A Statement from Bishop Taylor:
Churches may begin gathering indoors
Dear Holston Friends,
The COVID-19 Task Force, comprised of medical professionals, laity, and clergy was created to give counsel to the Cabinet and me to navigate our way through this pandemic. In that regard, the Task Force released the first and then an updated second edition of “Taking Steps Forward Faithfully and Safely: A Plan for Returning to In-Person Worship in the Holston Annual Conference during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Task Force considered this to be our Phase One of the return to indoor in-person worship. Unfortunately, soon after releasing this Phase One plan, the COVID-19 numbers surged; therefore, the Cabinet and I decided to discontinue in-person gatherings. At the time, we believed this would be on a short-term basis, but as the days and weeks passed, we realized COVID-19 wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Scripture is clear. God has created us to be in relationship with God and one another. Knowing this, the Task Force has been considering appropriate times and ways to begin gathering safely in-person once again. Our first step was to go to outdoor worship because being socially distanced outside is the safest way to gather. However, as the seasons change and cooler temperatures arrive, outdoor worship is only a short-term solution. So, the Task Force continued discussing how and when our churches could return to their buildings.
Today, I want to continue steps forward and announce beginning this Sunday, September 20, 2020 all churches with a plan that has been approved by their District Superintendent may return to their buildings for in-person worship. But let me be clear, attorneys have advised not following your approved plan creates liability for your church and your future. I want to stress this doesn’t mean your church has to return to your building on September 20. In fact, I suggest you continue gathering outdoors for as long as you can, because it is a safer way to gather. I am fully aware some areas within our conference are reporting increasing numbers of COVID-19 per the Harvard Metrics. In those areas, churches may wisely decide to wait until the numbers decrease.
It is also important for church leadership to meet regularly to discuss the ongoing situation within their own community and make wise decisions on gathering. The Phase One protocols are to be followed and are put in place for the safety of all those who will gather. I strongly urge churches to continue their on-line worship presence because there are many who are unable or uncomfortable gathering in-person at this time. Finally, I know some of our pastors are in a high-risk category, and it isn’t safe for them to return to the pulpit. In these situations, pastors should contact their District Superintendent to discuss options.
Friends, we continue to live in times of uncertainty and extreme tension, and just as God offers us grace, we need to be grace filled toward one another. We are all trying to do our best to continue our United Methodist mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Therefore, as we continue our mission, may we be ever mindful of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. May we be kind and generous, and may we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
God’s Grace, Mercy, Love and Peace is always sufficient,
The United Methodist Church