensure our part in “flattening the curve” of newly recorded infections, thereby demonstrating our love of neighbor. Second, please refer to the 24 Questions about returning to worship following permission to remove the stay at home request. These questions will inform and suggest actions you might take in preparation for your congregations to meet and gather again.
Finally, as we have been moving through this unprecedented moment in our lives, I am mindful of our United Methodist institutions, Lake Junaluska, UMAR, our colleges and Universities, our children’s home, and our retirement communities. President, Nido Qubein, President of our United Methodist, High Point University, said last week, “Our communities are strong and determined. Our future is bright. Hope is eternal. This too shall pass…We believe in the human spirit. We believe in God Almighty. And we believe in America…On behalf of our entire HPU family, we wish for you a heart filled with gratitude and a life overflowing with joy. May the days ahead bring comfort to many, serenity to all, and stability to every corner of our area. We will survive. And thrive. Believe it!”
Let us carry on! This is the witness of our calling!
Paul L. Leeland
Bishop, Western North Carolina Conference
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