In January I was privileged to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. The memorial structure is constructed with over 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the columns.
Among the first names that I saw were Calvin McDowell, Thomas Moss, and Henry Stewart, three men who were lynched in Shelby County, Tennessee. As I made my way through the memorial, I found — Davis and Harvey Mayberry who were lynched in Lee County, Mississippi, the county of my birth. Historical records did not include the first name for — Davis, but a child of God, nonetheless.
County after county, state after state, name after name after name. Four thousand and seventy-five lynchings are documented in twelve states between 1877 and 1950.
There was a spiritual and moral crisis in our land.
There IS STILL a spiritual and moral crisis in our land.
As a white man of privilege, I have no idea what it is like for my black brothers and sisters to daily worry about their children, who, simply because of the color of their skin, live in fear that one of their children could die a senseless death. I listen. I seek understanding. But the truth is: I do not have to live with the trauma and fear, the emotional and psychological impacts of racism.
If you are a white person think about what it would be like to have that fear, that stress every day of your life.
Alisha Moreland-Capuia, executive director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which focuses on culturally sensitive care for the African American community said: “The emotional and psychological impact of racism means acutely, every day, being reminded that you are not enough, being reminded that you are not seen, being reminded that you are not valued, being reminded that you are not a citizen, being reminded that humanity is not something that applies to you.”
When Covid-19 came on our radar three months ago, we had no idea it would include a racial disparity in those who would become ill and bear the most deaths.
Some have suggested that another pandemic we face is the sin of racism.
On that cold January day, I read name after name of just some of the four thousand and seventy-five lynching victims.
Today, we have our own tragic list.
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Eric Garner. Philado Castile. Trayvon Martin. And so many more. There is grief among us because of the sin of racism.
I ask myself, I ask you, what is the response for people of faith? In particular, what do the people called Methodist, followers of Jesus, do in the face of the rise of the pandemic of racism. My colleague Bishop Bruce Ough suggests that “we are compelled to address this pandemic with the same intensity and intentionality with which we are addressing COVID-19.”
With Bishop Ough, here is one beginning response:
First, we name the sin: racism.
Second, we confess our own participation in perpetuating this sin and our complicity in it.
Third, we stand against any and all expressions of racism and white supremacy, beginning with the racial, cultural, and class disparities in our state and country that are highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fourth, we sound the clarion call for the eradication of racism. We challenge governmental leaders who fan the flames of racial division for political gain.
Fifth, we examine our own attitudes and actions; all change begins with transformed hearts continually yielding to the righteousness and love of God.
Bishop Ough concludes: “Let us not turn away or ignore the disease that has been tearing our country apart and destroying lives for centuries. This disease—the sin of racism and white supremacy—denies the teachings of Jesus and our common, created humanity. Let us renew our efforts to eradicate the disease that truly threatens our ideals and the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of so many of our neighbors.”
We are a long way away from the vision of the Beloved Community about which Martin Luther King taught.
In this particular part of God’s kingdom, may our hearts and minds be united as we seek to create a more just, human and Christ embodied world. If it is to be so, it begins with you and me. Now.
In the midst of this strange season of Covid-19, this is our moral imperative.
May Christ show us the way.
 USA TODAY, Alia E. Dastigar, May 28, 2020
 Bishop Bruce Ough, MinnesotaUMC.org, Bishops Statement on the death of George Floyd, quoted with permission
The Apostle Paul begins his letters to the Philippians by reminding them that, even though they cannot gather, they are still able to “advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
In a very abrupt way, COVID-19 altered many of the paths we were journeying and inspired us to examine and begin new ways of living and practicing our faith. I use the word inspired because through the creativity and flexibility I have witnessed in the churches and leaders of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences of The United Methodist Church, I remain inspired.
On April 24, I announced that in-person worship and congregational gatherings would remain suspended until the end of May. After careful observation of the current trends and most recent data surrounding the spread of COVID-19, consultation with medical professionals, conferring with the COVID-19 response task team, and deep prayer, I have discerned that our tentative date for churches to begin coming back together for in-person worship will be June 21, 2020.
This date is not a mandate for which you must return to worship. Many of our churches will not be equipped and ready to safely engage in in-person worship. Rather, June 21 is a tentative date that will allow for in-person worship in an organized, phased manner where it is safe to do so. It is also a tentative date which is subject to revision based on current COVID-19 data at that time.
In this season, I have often been reminded of John Wesley’s General Rules, “Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay In Love With God.” As we navigate our cautious and phased return to in-person worship amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been guided by these rules, particularly the first one, “Do no harm.”
Therefore, I ask you to observe the following:
- First, approach this transition with prayer, seeking wisdom and guidance as you move forward.
- Evaluate your local community and church context. What are the local, state, and federal guidelines? Is it safe to begin physically meeting again? Would it do harm?
- Have you assembled a local team to assist in guiding the congregation through the necessary steps to ensure you do no harm in coming back together?
- Do you have on hand, or a plan to obtain, an adequate amount of approved cleaners and disinfecting agents?
- Do you have face coverings available for those who may not have one?
- Do you have volunteers ready, and does your congregation know the protocols and plans your leadership has agreed to follow?
On May 9, I announced that I had named a task team to guide us through reopening in light of Wesley’s General Rules. This team, composed of laypeople, elders, deacons, local pastors, district staff, and current and former healthcare professionals from across our episcopal area, is diligently working to equip our ministries and local churches to come back together while being continually aware of our vow to do no harm.
Today I share the team’s initial guidance for coming back together while continuing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This guidance is compiled from the vetted resources of the CDC, HHS, OSHA, and state health departments.
Many of you have questions. I want to urge you to refrain from seeking out answers from sources that are unverified, unregulated, and unreliable. The task team I assembled was brought together to offer guidance and recommendation to assist me in guiding these Conferences. Please resist the urge to go to social media or other venues to solicit guidance and answers to your questions. Instead, contact your district office who can direct you toward the evidence and fact-based guidance vetted by our task team. I will remain vigilant in communicating this guidance to you with time to react on your local level.
As we anticipate returning to worship, I trust you are engaging in the best wisdom and guidance available. Worshiping our risen Lord is the highlight of our week. Our hope will always be to be together within our sacred places of worship. We can anticipate that our future worship will be unlike our past gatherings. It is likely that for the foreseeable future we will engage in adaptive worship practices that allow us to do no harm. Simply be mindful of those that are most fragile. We do not want one United Methodist to become ill because of our gathering to worship.
I remain grateful for all who have done their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 during this season. Stay calm, stay the course, and stay connected.
May the peace of Christ be with you all.
Every day I am impressed with the bold and creative methods so many of our congregations are undertaking to worship and serve their communities in the midst of this pandemic. Thank you for your resourcefulness and innovation in this season.
On April 24, I announced we would continue to suspend in-person worship and congregational gatherings through the end of May. To date, we have been operating under health and governmental guidelines that we must continue to observe and monitor in the coming months.
While it is impossible to know what new developments may be coming ahead of us, I remain hopeful we will be able to gather in June for worship inside some of our churches. However, new protocols and limitations will hinder our normal worship patterns and we must be cautious in what we do.
I recognize that in Kentucky, Governor Beshear announced in-person worship would be possible May 20.
May 1, Tennessee Governor Lee offered guidance on in-person worship with the following: To minister to vulnerable populations while also protecting those populations and continuing our state’s progress to contain COVID-19, faith communities are strongly encouraged to continue offering online services and other creative methods of worship and ministry.
Faith communities should conduct as many activities as possible remotely and should follow the recommendations in this guidance when deciding to begin gathering in person once again.
Let me suggest the following preliminary guidelines:
- Continue an online service option as you also worship in person until a vaccine is available. Some of our most vulnerable persons will need to continue physical distancing until that time.
- As we imagine gathering again in our sanctuaries, consider alternative worship by developing a house church model of 10 or fewer people with appropriate distancing; drive-in worship held in parking lots; as the weather improves, is outside worship a model that could be developed?
- It will be imperative that strict guidelines be followed and that adequate volunteers be available for monitoring.
- Begin now preparing for in-person worship to allow for safety and physical distancing. 6 feet apart remains the norm into the future. It may remain unwise to have choirs leading in worship.
Because those many who gather to worship in our sanctuaries are among the vulnerable, my guidance will always be to err on the side of caution. I do not want one person to become ill because of our practices in worship. Faith communities should continue to conduct as many activities as possible remotely and should follow guidance offered by the Center for Disease Control.
Because we all are anxious to return to in-person worship, I have named a task team to guide our churches as they prepare to reopen. This team includes lay people, elders, deacons, local pastors, district staff, and current and former healthcare professionals from across our episcopal area.
This team is being asked to develop tools that will help our churches mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 and reduce anxiety around a return to in-person worship.
They will gather, vet, and prepare resources and guidelines.
However, individual church protocols, plans, and decisions should be made in consultation with local church leadership, health officials, and observing safety concerns and practices in your local communities.
Your efforts can be focused in two ways:
First, begin your prayerful preparation now.
And second, by making sure your congregations, staff, and housekeeping contractors have the following:
- Adequate amounts of cleaning and sanitization products. Alcohol-based and bleach-based surface cleaners are adequate to kill this virus.
- Adequate number of masks to offer to anyone who does not arrive with one. Work toward gathering cloth masks can also begin now.
- Adequate hand sanitizer for all places of entrance and possible places of contact with surfaces inside.
- Develop a relaunch task team to guide these protocols so that the pastor and volunteers are working together to honor the specific contexts of your community.
- At all times we encourage proper social distancing, handwashing, the wearing of masks, and for sick persons or persons who have been in contact with the virus to remain at home.
In each congregation, please be supportive of one another as you think about re-opening. It would be unwise to open for worship before proper protocols are in place. I trust that when the appropriate time comes to reopen, the decision will be mutually agreed upon by pastor and laity.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to love our neighbor.
The Apostle Paul begins his letters to the Philippians by reminding them that, even though they cannot gather, they are still able to “advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
By participating in physical distancing, continuing our creative efforts of virtual and alternative forms of worship, we convey Christian hospitality while we live out Jesus’ call to love our neighbor.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Last night I was on a Zoom call with the Wesley Foundation at Middle Tennessee State University. I was asked to lead their Bible Study focusing on Acts 1 and 2. What joy I felt as these young adults engaged with scripture and what it means to be the Church in this age of distancing.
Three of the students on the call were seniors anticipating a transition to graduate school. A lack of commencement exercises to honor their accomplishments and not be able to be with their community of faith creates grief and loss for them. We understand.
As we talked about what it means to be the Church in this season, these college students have experienced real community through their experiences at Wesley. The Greek word for community is koinonia. My sense is that these students have experienced koinonia, shared life.
The fear for the graduating Seniors is that they will not easily find community in the places they encounter in the future. We pray that they will find and create spaces and places where their lives can thrive in the spaces they occupy.
The key verse in our study last night was Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
As these students thought together what it means to be the Church in a zoom world, distanced from one another, it became apparent how deeply they felt that this description of the Church matched their felt experience as college students. It is my prayer that all of us are able to engage in a distanced way, through the power of the community of faith that brings hope.
The greatest challenge now is how to experience fellowship and continue to remain safe.
As we continue to live in an environment of physical distancing and stay at home orders in our communities, I wish to offer an update regarding our best thinking about next steps.
It has been 6 weeks since I requested our pastors and lay leaders to suspend public worship in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. I challenged all of you to find alternative ways to practice and sustain our faith. I am, and continue to be, inspired by your response and creativity!
As I expressed to you in March, I am convinced the faith community has a very important role to play in our communities during this unusual health crisis.
This week, I listened to government officials and consulted with several health professionals about phasing in a return to public worship and congregational gatherings. I confess that I do not know the single best course of action to take.
However, the most compassionate and caring approach for our return to public worship should always consider those who are most vulnerable among us.
Therefore, I have determined it is in the best interest of our churches and faith communities for public worship and congregational gatherings remain suspended through May 31.
Through this cautious and proactive action, I pray that our witness and example will save lives.
As you know, things change daily with this pandemic. I will continue to consult regularly with health experts and conference leadership concerning our date to resume public worship and gatherings.
We will one day soon be able to safely and joyfully gather! In the coming weeks, I encourage you to prepare your church for that day.
In the coming weeks, resources will be shared through our conference websites, e-news, and social media giving best practices for you to follow for returning to public worship when the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
Our world has changed. This virus has no cure and may return. This means some common practices within our congregations will need to be modified.
In the meantime, please remember to
Stay the Course (stay on Mission)
May the peace of Christ be with you all.
“Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? 6 He is not here; he has been raised.” Luke 24:5-6
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
My mind is filled with joy this morning as I imagine our pastors and congregations celebrating this day of Resurrection across the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Amid the unevenness of displaced congregations who cannot gather in our holy sanctuaries, you are finding your way. My heart is with you in this challenging time amidst the Covid 19 pandemic. I am praying for you.
In the midst of daily reports of sickness and death, we proclaim boldly, “He is not here! He has been raised from the dead!” When we look at the things we think of as losses—health, the economy, our limited freedom to move about, the physical distancing necessary to contribute to a healthy world—we look for hope.
