March 2020 Message from Bishop Sue


Transcript of a March 25 video message to North Georgia United Methodists from Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson


Good morning friends in the North Georgia Annual Conference. 

I am here on a maiden voyage. I'm alone in my den and, like you, I am improvising and learning and doing new things. I do not have a lot of experience in making videos 

I'm coming today with a few things that I wanted to share with you personally and a few thoughts on these circumstances that we certainly didn't see coming, but that call us to be the church in new and different and creative ways. 

I want to thank all of you who have invested time and energy in exploring new ways to meet, new ways of worship, new ways of outreach. I am really delighted with all of you who are stepping up and reaching out to medical teams, reaching out to your communities, reaching out to folks in dire need. 

One thing I'd ask to spread around the connection is to check to see if your congregation has flood buckets, UMCOR cleaning buckets. I have loaded hundreds of flood buckets, but I forgot that every one of those flood buckets should have 5 n95 masks in it. They are desperately needed. I so appreciate Scott Parrish for his leadership and Stephen Redmond, Matt Murphy and those who went to our warehouse where we had a bunch of them in storage. They pulled 2,500 masks and gave them to local medical providers. 

That kind of stuff is really important right now. 

This morning I am reflecting on my favorite quote. I have called upon this quote so many times in my life. It's my mantra for life. It's something that Corrie ten Boom said. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch woman who hid Jews in her home and she and her family were sent to a concentration camp. She suffered greatly, but she lived to a ripe old age. She still can't explain why she was set free except that it was a mistake, a clerical mistake, that let her out. But she has said, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to known God." I say to you, never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. 

I want to share with you Psalm 145 because it reminds us of the characteristics of our known God and we count on this. 

Psalm 145:8-9 (CEB)
8     “The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
    very patient, and full of faithful love.
9     The Lord is good to everyone and everything;
    God’s compassion extends to all his handiwork!”

These are the qualities of the known God we turn to in times like these. We remember that when God came in the flesh, these qualities were the ones in full abundance, on display for the world to see. We think of Jesus who was kind and merciful, showed compassion, healed the sick, had great compassion for those who had no voice and who were left out. He shows us the qualities of God. So in this day I ask you to be grace filled, merciful and kind, and to respond in that way. 

Anxiety is high. I had a gentleman who was not United Methodist, just a stranger, write to me yesterday. I had shared that I had some masks to give and I gave then them to a nurse who picked them up from me right away. I didn't see his request, and so he wrote back the next day. He wrote, "What, you don't even give me the courtesy of a reply," and went on to rant at me. It got to me and I was tempted to reply in kind. I was tempted to give him a piece of my mind, but I thought about it. I thought about our known God. I thought about the Christ who I'm called to model and so I just wrote back said, "I meant no discourtesy. I didn't see your message. I hope you're okay." He wrote back a long letter of apology and told me his daughter is a nurse in a emergency room trauma context. He is terrified and he is anxious. So let's hold each other tenderly. Parker Palmer says when somebody dismays you or treats you poorly, instead of approaching them with anger, approach them with wonder. I wonder why they're acting that way? I wonder what's going on in their life? I wonder, I wonder what's wrong? 

And in these days, you know there's a lot wrong. People are losing jobs, people are losing income, people fear being ill, people have loved ones who are ill. There's a lot of dismay out there. So, model Christ. Be salt and light and leaven. Be the difference. Be the church. 

We know the church is not the buildings. Now we're called to really be the church - to build connection, to build community, to be there when folks are in dismay. We have phones, we have email, we have social media. Let's be agents of salt and light and joy and peace in the midst of this. That's what Christians have always done. 

I have a few announcements for you. 

First of all, about worship and gatherings. I ask that if you don't have to be together, don't be together. Use social media, use phones, use Zoom or web meetings. There are ways you can do that for free and the conference staff can help you. Use your resources at the conference. It's too dangerous to gather. I want health to be the priority. Even when fewer than 10 people are gathering, that presumes all 10 are healthy and fine and that none are a class that is especially vulnerable. If even one person of that 10 is vulnerable, I want you to consider not meeting in person, even with a small group. 

We are not going to have any gatherings for worship this Sunday, but that doesn't mean worship is canceled. It doesn't mean you don't have worship, it just means you continue to be creative and connect in a different way. 

Every church doesn't have to do a livestream. If live streaming isn't right for your church right now, you can watch some really fine worship services that are already there and discuss them with your congregation. Call a friend on the phone and watch a sermon together. There are a lot of resources out there, so use them and be creative and break out of some of our old patterns. 

Your cabinet is going to meet every Monday at 3:00 p.m. virtually. We have met virtually the past two days and it was a wonderful time together, and we really get a lot of joy in and encouragement from each other. On Mondays at our three o'clock meetings we make the call for the next two weeks. So we will gather Monday at three o'clock and we will discuss Palm Sunday and Easter. We'll look at the conditions at that point. We will turn to our connections at the Rollins School of Public Health, the CDC, Emory University and Emory Healthcare. They are fine advisors. We will listen to them we will see what governmental entities are doing. So no in-person worship and I would not even have meetings or any type of gathering in person this week. 

