A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Laurie - Caring for the Health and Well-Being of All

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Laurie - Caring for the Health and Well-Being of All

August 05, 2020

Dear Friends, 
August is upon us, and for many here in Iowa it seems as if the summer is just beginning because our annual conference events are just concluding. For the first time in our history, the Iowa Annual Conference was conducted entirely online, and the Laity Session took place Sunday afternoon. To all those who led us through this monumental effort, I am deeply grateful. COVID-19 has affected every corner of our world, yet we continue to find new and unique ways to worship, learn, and serve.
Right now, families across Iowa are wondering what school will look like this year in light of COVID-19. It is also the time when our churches are wondering what fall worship and programming will look like when in-house worship is still not safe in many settings.
I have asked Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck, who is our Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence and has been heading up our Coronavirus efforts, to give us an update on how COVID-19 has affected our congregations and offer suggestions for how we can most effectively care for our health and the well-being of all. Thank you for all of the ways in which you are making a difference in difficult times.
Bishop Laurie

Caring for the Health and Well-Being of All

Even in the midst of the pandemic, physical distancing and other day-to-day pressures pushing in from all around, United Methodists across Iowa have remained connected not only to the people in their small groups and congregations but also to their communities extending from their neighborhoods all the way out to the global church. For generations, as people of the connection, we have assisted victims of human-made and natural disasters; stood alongside of and worked toward restoration of those living on the margins; and protected people's access to health, education, and other social supports. We do these things as individuals and as congregations; as co-participants in God's ongoing work of making hope real in the world. 
Beloved Iowa United Methodists, our communities are needing us as God's connectional people now more than ever as we continue to navigate COVID-19 and the impact this virus is having on our schools, health care systems, and socio-economic struggles. 
1.   As United Methodists in Iowa, we believe in access to education: 
      a.   Local United Methodist congregations and members of our communities share a core value in caring for our students, educators, staff, and families. We encourage your local church to find ways to support your local schools as they determine what it means to open or not open, and the needed supports and restrictions for safety and security of children, personnel and their families. Discernment of back-to-school plans has sadly been apprehended by partisan-politics and personal preference. We ask that you hold in prayer those making difficult decisions around the start of the school year. We ask that you offer pastoral care and congregational support for the teachers, administrators, elected officials, and families who are looking for the right next step forward. We know returning to school has social, economic, educational, and health considerations. We know we will not all agree on what the next best step looks like in every area, but we commit to doing no harm with our words and our actions.
     b.   Care for our families. Families, we want to offer a word of encouragement as you determine your best next steps in sending or not sending your children (whether living at home or college-aged) off to school this fall. If there are ways your local church can become a partner of support, please let them, the cabinet, and the Bishop know.
     c.    Church leadership. In the pioneer days of early Iowa, it was a common practice for church and school to happen in a shared space. As you are working with your local school officials, perhaps there are ways to offer our churches as an extension of the classroom to provide space, support, and connection.  According to reports across the greater connection, retired educators, administrators, and interested persons are being vetted and prepared to be peer-support for employees or classroom/education partners as reading buddies, creative arts partners, or breakout room hosts to aide in the educator's work in the online classroom. 
               i.      A few resources around education that may be useful to you as you support, resource, and worship: 
                      1.   Iowa Department of Education: https://educateiowa.gov/article/2020/07/31/covid-19-guidance-and-information
                      2.   PTA Supports for Families and Educators: https://www.pta.org/home/family-resources/coronavirus-information 
                           OR https://www.iowapta.org/
                     3.   Back to School Blessing through Discipleship Ministries: 

2.   As United Methodists in Iowa, we partner in the community with social supports and agencies: this season continues to stretch us as individuals, families, and systems in ways that are on-going and challenging, not only economically but also emotionally, physically, and mentally. As we care for our spiritual health consider ways that your local church can partner with these resources to help meet some of these challenges:
     a.   Mental Health Care
           i.     Iowa Department of Human Services: https://dhs.iowa.gov/COVID19
           ii.    NAMI Iowa - National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://namiiowa.org/
           iii.   Iowa Healthiest State Initiative: http://www.iowahealthieststate.com/resources/individuals/makeitok/mental-health-resources-covid-19-coronavirus/
     b.   Access to Health and Food Resources:
          i.      Coronavirus: https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/
          ii.    Iowa Department of Public Health:https://idph.iowa.gov/Emerging-Health-Issues/Novel-Coronavirus/Guidance
          iii.   Iowa Food Resources: https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/feedingiowa

3. As United Methodists in Iowa, we value Sabbath, gathering for worship and being in ministry in your local setting. We value our work together to address reentry in the midst of COVID-19. 

The Iowa Conference Crisis Team continues to update the 3-2-1 Recommendations for Re-entry seeking to provide resources and practices to provide the safest environments we can as we return to worship. The online resource will continue to be updated each month, but, on the whole, our churches are either in red or yellow status. If you are in yellow status and have returned to worship, we strongly encourage this to be outdoors. If you are participating in indoor worship, the standard guidelines that accommodates physical distancing mean many sanctuaries should be at around 25% capacity.

In addition to the IAUMC Guidelines, we ask every local church to also review the county and city recommendations of your region.

Safely returning to our normal habits will not happen overnight and we are bound to have setbacks as COVID-19 ebbs and spikes across our state. You are all encouraged to follow the reentry checklist found at: https://www.iaumc.org/files/websites/www/Reentry+Checklist.pdf

This checklist is intended to help local church leadership support staff, parishioners, and visitors to stay healthy and safe by planning for those coming through your doors and keeping control over your church's spaces.

The novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to transform how United Methodists are doing church. Technology-based worship, small group ministry, multi-generational discipleship opportunities, giving, caring, meeting, and much more have become the main way of doing ministry in this time. For additional information and resources, you can visit: https://www.resourceumc.org/en/topics/helping-your-church-respond-to-the-coronavirus
As United Methodists across Iowa, we are strengthened by the connection that commends each of us to live together as we watch over one another in love. 
As John Wesley taught the earliest Methodists, living together is about caring for one another and tending to the needs of concern, as well as, the joys in the seasons of life. Perhaps Wesley was familiar with the Swedish proverb: "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow."
Friends, let us lean into the hard spaces of our communities, particularly around concerns about education, mental and physical health, food security, and connectional support. May we all be strengthened by Christ, who is our hope and strength for this and every season.
From Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck
Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence