To the saints in Iowa,
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is the beginning of September, and the summer season is coming to a close. My prayer is that you have found creative ways to renew and refresh your spirit in the midst of a world that is in a very different place this year, with a convergence of many challenges.
COVID-19 continues to affect us in Iowa, and our schools, colleges, and universities have had to make very difficult decisions about when and how to resume instruction. Iowa currently has the highest per capita COVID infection rate in the country. In addition, there has also been a massive loss of jobs here in Iowa and around the country, which has caused great economic hardship.
Increasing acts of racism have precipitated a national conversation around race. And, most recently, damage to Iowa homes and farms because of the derecho on August 10 has caused close to $4 billion in damages. Last week, I was able to tour some of the devastated areas, and I want to thank you for all of the ways in which United Methodists have been on the front lines of assistance, including a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
I cannot express enough the deep gratitude that I have for the innovative and courageous ways in which you have reinvented yourselves as congregations to serve your communities during the pandemic. You understand in a deeper way that the church is not a building. It’s you and me cultivating relationships, worshipping in different and unique ways, discerning the needs of our communities, and reaching new people with the gospel by becoming the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus.
A primary concern that I have right now is the pervasive low-level anxiety that many of us are experiencing. It’s only natural. We’re mostly confined to home and cannot be physically near many of our dear ones. Some have lost jobs and are struggling financially. We’re stressed about the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of friends and family. And we worry about whether our children and youth will be safe in school.
I’d like to offer a few suggestions as we move into the fall for how you and I can model the love of Christ at a time when we cannot be in each other’s presence. In the midst of things that we cannot change, there are many ways in which we can care for others and ourselves.
- First, extend grace. Extend grace to teachers and school administrators who are working diligently to find a way forward. Extend grace to children, youth, and adults who are all experiencing the emotions of the pandemic in different ways. Extend grace to our pastors and church staff who are on the front lines of ministry. And extend grace to yourself, acknowledging that what you have accomplished today is enough.
- Second, take time away even if you cannot go away. After months of incredible responsibilities in our churches, including re-imagining worship, pastoral care, programming, and outreach into our communities, we must tend to self-care. At the same time as so many look to the church for guidance, strength, and hope, we also need to know when to pause and rest.
- And third, I invite you to consider techniques for reducing stress and anxiety that might include:
- Practicing mindfulness and deep breathing.
- Intentionally staying connected with friends and family and not isolating yourself. Relationships are critical.
- Engaging in daily spiritual practices.
- Eating well and getting enough sleep.
- Finding creative ways to exercise and enjoy the outdoors.
- Identifying the issues that are causing you stress; and if anxiety persists, sharing your concerns with a trusted friend, counselor, or doctor.
- Doing things for fun.
- Reaching out with empathy to others who are struggling.
- Focusing on the things you care about the most.
My sisters and brothers, God has given us a marvelous opportunity to use this time to grow in wisdom, mature in hope, and learn to love together. Here in Iowa, we have a new vision for mission and ministry that is centered around circuits and that was sent to you several weeks ago. We are so excited about the future of The United Methodist church in Iowa and can’t wait to see how God will use us to make a difference in our communities, our state, and our world.
And one more thing. Please, please, please, wear your face mask whenever you’re in public. My face mask says, “Iowa Conference, The United Methodist Church. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”
I close with Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.” May the Holy Spirit open you to new ways of seeing and serving and grant you hope and courage for the living of these days. Amen.