A time of global pandemic calls for creativity, patience, and perseverance in all levels of shared life, from our own family to our global community. It has demanded quick pivots in our personal lives and in the life of our churches, and called us to the transforming presence of the risen Christ who replaces anxiety and fear with faith and hope.
The Connectional Ministries office is working in partnership with our churches and clergy to sustain and enhance our efforts to spread the love and comfort of Jesus Christ to the world.
The Communications office quickly gathered descriptions of how conference churches were meeting this crisis and started sharing stories. As local churches scrambled to enhance – or develop – an online presence, the office responded to needs and technical questions, while working with the Treasurer’s Office to establish online giving and COVID-19 donation forms. As Easter rapidly approached, the webinar Not an Ordinary Holy Week, hosted by New Faith Communities, led participants to reimagine Holy Week in the light of current realities. Easter liturgies were published on the conference website, and a conference Easter service was developed and broadcast Easter Sunday at 9:00 am and 11:00 am, with 6,333 unique views for two services combined. See the conference COVID-19 resource page for latest updates, financial resources, strategies for staying connected, webinars & training, and frequently asked questions. The website offers the latest info on the CARES ACT and how churches may potentially tap resources from this government program.
The Center for Leadership Excellence developed timely webinars, focused on immediate challenges that churches and clergy were facing, including:
- Living Together in the Midst of Conflict (Ellen Ott Marshall, 3/18)
- Living from the Heart at a Time of Heightened Anxiety (Winston Charles, 3/26)
- The Pandemic & the Offering Plate – Talking about Money During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Jim Harnish, (4/2)
- Livestreaming Jesus: Adapting to Preaching Online (Christine Parton Burkett, 4/14)
- Finding New in the Familiar: Reading Scripture with Fresh Eyes (Sarah Heath, 4/23)
- In it Together: Trauma and Preaching During COVID-19 (Kimberly Wagner, 4/28)
- Wesley’s Views on Health (Randy Maddox, 5/5)
Note: All past webinars may be viewed on the conference website.
Meanwhile, the Center has been in touch with Fellows, Bold, and Impact program participants and is moving forward with digital options for continuing these cohort programs. Looking to the future, the office is planning a creative engagement with young adults, college students, and pastors of color, to be experienced in collaboration with the Western NC Conference of the UMC during spring 2021.
The Multicultural Ministries office established a grant for 70 churches to receive ZOOM subscriptions; staff are available to assist pastors with technical aspects of using ZOOM efficiently, should they need it. The office held a webinar on Best Practices of Social Media for the Hispanic/Latino Community led by media producer Samuel Lozada and, in collaboration with Duke Divinity, is offering A Conversation with Karen Gonzalez: Leading in Between Despair and Hope in a Multicultural World, April 27. A prayer vigil on Facebook Live (3/30) by Hispanic/Latino pastors received about 1,900 views, and the same pastors held an online Good Friday service together. The office received a Red Cross grant to address the disaster response needs of the Hispanic/Latino community, and has been calling ethnic pastors daily to access their needs. The Trabajando Juntos Training (Working Together) continues to support Hispanic/Latino communities in disaster preparedness through the Neighbor-to-Neighbor training. The office has been diligent to provide support for those ethnic ministries applying for assistance through the CARES ACT.
Outreach Ministries established $240,000 in mission funds to be available to congregations to fund emergency services in direct response to COVID-19. Disaster Ministries donated 11,125 N95 masks, 600 utility masks, 100 tyvek suits, and 100 N100 masks to NC Emergency Management for distribution across North Carolina. In addition, they donated 3,000 N95 masks to Cape Fear Hospital and 1,000 N95 masks to Southeastern Regional Medical Center. The office offered a two-month grace period from Board of Missions, Inc. loan payments, with no accrued interest, and lowered the interest rate on all loans, enabling churches to repay their loan sooner. C4C coordinators have contacted churches to inspire continued – or new – program participation as they identified most affected areas. The office uploaded info from Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) to the conference website regarding safe practices while engaging in outreach. Information about major food banks in the NCCUMC region has been posted as well.
The Christian Formation office is designing three online courses for lay ministry: Christians as Transformational Leaders, Evangelism, and Accountable Discipleship. Eighteen people from the Board of Laity started the first of these classes April 20 on Moodle. The Board of Laity Executive Committee engaged district lay leaders to determine what their role might be for Annual Conference. The office is also working with Brian Heymans to consider offering another round of Social Principles Advocacy Training. Christian Formation ministries celebrates the creative ways local churches have been working to keep youth connected to each other and to the community of faith.
Together, we’ve come a long way. Together, we’re learning from this time and finding a way ahead. Coming up, Conference Connectional Table ministry teams will meet with committee chairs to determine how each ministry can make an impact during this time.
If your church has needs or ideas, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here for you and, thankfully, we know you’re here for us. Together.
Steve Taylor, Executive Director, Connectional Ministries
Christine Harman, Director of Christian Formation Ministries
Leah Wiebe-Smith, Director of Center for Leadership Excellence
Jaye White, Director of Outreach Ministries
Ernesto Barriguete, Director of Multicultural Ministries
Derek Leek, Director of Communications
Article composed by Beverly Elingburg, Information Specialist