Our hope is in the living Lord, Jesus Christ. It is in that hope, in spite of this pandemic and economic challenge, that we find our way. The hope we proclaim is that in the midst of this chaos of our current normal, Christ comes. Let us bring this hope to those we serve. Indeed, may this be a time for a greater witness to what God in Christ is doing in the midst of our isolation and separation.
I confess that there are moments when my own anxiety raises its head if I think too long and hard about what might be unfolding. Yet, when I come to the Easter story and read it in light of this Covid-19 pandemic, I find myself being rooted and grounded in a larger Story that is life giving.
I hear echoing in my mind the words of one of our great hymns of Easter: “Easter People Raise Your Voices!”
Easter people, raise your voices, sounds of heaven in earth should ring.
Christ has brought us heaven’s choices; heavenly music, let it ring:
“Alleluia! Alleluia!” Easter people, let us sing.
Fear of death can no more stop us from our pressing here below.
For our Risen Lord empowers us to triumph over every foe.
Alleluia! Alleluia! On to victory now we go.
Every day to us is Easter, with its resurrection song.
When the cares of life o’erwhelm us, Easter people, sing this song:
“Alleluia! Alleluia!” Everlasting triumph song.
I remember years ago, hearing a sermon preached by Dr. Fred Craddock. His theme was the coming of the Messiah. He told the story of growing up hearing preachers proclaim that “when the Messiah comes there won’t be any more suffering.” After serving as a pastor and experiencing the pain and suffering of persons he served, he came to understand this truth: “Where there is suffering, pain, grief and heartache, there, THERE is the Messiah.”
This Easter, perhaps more so than any other in our lives, the risen Christ comes. He comes even now to the very places where we are sheltering. He comes to our hospitals and nursing homes to be a healing, comforting presence.
Indeed, We are Easter people!
We are not alone.
God is with us.
Jesus goes before us.
Indeed, He is Risen! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God who walks with us.
Always and in all ways.
 William Marceus James (1913-2013) wrote “Easter People, Raise Your Voices” for his congregation at Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church in New York City.
The great text by this African-American Methodist minister, who served in Harlem for many years, was written in 1979.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Please receive this video as a gift to your Holy Week preparations.
This service is designed to be shared this Holy Saturday as a reminder that between Good Friday and Easter we wait in anticipation of all that is to come. My sense is that we are in a space – with the Covid-19 Pandemic – caught between Good Friday and Easter.
May you find strength by sharing in this service of worship so that Easter morning we may proclaim with great joy, “Christ Is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!”
I give thanks to God for the team that made this video possible. Especially I want to thank Linda Furtado, Brian Sutton, Lynn McAlilly, Cynthia Wilson, David Brooks, and Kylie Marino without whom this virtual worship would not have come to you today.
Annual Conference 2020
In consultation with conference leaders and considering the best information we have available to us, I have determined it will be necessary to postpone the 2020 session of Annual Conference. This decision is based on the continual rise in the number of cases of Coronavirus in Tennessee and the projection of future cases rising in our Episcopal area.
As soon as we discern when we are able to reschedule our two conference sessions, we will give you that information. Our annual conferences will likely be held in August or September, depending on the availability of venues.
The later date will raise the question of moving dates. I project that pastors will be in the new appointment beginning August 1, 2020, with a moving date of July 28. However, the effective retirement date will remain June 30, 2020.
We will work with congregations where there are planned retirements on a case by case basis to determine the best way to manage the departure of a retiring pastor. The District Superintendents and Pastor Parish Relations Committees will consult on the most effective way to address these few situations.
We expect a streamlined session of Annual Conference using new virtual tools and creative options for the work of annual conference. We will make sure to incorporate the essential celebrations, remembrances, and holy conferencing that are important to all of us.
General and Jurisdictional Conferences
General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference will be postponed until 2021. What this means practically for our future is that we will be unable to complete the timeline we had proposed for creating our new conference. Instead, we must wait until the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference meets in 2021 to receive the required approval for creating the new conference.
Therefore, it is expected that the new conference will not be in full operation until January 1, 2022. I assure you that we will continue to work toward our new conference by further aligning our ministries between the two conferences and building relationships around as many of our strategic initiatives as possible.
Our timeline gained extra time to complete our task, but we will not stop taking next steps. I like to say the distance to the goal line has moved but the objective has not changed.
Thanks again to all of you who are being nimble and creative in this unusual season. Your faithful response to a new reality is bringing a new era to the history of being the church.
I am reflecting this morning on what it will be like when we gather again for worship in a familiar place, with our friends and loved ones, raise our voices in song and praise. When that day comes and surely it will, though we do not know when, I hope every congregation in the Nashville Episcopal Area will sing the great Wesley Hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive?”
