Updated Conference Ministry Guidance for COVID-19 Restrictions

February 23, 2021COVID-19, Featured

Pastors and Leaders,

We hope and pray that you are well. Over the past year you have been asked to do many new things including making difficult decisions to address situations we have never dealt with before, adapting to changing requirements for gathering, and learning how to lead in new settings. We want to thank you for your continued service and leadership as you continue to adapt to these changing contexts. We also want to encourage you to remember your calling and covenant to serve:

“Rooted in a deep love for Christ and sharing His compassion for people, Free Methodist elders help create congregations that are fervent in prayer, enthusiastic in worship, holy in lifestyle, insistent for justice, caring for the poor, and reaching out locally and globally to bring all people into relationship with Jesus Christ.” (Book of Discipline, ¶8400)

We take great pride in the numerous and unique ways our leadership has answered that call during this season.

Understanding Your Responsibility

We’re sure you are aware of the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down California’s restrictions on holding religious services indoors. It’s important to understand that this decision ignores both the recommendations of epidemiologists as well as the limits on free exercise expressed in long-standing Supreme Court precedent, especially where free expression has been shown to cause harm to adherents or the community at large. Because of these issues, the court was divided in its ruling, which allows the state to enforce portions of the statewide restrictions including singing and chanting and limiting attendance to 25% of capacity.

The current, enforceable restrictions are based on the California State Tier Status Guidance:

Widespread (Purple)

  • Indoor with modifications: 6 feet distance
  • No Singing or Chanting
  • Indoor Activities must be limited to 25% capacity

Substantial (Red)

  • Indoor with modifications: 6 feet distance
  • No Singing or Chanting
  • Indoor Activities must be limited to 25% capacity

Moderate (Orange)

  • Indoor with modifications: 6 feet distance
  • No Singing or Chanting
  • Indoor Activities must be limited to 50% capacity

Minimal (Yellow)

  • Indoor with modifications: 6 feet distance
  • No Singing or Chanting
  • Indoor Activities must be limited to 50% capacity

Please make sure to refer to the California “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” for up-to-date information about your area’s current restrictions.

Asking Hard Questions

Before you make the decision to return to indoor worship, we ask that your leadership enter into a time of prayerful reflection and discussion regarding these important questions:

  • Is indoor worship essential to our current mission?
  • Is moving indoors worth increasing the risk to our congregants?
  • Are we willing to prioritize the time and resources required to continue to meet the needs of those who cannot attend in person?
  • Would we answer those questions the same if we knew that someone contracted the virus from one of our services?

These questions can only be answered after prayerful consideration and discernment. We trust that each local ministry will take the time to find relevant answers that meet your community needs.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had three simple rules for Christian living: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.” Whatever your congregation decides, it’s vital to remember that the Christian life isn’t about “individual rights” but should instead be focused on what God has called us to do for those entrusted to our care.

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact our communities for many years to come. We have great hope that the vaccine campaign currently underway will be quick and effective, but even with an ideal rollout we will not be returning immediately to, “the way it was”. Not everyone will be comfortable returning to public worship indoors or outdoors. This means that for the foreseeable future we will continue in some form of hybrid simultaneous in-person and online worship.

Our Call Remains the Same

Whether in-person indoors, in-person outdoors, remote, or any hybrid of those, our call has not changed…

“create congregations that are fervent in prayer, enthusiastic in worship, holy in lifestyle, insistent for justice, caring for the poor, and reaching out locally and globally to bring all people into relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Local Leaders, please take that into consideration as you pray into these decisions understanding that, whatever you decide, there will be an increased workload for your pastors and leaders. Pastors, please continue to pray for the Lord’s direction. And for all leaders – we want you to know that our doors are open and we encourage you to contact us as you seek guidance.

We are continually encouraged and thankful for each of you as you endeavor to live out that call.

FMCSC Superintendent Team,
Charles Latchison, Glen Prior, Fraser Venter