Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, released this statement regarding the latest guidance in response to the coronavirus pandemic in our state:
My friends, I have been awed by the creative ways the churches of the South Carolina Conference have responded to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The remarkable work you are doing in service to your congregations and your communities and your outside-the-box approaches to ministry illustrate both your commitment to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and your care for one another.
Each of these innovations shows that South Carolina United Methodists understand the importance of continuing to do our part to tamp down the spread of COVID-19.
After consulting with The Cabinet, and in light of the latest information shared by public health officials, I am strongly recommending that leaders of each local church continue to suspend in-person worship services and all gatherings, meetings and events, through April 30, 2020. Recommendations about events planned for May will be communicated in the coming weeks.
My heart aches at the notion of not coming together to celebrate the seminal moment of our Christian faith – the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Though our celebration of Easter Sunday will look different this year, we are assured that God’s presence will be made known to all in real and tangible ways as we rejoice in our risen Savior, in whom victory over death is achieved.
Sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion has always been a central act of Christian community. It is the meal that marks the members of the Body of Christ. Questions have been raised about sharing in this holy meal during these days when we cannot meet together physically.
“This Holy Mystery” is the United Methodist document that explains communion. It says, “Holy Communion is the communion of the church – the gathered community of the faithful, both local and universal. While deeply meaningful to the individuals participating, the sacrament is much more than a personal event. The first-person pronouns throughout the ritual are consistently plural – we, us, our. First Corinthians 10:17 explains that ‘because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’”
Communion is an act that we all take part in together – as part of the gathered Christian body. During communion, we share food – both spiritual and physical. COVID-19 can be passed from one person to another even before either person shows any signs of illness. This makes the intimate contact involved in the sharing of food and blessings inherently risky.
Because of the theological nature of communion as something that the body of believers does together in the sharing of one loaf, and because of the practical dangers currently involved in close physical contact, it is strongly recommended that we should not take part in communion until it is safe for us to all come together again to worship as one body.
We must take care to do no harm to each other, even as we assume our shared responsibility to do all we can to bring this new disease under control. I invite all South Carolina United Methodists to a season of prayer and preparation, so that on the day we can once again share in this holy mystery, we may come with joyful hearts.
Please remember that ongoing and new forms of ministry only happen through members who faithfully participate in the life of their local congregation through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Please continue your participation in whatever ways you safely can.
I am confident that the clergy and laity of our churches will persevere in finding ways to remain in community with our sisters and brothers in Christ this month. You can find an ever-growing collection of resources to help local churches continue in ministry through this turbulent time at umcsc.org/coronavirus.
I also invite you to join me in a video prayer each morning on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and at umcsc.org. Pray without ceasing for those affected by this illness, for those experiencing stress and anxiety, for those facing financial uncertainty, for the medical professionals treating and caring for patients, and for those working to ensure a healthier future for all of us.
Grace and peace,
L. Jonathan Holston