- And are we yet alive,
and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
for his almighty grace!
- Preserved by power divine
to full salvation here,
again in Jesus’ praise we join,
and in his sight appear.
- What troubles have we seen,
what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!
- Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.
- Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost,
till we can sin no more.
- Let us take up the cross
till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss
so we may Jesus gain.
In the early Methodist movement, this hymn would have been sung on the occasion of annual conference when those gathered would not have seen one another since the previous annual conference. Circuit Riders would have traveled by horseback and/or canoe to arrive at the site of Annual Conference. I was gifted a gavel set made from the wood from The Asbury-Babb House in Lebanon, TN (circa 1810). The base is made from heart poplar from a rafter and the gavel is from a chestnut log. I am imagining Francis Asbury presiding at his last conference before his death in 1816. I am imagining the testimonies of circuit riders. I am imagining them singing heartedly, this great Charles Wesley hymn. The Methodists are singing people. And when we are together is it a joyous thing.
This hymn, for the early Methodists, was a praise for every “danger, toil and snare” they had overcome. It was a joyous occasion to sing, pray and reflect on all that had transpired in the previous year.
This day, I am imagining what that day will be like in the future, when we again gather and “see each other’s face.” The stanza, “What troubles have we seen?” comes to mind. I pray that God will protect us all from danger and illness.
This morning I am also reflecting on all the healthcare workers who are on the front lines working night and day to help people overcome the virus, COVID-19. Those of us who can stay in the comfort of our own homes are sheltered from those who every day show up to bring healing and hope to all who sustain our healthcare systems across our land. Daily, they come face to face with this virus.
I invite you today at 12 noon and everyday hereafter to stop and say a prayer for our healthcare workers. As we watch and pray for those who are stepping into the fray, we lift up those who stand in the gap for us. While we wait to be together again, we do our part by physically distancing ourselves so that the curve can be flattened.
Last week, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward reminded me of John Wesley’s instruction on health and wellbeing. Wesley was committed to the spiritual and physical health of the people called Methodist. This was a central tenet of his teaching, having written a small volume, “Primitive Physic.” This little volume was a collection of remedies for a number of health concerns.
Bishop Ward writes: The double blessing of physical and spiritual health was – and is – a central dimension of Methodist ministry. Like our spiritual forebearers, we are convinced that God wants to give us both inward and outward health. Realizing that the least resourced people of his time were without medical care, he recorded his reflection: “At length I thought of a kind of desperate expedient. I will prepare and give them physick myself.”
Wesley told his assistants in each region — basically, lay preachers — to leave two books in every home for spiritual and physical care: “The Christian’s Pattern,” his abridgment of Thomas à Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ” and “Primitive Physick.”
In this season of disruption, when we are asked to do our part in flattening the curve, be reminded of our need for spiritual and physical wellbeing. It is my deep desire for each of you to find your spirit renewed and your body strengthened through this season.
The leaders of the Nashville Episcopal Area are finding amazing pathways to stay connected. Thanks be to God.
Please pray for our health care leaders, those who are standing in the gap to bring health and healing to our communities.
I offer this blessing to you this day:
Glory to God
Whose power working in us
Can do abundantly far more
than we can think or ask or imagine.
Glory to God in the Church and in
Christ Jesus to all generations. Amen.
Be safe and be well.
 Randy Maddox: John Wesley says, ‘Take care of yourself’ :Faith and Leadership, Duke University. https://faithandleadership.com/randy-maddox-john-wesley-says-take-care-yourself
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
This is the Psalm for the 5th Sunday in Lent.
What a powerful witness to our collective spirit!
Hope is in the Lord! In the midst of the fear and anxiety of this uneven and unusual season, we are people of hope!
Our mission in this season is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the face of disruption and distance.
The number of persons worshiping with us virtually has grown exponentially thanks to the technology of livestreaming and interactive worship.
Daily, I learn of the amazing creativity of our leaders in this season of disruption. I give thanks to God for all our pastors are doing to be faithful. I learned today of pastor who is driving to the homes of her parishioners, calling the parishioner on the phone and inviting the person to come to the window while she offers a prayer of blessing.
Congregations are gathering on Sunday in their cars in the church parking lot and technology is allowing the worship service to be broadcast over FM radio signals.
Virtual Communion and Continued Remote Worship
In thinking about how we might engage our people virtually with regard to our liturgical traditions, I have reflected on John Wesley as a practical theologian as well as an innovator. He wanted pastors on the frontier to have the ability to offer the sacraments, so he ordained Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke.
