Following this afternoon's press conference by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in which he declared a state of emergency, Bishop Easterling is directing all United Methodist churches in the state of Maryland to not gather in their church buildings for two weeks; for conference camps and archives to close, and for the Mission Center building to close. Conference Center staff will work remotely.
Bishop Easterling also encourages churches in West Virginia to make safety and their congregants' well-being a top priority. Please maintain appropriate personal space, and be alert to any announcements by state officials.
United Methodists throughout the conference should be checking on their neighbors and offering pastoral care to those in need whom they encounter.
To the leaders of the churches of the Baltimore-Washington Conference:
As the community of faith, we are called to practice wise and nimble leadership as we address the challenges created by COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. Within the last 24 hours, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This pandemic calls upon each of us to make choices to protect those in our congregations and communities.
As faith leaders, we must particularly safeguard those we shepherd who are vulnerable, including children, those over the age of 60, and those who suffer with chronic health conditions. The decisions we make and the actions we take in these moments could have consequences well beyond our sanctuaries.
We know that the Baltimore-Washington Conference covers a large geographic area, with differing levels of risk and contagion. Therefore, a blanket policy for the entire conference would not be the best approach.
The governor of the state of Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, has declared a state of emergency, as has the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser. These leaders, along with the DC Department of Health recommend the cessation of large gatherings. In light of these developments, I am requesting that our churches within the District of Columbia refrain from gathering for worship in their buildings for the next two weeks.
For those in other regions of our conference, I am asking that you intentionally and prayerfully discern how you might best address worship in your context. Some churches in our conference are providing live-streaming, or using Zoom (to allow people without robust technology to phone in) to broadcast worship. This alternative allows us to continue worshiping together while also being responsible citizens. I trust that each of you will remain well-informed and will make sound decisions based on the situation as it unfolds in your geographic area.
I would urge you to consider that not everyone in your community is able or willing to make the best or most prudent decisions in regard to this pandemic. In light of this, I hope you, as a leader, will take on the task of caring for the welfare and health of the entire body.
I know that these are difficult decisions. We will continue to monitor the situation and make updated recommendations based upon the best information available at the time. We are working with experts in this area to inform our discernment and policy-making. You have my support and my prayers in the days and weeks ahead. I ask you to pray for one another and for all those who might be sick or in peril.
As United Methodists, we know how to connect as one in times of trouble and crisis. We know how to lean on God and one another, and we know how to rise as powerful witnesses to take bold action on behalf of all of God's people. Together, let us take the steps and do all we can to address the spread of the virus, with the assurance that perfect love casts out all fear.
Blessings and peace,
Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling