Dear United Methodist friends,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.
This year, Ascension Day and Aldersgate Day converge meaningfully on our calendars this Sunday, May 24.
To a narrow question of limited hope, Jesus responded, announcing that you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. With Christians near and far, we are humbled, connected and encouraged as we hear the promise of power and the privilege of witness.
On May 24,1738, John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed as the weight of striving was displaced by the gift of faith. Methodists mark this as the day when a whole new world opened for ministry. Thank you for your creativity and perseverance in the new world in which we now find ourselves.
In the stillness of physical distancing, at this time of Ascension and Aldersgate, let us we center our hearts, our lives, our plans calmly, graciously, confidently. God is with us. And so, as those who share hearts strangely warmed, as recipients of God’s purpose and power, let us. . .
Be confident that Christ’s ministry is urgent in this time of anxiety, danger, uncertainty and grief. We lament with our communities the losses of this season: losses of safety and stability, of employment, of anticipated celebrations, of funerals, of time with beloved elders and little children. Let us share our grief faithfully, using the scriptural practice of lament, as we mourn with those who mourn. Jesus promises that those who mourn will be comforted. And after we have suffered for a little time, the God of all grace. . .will restore, support, strengthen and establish you – I Peter 5:10.
Be confident that our ministry is not about our buildings, as helpful as they can be to us. While we might gather in our facilities, it does not seem loving, wise or safe to do so. Our buildings have small foyers and classrooms, narrow doorways and hallways. Our facilities were created to draw people together, not to help them be socially distant. Giving thanks for your facilities, carefully evaluate them before welcoming people into them. Let us keep the health and safety of all people in the center of our decisions.
Be confident in God’s vision for humankind and the whole creation. COVID-19 has laid bare the harsh realities of inequity, systemic injustice and racial prejudice in our communities, our state and our world. Let us do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God through reading, study, prayer, conversation, engagement, advocacy and witness. May all who identify as white own the reality of power and the urgency of dismantling white privilege and racism as we lament the disparities that COVID-19 and the recent racial murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor make painfully clear.
Be confident in the continued generosity of God’s people. Boldly invite generosity as people continue to be constrained in their homes. While many experience personal economic impact from the pandemic, many others yearn to serve and give and are responding to invitations to share of their abundance. The hope of a higher offering is a misguided reason to resume face-to-face worship. We are learning that the willingness and eagerness to support financially God’s mission is not tied as closely to physically gathering as we have thought it to be. It is tied to the confident and graceful invitation to give in order to share in God’s ongoing mission in the world.
Be confident that God is calling us out into a new future. God is ever-onward, and we are a pilgrim people. There is no going back to pre-COVID-19. There is only going forward. Let us continue reaching out by telephone and internet, connecting virtually to pray and learn and worship, serving and planning in ways that are appropriate and safe for our neighbors. As the time comes to gather safely, we will continue our experiments as we connect virtually with new people in new places in new ways into the future.
We Methodists are Ascension and Aldersgate people, witnesses with warmed hearts. Your creativity, compassion and commitment inspire your churches and your communities. I give thanks for each of you today.
With thanksgiving to God for our partnership in Christ’s ministry,
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward