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Bruce Baxter
District Superintendent
Bruce Baxter

Lisa Conley
Administrative Assistant
Lisa Conley

Beverly Rhodes
Executive Assistant
Beverly Rhodes

(573) 334-8723
Fax: (573) 334-3807
6 North Clark
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701


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Bishop's Statement: Returning to our Sanctuaries

posted on May 04


Updated - Friday, May 22, 2020

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

This morning, President Donald J. Trump issued a statement calling on governors to allow houses of worship to open. In Missouri, Governor Mike Parson's Show Me Strong Missouri guidance allows Missourians to attend worship "as long as the social distancing requirements are followed, places of worship are allowed to hold in-person services. Common practices that may occur with worship services, such as hand shaking and shared communion cups, should be avoided. Places of worship are also encouraged to continue use of alternative means of services through streaming services and other opportunities" (from https://showmestrong.mo.gov/faq/). 

United Methodists in Missouri are encouraged to follow their local and county health guidelines. The statement made by the President this morning does NOT change our earlier guidance (below dated May 4) to our local churches. This will mean that many of our churches will continue to worship in ways that do not include being in-person or in the building or sanctuary. I want to remind you that as a United Methodist, we are to follow our General Rules, the first of which is Do No Harm. My guidance to all our local churches is to take that rule seriously. 

You, as the local pastor, together with your lay leadership, and in conversation with local public health officials are the best decision-makers regarding the return to worship within your sanctuaries. The Cabinet will support your decision made for your local Church. If you have concerns, raise them to your District Superintendent.

Today's statement is a caution to us all to refuse to consider the Church as solely being a building-centric entity. You and your teams have been the Church in these past weeks - through sheltering in place and through social distancing. Your witness and faith to share the Good News in creative ways has given me great hope for the Church. Thank you for your faithfulness.

As the U.S. approaches 95,000 coronavirus deaths, I offer my prayers for those who have died, those who are sick, those who have recovered and the front line workers seeking to heal those who are ill and working toward a cure. 

Stay faithful. Listen to the experts. Do your best. We will get through this together.

In Christ+

Bishop Robert Farr
The Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church


Monday, May 4, 2020

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,
 
In the days since Holy Week and Easter Sunday, I have found myself asking what is God saying to us during this time of quarantine? How does our response through corporate and private worship, service and generosity honor God? I’ve heard this strange period of life referred to by some as “The Great Adaptation,” and because of it, we have a unique opportunity to listen and bear witness more deeply, to the way of Jesus.
 
While my private devotional time has been both challenged and enriched in this season, I have also experienced great disruption and loss. I know that has been true for many Missouri United Methodists. The economic impact on some of our churches has been deeply felt, especially for those positioned within communities that are most vulnerable. Even with the apportionment relief offered last month, it is hard to anticipate what missional and financial impact this pandemic will have on the long-term health and vitality of the Conference and its churches.
 
Some think the coronavirus could reshape the country’s religious landscape and wipe out many small houses of worship; but in these last weeks, I have seen something different. I’ve experienced hope watching the creativity and hearing stories of our churches’ resilience.
 
Because of our shared pain and loss, many of us are itching to get back into our sanctuaries and return to “normal.” And yet, as people who do our best to do no harm, we must acknowledge that removing all restrictions may further endanger those most vulnerable in our communities.
 
For these reasons I am strongly encouraging all congregations in the Missouri Conference to not gather until we have a clearer indication that it is safe to meet. However, the decision to hold public worship is a local church decision. It is the Conference’s advice that you follow Missouri and your county’s health department guidelines and mandates. Please move slowly and carefully toward reopening in-house worship. Pay attention to your local context and authorities. The rules are different in every county across Missouri.
 
While your church may open worship after May 10, I advise you to refrain from in-house worship through the end of May unless your congregation can guarantee social distancing and appropriate disinfection cleaning before and after all services. Some congregations have an abundance of space and few people, which helps with social distancing options; other congregations do not. Most counties are advising to restrict attendance to no more than 25% of the building’s seating occupancy.
 
I am aware that disagreements may arise as to what to do and when to reopen in-house worship. If you strongly disagree with the decision, feel free to contact your district superintendent for guidance and assistance. Remember online, drive-up and outdoor services with social distancing could well be our safest option through the month of May.
 
The Conference offers some suggestions below for you and your leadership teams to consider as you do begin to move toward re-opening for public worship.
 
I have spent my entire career trying to communicate that the Church is not a building! That teaching has been met with mixed results. Perhaps that is the silver lining in all of this? I pray that once we are through the worst, we will never lose sight of the Church as the community rather than the bricks and mortar that house our “stuff.”
 
I am very proud to be your bishop. Thank you for the ways in which you have led and continue to lead during this challenging time. Stay faithful. Listen to the experts. Do your best. We will get through this together.

In Christ+

Bishop Robert Farr
The Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church

RESOURCE: Guidelines for Returning to Our Sanctuaries

VIDEO (can be downloaded for local church use): https://vimeo.com/414459527/2f6f6900ef