After prayerful and careful consideration of the theological concerns with virtual communion, I offer the attached Guidance on Virtual Communion as a way for our pastors to faithfully exercise sacramental authority.
Based on the best information I have been able to receive from multiple sources, I have determined that it will be in the best interest of our communities for worship services to be suspended through April 26. Should it become necessary to continue that suspension after April 26, we will notify you.
Annual Conference 2020
It is my deep hope that we will be able to gather in June for Annual Conference. At this time, we have not made a decision about postponing Annual Conference. However, we will make that decision no later than May 1.
With the Psalmist, I pray:
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.”
Stay the Course (stay on Mission)
May the peace of Christ be with you all.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The rhythm of the liturgical year is a source of strength. The Psalm for this the fourth Sunday in Lent is Psalm 23. Everyone has a personal favorite translation that brings Scripture alive and language that speaks clearly. My personal favorite for this particular psalm is the King James Version. The poetic style and the memory of this passage dwell deeply within my soul.
On this fourth Sunday in Lent, I pray that you will be comforted in the midst of this unusual season as we face an enemy without a face and one that invades without warning. Not only do I find scripture comforting today, but I am also comforted by the amazing connectivity of friends and loved ones. Perhaps the great unexpected gift I am experiencing in this unusual season is the gift of networking and sharing great ideas, prayers and poetry.
A friend sent this John O’Donohue poem yesterday:
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall until the bitter weather passes.
Try as best you can, to not let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
again on pastures of promise
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
These two poems, Psalm 23 and this poem from John O’Donohue, gather for me a sense that in spite of my own experienced anxiety and frustration in this moment, we are not alone. In this season, this long unanticipated break with routine and ritual, there is One who walks with us.
So be comforted.
On this Fourth Sunday in Lent, Breathe.
- Breathe deep the Psalm for this day.
- Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Winfield Bevins calls “The Lord’s Prayer” a portable sanctuary we take with us everywhere we go.
- Listen to the Taize song, “O Lord Hear My Prayer.” And with the Psalm, let this worshipful music wash over your anxiety, your fear, your uncertainty. (Below find a You Tube link to the song.)
- Remain generous.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper has asked that today be a day of prayer for the city of Nashville.
I extend that invitation to the Nashville Episcopal Area.
- Offer prayer for others
- Offer prayer for medical workers on the front lines who are facing incredible challenges
- Use the prayer below to stir your mind for those we do not always remember
Be comforted and reminded of God’s presence for all of us with the following prayer by Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm of Seattle, Washington. It was shared with me by one of our clergy colleagues in the Memphis Conference.
I offer it with the grace of our shared life.
“Prayer for a Pandemic”
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have had to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
As Psalm 23 comforts, as John O’Donohue invites, as the prayer above petitions, let us choose to hold one another in our physical distance with the unending presence of God’s light and God’s love.
May we soon find our feet again on pastures of promise. May the green pastures and the still waters of the holiness of God’s grace and strength go with you into another uncertain week. And may the goodness of the Lord follow us all the days of our lives.
O Lord Hear My Prayer
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NRSV)
The Apostle Paul bids farewell to the saints at Corinth, I Corinthians 16:13-14:
13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
With the entire world, the Coronavirus will continue, for the foreseeable future, to have disruptive consequences in our shared life. We are in the midst of a disaster of global proportions as we learn every day how our lives are being altered.
In the Nashville Episcopal Area, from Camden on the edge of the Tennessee River, to North and East Nashville, from Hermitage to Mt. Juliet to Cookeville, life was disrupted by the tornado of March 2. In the midst of this moment, our Disaster Response team continues to do the work of cleanup. This work will become more challenging due to the need for social distancing.
We learned yesterday that General Conference would be postponed. We do not yet know when it will be rescheduled. We are not, at this time, making a decision regarding the Annual Conference in June. However, we continue planning for our time together so that we will be ready in June or beyond. It remains uncertain if the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference will be postponed.
We continue to monitor new information as it relates to my request of you to suspend worship. It now seems obvious that to help protect the health of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will need to forgo gathering for worship and meetings in our buildings at least through Palm Sunday, April 5, and potentially throughout Holy Week and Easter.
In the midst of this unusual and uneven time when life becomes confusing, disappointing and certainty is no longer a given, our first response is prayer. Naming to God the truth of our experience as the Psalmist did. Expressing to God our confusion, our fear, even our anger will allow God through the Holy Spirit to give us strength and calm in the midst of this crisis.