I really want to thank you again for the creativity and how you've gone about this. We're still asking, what are the best questions in this time? The cabinet thinks the best question is: What have you learned? What has worked? What hasn't worked? What what will we take into the future that we're learning now about community and church ? 

I think we're getting a lesson again on what it was like to be the church when we didn't have buildings and didn't have the kind of structure that we're used to now. Yesterday I saw that somebody listed everywhere the early church met. It was always a home, always a small gathering. So, where two or more gathered (and you can put three together on a phone call you can have worship with three of you). 

If we don't have service on Easter, I want you to consider that whatever day we gather again in person, will be a resurrection Sunday. We are going through death, we are seeing death in the midst of life, and I know that whatever Sunday it is when we can gather we will pull out all the stops. If that doesn't happen on Easter Sunday, be planning for a resurrection Sunday when we return, and know that that day will come. Sadly, the longer it is, the more happy we will be to see it. So plan for Resurrection Sunday. And think about that and dream about that and live toward that. 

I ask you to lead with safety. My biggest nightmare is that they will be able to trace illness and death back to a United Methodist Church. I don't want that to happen. Human life's too important. Our loved ones are too important, our saints of the church, whatever age, are of utmost importance. So please, please be careful. Be careful in all ways. 

A few announcements about appointments. The cabinet has finished up appointments as usual with a lot of prayer and discussion and discernment. We have discerned who the clergy are who we think fit best in the churches. We would love to have had no moves this year, but we have people retiring and when we have retirements, that means there need to be some moves. But this is a very different season. We had discussions that we have never had to have about appointments before. 

We have moved the announcement Sunday until April 19th. When we project moves, we will also project dates of of moves. There will be two different dates. Some will move and start July 1, 2020, and some will move and start September 1, 2020. If it was at all possible, we tried to give people a little more time. It's going to be hard to move into a church that's meeting virtually. It's going to be hard for families to adapt. So, wherever we could, we had discussions about whether folks could move on July 1st or September 1st. Those dates are subject to change according to circumstances, however. And in this season of the church, I'd say nothing's set in stone. 

Another important topic is Annual Conference. We have to make a decision about whether to have Annual Conference at the Classic Center in June by April 15th. We will likely make the decision and share it on April 15th. If there is no way we can go forward in June, we're looking at alternative dates in August. 

You might have watched the news the General Conference of The United Methodist Church has been postponed. General Conference leadership is working on rescheduling. Most likely Jurisdictional Conference will also be postponed and rescheduled. We will share updates when we know more about that.

The last things I have are directions on Missional Vital Signs and instructions regarding Holy Communion. 

Missional Vital Signs are hard to determine. We'll share what we have best come up with, but this is an interesting time and you can learn a lot. I saw that somebody posted that on their online worship, they noticed that maybe 300 people started worship with them and in the first five minutes, 150 left. About 5% finished the whole hour. Well, maybe in that 5 minutes when you have 300 people, make those minutes pay off. Make that your strongest five minutes and continue after that focused on folks who are accustomed to church and will stay on longer. It would be a real opportunity to figure out exactly how are people responding. I would ask, what do we do and how do we learn from metrics like that. It's a new season, it's interesting, and I think important. So when we talk about who's tuning in live stream, I don't have any hard and fast rule on how that's done, but we do have some suggestions that we'll post on the conference website. 

The last thing I'd like to address today is communion. We are posting two pieces, two suggestions, for online communion on the COVID-19 Resource Hub at 

Bishop Greg Palmer in the West Ohio Conference wrote a piece that mirrors my thoughts on the topic exactly. In the history of the world and the church, there is something called "conditions in extremis," extreme conditions, where the normal rules don't apply. It's a term that comes out of the Black Death days when you had times in extremis. We've seen that throughout the history of the church, including after 9/11 when the Roman Catholic Church suspended a lot of their rules about funerals and communion. Bishop Palmer writes about giving communion to someone on a respirator when they couldn't partake of the elements, that's an in extrimis kind of communion. It wasn't communal and they couldn't really partake but it was powerful and needed. Many clergy and I have baptized many stillborn babies. This is not an appropriate use of baptism, it is not communal, and theologically you can go around and around with it, but for those parents in that time, it's a matter "in extrimis" of pastoral care. It's a time when grace needs to be extended. And so, a lot of our communion directions are in extrimis. 

How do you do this in times when people need the means of grace. And they need them in situations and circumstances we haven't seen before. There are some guidelines that we're posting and I urge you to stick to those guidelines, but we don't need folks to be the sacrament police right now. We need to all realize that clergy have good judgment, and in these times, if communion is needed and the means of grace, it seems to me that God is going to be pouring grace into all sorts of unusual circumstances. At the end of the day our known God is one a mercy and compassion, abounding in steadfast love, seeking justice and mercy, and that to me is always the way. If we're going make a mistake, let's make it on the side of mercy, grace, and compassion. 

As I started, I close with this: Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. That known God has this. He has these circumstances. He is with us in all this and we have a time unlike ever in the recent history of the church to rise to the occasion and shine forth the light of Christ. Do that well and go with my blessing. 

Thank you for your tremendous commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church. And thank you for your commitment and service in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit. Go in peace, stay safe, and extend grace and mercy wherever you go.