March 12, 2020
My Dear Holston Friends,
I did not realize on January 31 when I sat at an Emory University Board of Trustees meeting listening to a medical expert tell us about research and work with the CDC in Atlanta that the Nouvelle Corona Virus would have spread so rapidly in six weeks for us to be talking about the number of persons who have been infected with this deadly virus and we would have such a high death toll around the world.
I am writing to you during a busy week as the Cabinet and I prepare for another year of ministry. Over the last few days, we have been aware of the tension and anxiety that continues to rise as we learn more and more about the COVID-19 virus in the United States.
This afternoon I spoke with Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference about this serious concern to our community. I discovered that Bishop Ward and Bishop Paul Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference have asked United Methodists throughout their state to cease public worship and other gatherings over the next two weeks.
Out of an abundance of caution and our concern for you, our churches, and communities, the Cabinet and I strongly urge the churches of Holston Conference to suspend worship and large-group gatherings beginning today for the next two weeks.
Yesterday, the World Health Organization identified COVID-19 as a pandemic. We have learned from the spread of the virus that if we delay responding the virus spreads exponentially and overwhelms our hospitals and health care systems. It is my understanding that social distancing is the most effective way of slowing the spread of the virus.
According to Dr. Wes Wallace, an adjunct professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; medical director of State Medical Assistance Team 2, based at the University of North Carolina; medical officer in NC-1, the federal Disaster Medical Assistance team based in North Carolina; and a member of University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill:
“If we use social distancing to slow transmission of COVID-19, patients will arrive at hospitals at a much slower rate, and lifesaving treatment for the critically ill will remain available. Additionally, we will be given more time to manufacture protective gear for health care workers, do research that may lead to identification of effective medicines, and perhaps experience a seasonal decline in disease transmission rates.
For social distancing to be effective, it must begin early -- so early that it may feel unneeded and silly. If we wait until its need is obvious, it is too late.
The faith community has an important role to play in slowing the speed of disease transmission. Large gatherings of people are a petri dish for spreading the infection. For a period of time, I strongly urge our religious communities to suspend traditional services and gatherings and 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.”
Please use your discretion regarding smaller gatherings such as small groups, Bible studies, and other meetings. These precautions are not only important for your safety but for the health and welfare of the entire community. While we are in unfamiliar territory, health care professionals advise that this is necessary for slowing the rate of the infection.
During this time of unusual decisions, United Methodist congregations across the denomination are finding creative ways to continue our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness to others. It is my prayer that we will do the same.
Grace and peace,
Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church