I noted on a call to some of our team this morning that we are in the wilderness, not the promised land. The one constant in the wilderness is that God provided. It was God who gave manna. God was the only One who had agency. As we journey through a most unusual Lenten season of a wilderness not of our own making, let us be comforted by the promise of scripture in Hebrews 11. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By faith…we travel, even when we know not where we are going. God is with us.
I invite you to continue networking with one another to discover the most creative ways we can stay connected even as we are separate. I have witnessed God working through you to be the church in the world in new, adaptive ways.
Recently Tom Laney gave me a book about leadership, “Resilient Leadership” by Bob Dugan and Bridgette Theurer.
The heart of the book is centered in these three phrases:
Stay the Course (Stay on Mission!)
The essence of the authors’ work is to lift up the need to lead with calm, clarity and conviction in anxious times.
If there was a time when we need these concepts to guide our thinking, it is now. It is paramount that as Christians we model leadership that serves those most vulnerable in our world. When we hear Jesus teach us to love our neighbors, we can do that by staying connected while not being in the same room with them.
Here is what I am learning: no matter who we are or where we are, all of us are facing the same fears, anxieties, and uncertainties. We have a unique opportunity to pray for wisdom and strength as we discover how to serve Christ in the midst of this pandemic. The creativity of our leaders is outstanding and the Holy Spirit is equipping us. You are discovering awesome ways to be in ministry with our communities.
Remember—stay calm, stay the course (on Mission!), stay connected.
Serving Christ with you,
13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. I Corinthians 16:13-14
Our lives have been disrupted.
We feel vulnerable and uncertain about what to do.
We are told to stay at home, to create distance.
And by doing so we are loving our neighbors well.
This is counter to our instincts and desires to be close
to our loved ones, our friends, and our colleagues.
Teach us, in this strange time, to find new ways of being connected
In spite of our distance.
Teach us to be patient with one another
And to find ways to support those most vulnerable in our world.
Strengthen us, hold us, and help us, we pray.
Help us to see what we have not seen and know what we have not known
So that all of our decisions are rooted in your great wisdom.
This is our prayer.
Centers for Disease Control:
COVID-19 & Ministry Resources:
Lately I have found myself repeating a phrase in my conversations:
We are living in unusual times.
For the people called Methodists in middle and west Tennessee and western Kentucky we are mindful of the need to make whole those families and churches who were affected by tornados. Yet, we are faced with the reality of COVID-19 causing a global pandemic and economic concerns.
We must be adaptive in this season.
I’d like to share with you a piece from Rev. Allen Stanton that offers some best practices on how our congregations can stay connected in this new reality. Allen leads the Turner Center for Church Leadership at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tn. I hope it is helpful to you in this time, you can read it at HOW THE RURAL CHURCH CAN HELP DURING COVID-19
In order to support rural and small membership churches as they adjust to leading during the COVID-19 outbreak, Allen will be hosting a free 1-hour webinar on Thursday March 26th at 10:00 a.m. Central time. During the webinar, Allen will share best practices and answer questions about worshiping together, serving in mission, and opportunities for building upon the strength of the small church during uncertain times. The webinar is free, but registration is needed. To register, visit https://www.cultivaterural.com/registration-for-responding-to-covid-19-in-the-rural-church.
We are living in unusual times.
I give thanks for the faithful, adaptive leadership of our United Methodist pastors and congregations. As your Chief Pastor, I pray for you all daily.
Two weeks ago, many of our communities were upended by a devastating tornado. Just as we were beginning to make sense of our new normal, the coronavirus raised its head and caused us to take unusual steps to help stop the spread of the virus.
I appreciate the quick adaptability of many of our churches this past weekend and your plans for the Sunday to come.
But, this global pandemic is not over. New information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it will affect us in our various contexts emerge every day.
While there is so much uncertainty, one thing I know is our deep Wesleyan heritage commands us to love God and love our neighbors by doing no harm.
We need to do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in and through our church settings, so our already-burdened healthcare system in our communities is not overwhelmed.
Later this week, we will make more resources available to you on how to have worship in this unusual reality we face.
We all must be adaptive during these uncertain times.
As you might imagine, this includes the work of the appointive cabinet.
Because of this adaptive challenge, the cabinet is moving its final week of appointive work for the 2020-21 year later to April 13-17.
- Clergy who will be involved in moves this summer will be notified April 17, along with pastor/staff parish chairpersons.
- Congregations receiving a new pastor will announce their projected appointments on Sunday, April 19, during worship.
