January 12, 2021

Dear New McKendree Family,

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 was a strange, tragic, and challenging year.  And, although generally an optimistic, “glass half full” person, I’m not blind to the reality that, in many ways, 2021 has picked up right where 2020 left off.  We’re still dealing with the COVID pandemic and our national climate seems to be growing more caustic by the day.  None of that should really surprise us though.  On the night he was arrested, Jesus warned his disciples (and us) that “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows,” and then in the same breath said, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  When I think about Jesus’ warning/promise in light of our current situation, it seems to me that we as a church family have a choice.  We can choose to focus on our world’s many trials and sorrows.  In other words, join in with the bitter finger-pointing, blame game crowd.  Or, we can choose to focus on the solution; our Savior who overcomes our world’s many trials and sorrows.  My prayer is that we’ll continue to choose the latter; that we’ll rise above the caustic rhetoric, stay the course, and simply be the church…the courageous reflectors of Christ’s light and love.  After all, just being the church served us well in 2020 and will continue to serve us well in the New Year ahead. 

If you’re wondering what simply being the church looks like, allow me to offer a few examples from our 2020 “being the church in a pandemic” archives:

  • ~   In July we launched our Care Portal ministry.  To date, our 56 NMUMC Care Portal volunteers have served 40 Jackson families in need; a $8,940 financial impact. 
  • ~   During the height of the pandemic, our United Methodist Women made seven trips to the SEMO Food Bank and packed a total of 3,087 food boxes for distribution throughout Southeast Missouri.  
  • ~   Our NMUMC family hosted three mobile food pantries which serve over 500 Southeast Missouri families.
  • ~   As part of our church family’s partnership with the JR2 School District, our participation in last year’s “Hope for Christmas” served 71 JR2 families.
  • ~   During our October Coat Drive, our NMUMC family generously provided over 100 coats to our JR2 counselors and social workers for distribution to students in need.
  • ~   Thanks to your ongoing financial support, NMUMC paid 100% of its 2020 Conference and District apportionments.
  • ~   In July we began live streaming our South Campus worship service and, in October, a video recording of our High Street Sunday service.  In spite of the pandemic’s constraints on in-person worship, our video worship ministry has provided us a fruitful worship alternative that reaches far beyond our Jackson community. 

Those are just a few examples of us choosing to be the church even in the midst of 2020’s “many trials and sorrows.”  But, the most courageous example of all is our church’s willingness to accept the challenge of hosting Breaking Bonds Ministry.  While it would’ve been easy and safe to simply hunker down and hold on until the COVID storm passes, our New McKendree family is courageously stepping out in faith to take on something new; an addiction recovery ministry.  Lord willing, our NMUMC Breaking Bonds Ministry will be up and running in February.  God has blessed us and is using us to bless others in some new and exciting ways.  That’s what it means to “be the church” in a world of trials and sorrows! 

God only knows what 2021 holds, but whatever “trials and sorrows” the world throws at us, we’ll keep on focusing on the One who overcomes the world and faithfully be the church in spite of it.  Remember…God’s got this, so keep on looking up, and keep on loving and caring for one another!   

Your brother in Christ,

Pastor Bryan Wendling

Bishop Bob Farr

November 18, 2020

Dear Missouri Conference Clergy and Laity,
As we live into our first General Rule of doing no harm, I strongly encourage that in-person worship services be suspended until further notice for congregations located in counties with a critical status related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I fully recognize that this means worshipping physically apart from one another during the Thanksgiving and Advent seasons, including Christmas Eve and other large group gatherings. I believe this is the most responsible action at this time to preserve the health and wellbeing of our laity, clergy and neighbors.
Sadly, there are very few counties in the state of Missouri that are not showing a significant increase in cases and positivity rates. Our smaller, local hospitals are stressed and causing even further strain on our larger hospitals as rural patients are directed to the major hospitals for critical care.
We encourage you to look at the positivity rate for the past seven days for your county (i.e., jurisdiction). When the COVID-19 percent-positive rate is high in your area, the chance that you will run into someone with the virus at the grocery store or at Sunday morning worship, is much higher than if the rate is low in your area. Unfortunately, there is no uniform percent positive number at which things shut down or re-open. Many Missouri schools use a percent positive of 15-20% for decision-making. Missouri has a state-wide positivity rate of 24.4% at the time of this writing with many of our counties having a much, much higher rate.
Check out your county’s positivity rate by visiting: https://showmestrong.mo.gov/public-health-county/. Be sure to click on “positivity rate.” Missouri’s COVID-19 dashboard uses a red/orange/green system to flag if your county is in a critical or dangerous status.
Most of Missouri is now in the critical and danger statuses for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization increases and deaths. Our Church, too, has been touched by the virus. Many of our laity have contracted and succumbed to this disease. One active pastor and a young lay person on a church staff has died. We currently have clergy hospitalized due to the illness and each week more pastors or their families receive a positive diagnosis. We cannot afford to have more of our leaders get ill and possibly die.

If you must meet in-person for any type of gathering from public worship to staff meetings to small groups, I am requiring that all United Methodists on all United Methodist property do the following minimum procedures to ensure the safety of all people.

  • Masks are to be worn by everyone apart from children 2 years and younger.
  • Strict physical distancing of 6 feet between family units should be observed.
  • Gathering spaces are not to exceed 25% occupancy.
  • The gathering space must be sanitized between services held on the same day. 

We are living in difficult and uncertain times. I am aware that our Thanksgiving tables will be filled with uncertainties and the absence of loved ones because of the pandemic. I am aware that this Advent and Christmas season will be difficult for individuals, families, and our communities. But we are a people of relentless hope in God in times of despair. Do not waver in your faith in the promise of Jesus.
Just because we cannot gather for worship within our church walls in this season like we have in the past, does not mean we cannot worship. Throughout the past nine months, you have demonstrated creativity and perseverance through meaningful online worship, joy-filled outdoor services, and innovative plans to help our people worship in their homes. Continue to listen to the Holy Spirit guiding you toward new ways of connecting with God and one another.
With more than 1,100 coronavirus-related deaths happening on average each day in our nation, I offer my prayers for those who have died, those who are sick, those who have recovered and the front-line workers seeking to heal those who are ill and suffering. Please join me in praying for those who are working to ensure an effective vaccine is widely available sometime in 2021.
Know that you are always in my thoughts and prayers during this Advent season of watching and waiting. Stay faithful. Listen to the experts. Do your best. We will get through this together.

In Christ,
Bishop Robert Farr
Resident Bishop
The Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church