Bishop Park on Pentecost and Open Churches
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your old people will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.“
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Susquehanna Conference,
Grace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, Healer of our Brokenness, and Hope of the World!
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your diligence in following the safety guidelines and protocols offered by the conference, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, the Department of Health, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By taking the utmost precautions to minimize COVID-19 transmission, you have put the safety and health of all of God’s people above all else. I am sure that your wisdom and compassion have prevented many from infection of this deadly virus. In this time of uncertainty, fear, and frustration, you continue to practice John Wesley’s first rule: Do no harm.
Let’s be reminded that the church is people, not the building. Knowing so many of our people are among the most vulnerable, I commend pastors and congregational leaders who are planning to reopen their church buildings for in-person worship and gatherings once in the green phase; and those who are choosing to practice high standards of safety protocols beyond the government’s directives in yellow or green phases.
Let’s also be reminded that the United Methodist congregations in the Susquehanna Conference have never been closed. We are being the church in new ways! Indeed, during this pandemic, the mighty wind of God’s Spirit has been blowing in new and transforming ways. Because you have been open to this movement of innovation and ingenuity with faithfulness and commitment, God is using you to reach new people, while keeping our people in close contact and care. Because of your creativity and passion for the Good News of Jesus Christ, you and your congregations are finding new ways to invite others into Christian discipleship. Because you’ve taken the time to learn new internet communication platforms, more people are hearing the Gospel proclaimed. Because of your continued offerings of essential ministries, you are showing that God’s loving-kindness and caring presence cannot be contained. Thanks be to God for you!
In less than a week we will join with Christians around the world in celebrating the Day of Pentecost, the birth of the Church. When the Holy Spirit descended on that day, disciples were transformed to be living witnesses of the life-changing, community-redeeming, and world-transforming power of the Good News of God. They began to proclaim and live the realm of God that Jesus frequently described—a very different world than the people had known. The mighty wind of the Spirit moved God’s people in new and dynamic ways to be the witnesses of the living presence of Christ and the Kingdom.
My beloved sisters and brothers, we must continue pursuing new ways to share the Gospel and minister while making sure that we keep our congregations and God’s people safe. Until we have a vaccine and COVID-19 is under control, we must continue to follow the guidelines and protocols of the conference, governor’s office, the Department of Health, and the CDC. By this we submit to Jesus’s teaching to put other’s needs ahead of our desires.
We continue to pray for the hurting world. There are so many who are suffering and grieving. Our hearts break to see, as of this morning, the grim statistics showing that the world has lost almost 350,000 lives with over 5.5 million infections, while our nation has lost almost 100,000 lives with over 1.6 million infections. Let’s pray for those who are selflessly and sacrificially giving themselves to save and serve lives in dire need. Let’s intensify our prayers for medical scientists as we pray for health-care workers. They are working tirelessly to care for us and develop drugs and vaccines to protect us from this virus.
Our United Methodist heritage reminds us that science and faith are not at odds with each other. John Wesley’s writings and personal commitments show that he knew that the living and healing presence of God is revealed in both, and the critical importance that both play in our lives. By God’s grace, prayer, the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the tireless work of scientists will lead to a vaccine and effective medications.
Bishop Ernest Lyght, who is retired from the Northeastern Jurisdiction, has written a pertinent and meaningful prayer that especially resonates with me for such a time as this. With deep gratitude to him, I have attached it at the end of this letter. Please share it with others so that Susquehanna Conference United Methodists may pray it together.
As we prepare to celebrate the Pentecostal coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian church, let us continue to keep hope alive through prayer and faithfulness. With patience we will persevere, knowing that God accompanies us and will provide healing and renewal.