An Open Letter to the Local Churches, Extension Ministries, and Pastors of the Iowa Annual Conference

An Open Letter to the Local Churches, Extension Ministries, and Pastors of the Iowa Annual Conference

April 08, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,
 
The Covid-19 pandemic across the world and in Iowa has revealed both wonder and challenge. We are particularly gratified by the love for neighbor that is being lived out day by day across the world in Iowa villages, towns, and cities. Often this is led by you, the members, friends, and clergy persons of the Iowa Conference.
 
It is beautiful to behold how you, led by the Holy Spirit, have creatively and simply shared the love of God in Jesus Christ.
 
The pandemic has revealed challenges that have always been with us. Food insecurity is more widespread than it was only a few weeks ago. The basics of maintaining a household are not as readily available, and increasing unemployment brings anxiety for both the present time and the future. 
 
Please know that we and all the members of the Conference Staff keep you in our prayers. You have our full support as we sort out ways to care for each other.
 
We are pained by what we read from local churches about the reduction of employee hours and layoffs for ministries. We know these decisions were made with great care for one another and pray that this may be short lived. 
 
In a similar fashion, the Conference Staff has experienced reduction of hours and some layoffs. We regret having to take this step and hope that this will be short lived. However, we do not know what the future holds. We will continue to monitor the health of our local churches and the Conference as we all make prayerful and sometimes difficult decisions. Following the directives of Iowa’s governor, the Conference Center continues to be closed, and will remain so through April 30. 
 
We want you to know that we are in this together.
 
Rev. Dave Peterson, chairperson of the Iowa Board of Pensions, has written a letter to pastors and local churches regarding the Pensions Executive Committee. They continue to discern the best ways in which the Board of Pensions might assist local churches and pastors. 
 
The District Superintendents have enlisted Clergy Chaplains for their districts. These clergy chaplains are in regular contact with clergy persons in your local churches for conversation, prayers, and support.  This is proving to be an effective way of caring, communicating, and resourcing clergy and their churches, your churches.
 
The District Superintendents are meeting electronically every week with Bishop Laurie and the rest of the Appointive Cabinet to pray and strategize on the ways in which we can care and support each other. The Conference Staff is meeting electronically every week for care and support of each other and you, our local churches, and pastors, as well as those Iowa clergy persons in extension ministries and lay persons in specialized ministries in Iowa and around the world.
 
In addition, the Appointive Cabinet is holding to the usual timeframe for clergy moves in Iowa, mid-June to mid-July. Please know that we are continually reviewing our moves, knowing that some dates may need to be adjusted by whatever restrictions of social distancing may be in place throughout the state. 
 
While the CARES Act Payroll Protection Program may be an effective way to help local churches maintain staff support, it also needs to be carefully considered if it is the right thing for your local church. We recommend consideration of it, especially by local church councils, boards of trustees, finance committees, and with professionals you trust to advise you well. We are actively considering what the CARES Act can do for the Iowa Conference Staff. 
 
The Treasurer’s Office has sent out information on how your church can participate in Conference supported online giving from your membership to your church. We encourage you to take advantage of this program even if it is just for a few months. Without having normal worship services, we know that your offerings and gifts are probably lower. Apportionment receipts dropped in March and most likely will in April. We ask that you do what you can under the circumstances.
 
The Conference Sessions Committee continues to monitor the progression of the pandemic in Iowa and how this has and will affect the holding of the 2020 Session of the Iowa Annual Conference scheduled for June 5-7. We are in contact with many annual conferences across the connection, as they are in the middle of the same considerations and contingency planning as we are. We are looking at different options, including holding the IAC as it is currently scheduled, postponing it, and holding it in different ways. This might include holding parts of annual conference or all of it electronically. We will also consider carefully concerns around accessibility for all of our lay and clergy members as well as lessening the financial costs for both local churches and the Iowa Conference. 

All of the COVID-19 resources are available   here.  
 
May God grant us grace, courage, and hope for the living of these days.
 
Blessings,
 
Bishop Laurie Haller
District Superintendent Rev. Terra Amundson, Dean of the Appointive Cabinet
Joni Mardesen, Director Human Resources/Benefits Officer
Margaret Biggs, Treasurer/Director Administrative Services
Rev. Dr. Harlan Gillespie, Assistant to the Bishop/Director Connectional Ministries