Dear Friends & Colleagues,
Grace and peace to you in the name of the One who was, who is, and who is to come, Jesus the Christ.
I greet you today with the full knowledge that each of you are facing tremendous challenges in the work that you are doing to serve your people and remain faithful to the call that God has so firmly placed on your lives. The countless stories that I have heard from so many of you attest to that reality. They have blessed my soul as I know they have blessed the ones that you are serving.
Still, these days are difficult and the constant rise of the COVID-19 virus in our midst is what gives rise to this latest update. I encourage you to find a comfortable place to sit and read this update with the upmost care and attention.
Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter
On Friday, the Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, extended the closure of New York schools until April 15th and continues in his firm directives that people should stay at home. The Governor of Connecticut, Ned Lamont, has issued a ban on gatherings of more than five persons in any one setting. Even though he has made an exception for religious gatherings, it is my intention to follow the more stringent guidelines rather than the more lenient ones.
Therefore, based on the continuing growth of the COVID-19 virus and the strict urging of people to stay at home and not gather in groups, I am closing all United Methodist Churches in the New York Annual Conference through April 12th. We will re-evaluate the situation on Monday, April 13th, and inform you what our next steps will be.
There are NO exceptions to this directive. As hard as it is for me to say this, and as hard as it is for you to read it, we must do all we can to enforce this directive. If there are any reports of non-compliance with this decision, I will hold my pastor’s directly responsible for this and will be forced to act accordingly. This is for the health and safety of our congregations, especially those over age 65 who are the most vulnerable to the disease.
Several have made inquiries about Palm Sunday, suggesting that drive-thru services could be conducted where palm branches could be distributed. This is not acceptable. Many palm branches are shipped in from other countries and as they are handled by multiple persons, the distribution of palm branches presents a potential health hazard.
Others have made inquiries about opening the doors of the church for Prayer Vigils, limiting the amount of people coming through the doors. This too is not an acceptable practice. Persons entering the church who touch pews, altar rails, etc., present a potential hazard for the transmission of the virus.
The doors of our churches are to be closed. No services are to be held. The only acceptable provision is for five or less persons conducting a live stream worship service from the sanctuary or video-taping a service for posting.
My direct language related to this directive has come because of the non-compliance in a few of our churches based on my last update. Persons became infected as a result of that non-compliance, bringing harm to parishioners and others. Some have suggested that it is a stance of faith to defy and assemble people for public worship. I believe it is a statement of faith to love your people so much that you will do anything to protect them from contracting this killer virus. We do what we do because we love, because we care, because we have faith that God will give us the courage to see this crisis through to completion.