In closing, I want to personally thank you for your prayers in the death of my mother, Laudis Lorene Long McAlilly, on Thursday, March 12. She lived a good, faithful life of a servant and died a good death. After her recent stroke, we had some quality moments with her until she died unexpectedly in her sleep. Our family has been richly blessed by the power of the United Methodist Connection in these days of grief and loss.
During these unusual times, I still claim with Paul that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Let us hold fast to the faith that formed us and follow Christ into the future unafraid.
These are confusing, uncertain times. Our Episcopal Area is still responding to devastating tornado damage and now we are advised to beware of our potential role in spreading a deadly disease.
After consulting with a number of leaders across the Area, I am convinced the faith community has a very important role to play in slowing the speed of COVID-19 disease transmission.
We must be proactive rather than reactive. Our action could avoid potentially disastrous consequences for our communities.
Therefore, I am advising our churches to consider suspending worship and other large gatherings for at least two weeks in order to slow the rate of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, also known as the coronavirus, and to support the work of our medical community.
I ask that our churches find other ways to practice and sustain our faith. Our witness and our example may save many lives, especially the lives of those at risk in our own congregations.
Social distancing may seem to be an unnecessary reaction to those of you who are not sick, but medical professionals are telling us that if we wait until the need is obvious – it will be too late.
If we use social distancing now, patients will arrive at hospitals at a much slower rate, and lifesaving treatment for the critically ill will remain available.
Given that so many depend on our church ministries, we hope you will be mindful of the need to continue to support these ministries. Our contexts differ across our Episcopal Area. Please use your best judgment in continuing your outreach. Be wise and use precautions recommended by the CDC.
We want to continue to love people well, but we also need to take care to do no harm.
My former bishop, Hope Morgan Ward framed it well. She wrote: “Your prayers, presence (in spirit), gifts (including financial support), service, and witness are still important and needed to sustain and strengthen our ongoing mission.”
We encourage congregations to continue to support local church ministry by using online giving or by simply putting a check in the mail and sending it to their church.
Many of our congregations will be offering online worship opportunities. If your church does not offer this, our conference website will provide a selection of avenues to participate in worship. Please encourage those in your community to take advantage of this United Methodist connection.
Our Wesleyan roots have always included the concern for those most vulnerable. The people called Methodist established some of the first hospitals in this country. Now is an especially important time to live out our calling to love one another and to take care of those around us.
Online Worship Opportunities
We give thanks to God for the powerful connections of our United Methodist brothers and sisters! In the last few days numerous United Methodists have reached out to us and offered prayers and financial contributions to aid in the recovery of our people affected by the tornadoes.
Robert Craig, our Disaster Response Coordinator, and Angela Overstreet, Consultant and Trainer with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) met with other agencies in the area to begin coordinating response efforts. We are still in the rescue and assessment phase of this disaster.
UMCOR teaches us that Disaster Response is long term. Our team is working on infrastructure to build a team that can go the distance on what will be a long-term recovery effort. To be sure, UMCOR is us—so watch for developments as we grow our team.
Of our United Methodist Congregations, Dodson Chapel, Braden and East End all sustained damage.
Hermitage United Methodist Church, already partnering with Dodson Chapel, is working to assist Dodson Chapel in next steps. Pastors Chris Seifert and Tommy Shelton are working together to sort out how to move forward. A big loss to that community is the Dodson Chapel UMC day care ministry which allowed working mothers and fathers to have confidence their children were well cared for. The storm disrupted this valued ministry in the near term which, in turn, has further disrupted these families.
The Braden UMC congregation, though small in number, sustained damage to their sanctuary have set into motion a process for food to be served to volunteers who are working in the East Nashville cleanup.
Numerous congregations are stepping up to offer assistance to East End. In speaking with Pastor Judi Hoffman last night, she simply said, “I’m grateful for the response and attention we are getting but I am more worried about our North Nashville neighbors who are not receiving the attention we are.”
Tonight, at Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, a prayer service will be held in partnership with Grace, Lebanon First and Cooks United Methodist Churches.
Cookeville First UMC is becoming the hub of response for the response efforts in that community.
Our trained Early Responders have responded quickly across the conference where so much destruction is left in the wake of the tornado Monday night. Leaders are stepping up offering help and hope. Numerous Conferences are inviting offerings to support our response efforts. We are so very thankful for all of this support.
Our Disaster Response Coordinator wants you to know when and how you can help. Please continue to check the Tornado response page on the Tennessee Conference website. It is updated frequently and will continue to be updated throughout our recovery over the months ahead.