Bishop Mueller and the Arkansas Conference Temporarily Suspend Conference Tithing to Aid Local Churches

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (March 20, 2020) – The impact of coronavirus has not only affected the ability of churches to gather together for Sunday worship and Bible study, but it has also put a strain on the money needed to operate our church buildings from week-to-week. That is why the Arkansas Conference announced today that, starting on March 22, a Month of Jubilee will take effect for the next four Sundays where churches will not be required to tithe on any income that they receive during this four-week-period.

The idea behind calling it a Month of Jubilee comes from Leviticus 25:8-12. In Leviticus, The Year of Jubilee began when the trumpet sounded on the Day of Atonement, every 50th year. During this special celebration, all persons were released from their debt and land that had been taken from them was restored once more.

This decision, initiated by Bishop Mueller and made in conjunction with the Arkansas Conference Council on Finance and Administration and the Center for Administrative Services, will relieve the stress placed on churches during this uncertain time.

“We are taking this step of faith because we understand the extreme financial pressure COVID-19 is placing upon local congregations and your ministry. The cessation of the tithe for four weeks is a tangible expression of our belief that ministry begins with the local church and the Annual Conference’s role is to support congregations in every way we can,” said Bishop Mueller. “I am grateful to the Arkansas Conference Council on Finance and Administration; Brittany Watson, President of CFA; and Todd Burris, Director of the Center for Administrative Services, for their leadership in enacting this bold initiative. Working together, the churches of the Arkansas Conference can flourish in proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ during these difficult days and weeks.”

Todd Burris, the Director of the Center for Administrative Services, said that when Bishop Mueller asked him to work on this project, he immediately got to work with CFA to figure out how they were going to do this.

“Over the past year, the national conversation surrounding the United Methodist Church has been about division. This past week we’ve put our differences aside and focused on the health of each other and our Church,” Burris said. “It has been refreshing to see so many of us united in faith and action to help our churches and communities weather this crisis.”

For more information, please contact Todd Burris at tburris@arumc.org or by phone.

Thinking Ahead: Getting Creative for Your Easter Service

Thinking Ahead: Getting Creative for Your Easter Service

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

“Will we be able to hold Easter Worship in our sanctuary and, if we can’t, what can we do?” This is a question laity and pastors are asking all over Arkansas. Bishop Mueller and the Cabinet believe it is important to recognize that it is highly likely that no congregations will be able to gather together for in-person worship before the beginning of May at the earliest.

Since Easter is coming up quickly — Sunday, April 12 — it’s important to be proactive about the creative ways in which we can celebrate Easter this season rather than be reactive to all the unknowns we face.

So here are a few ways that you can remain together during Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Christ with the ones you love.

Livestream/Video Your Message

We have been talking a lot about livestreaming recently, and many of you had your first experience with a live-streamed worship service this past Sunday. And we keep talking about it because it’s such a great tool, especially with our current limits on worshiping together in-person. For Easter this year, consider livestreaming your service in the same way that you’ve been livestreaming your Sunday services. And if you can’t livestream, pre-record your sermon and post it online (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.) For more on livestreaming, check out our Communications webinar from Tuesday, which will be uploaded here very soon.

Connect with Local Media

Despite our current social distancing rules, your local media is still hard at work bringing you the news each day. That means radio stations and TV networks are still available to reach out to and ask about broadcasting your Easter service in your local area. Find out which stations broadcast in your area, and reach out to them to see if they would be willing to work with you and send out an Easter message to your community.

Record an Audio-Only Sermon/Podcast

If you don’t have a way to video your sermons, but you have a microphone and a recording device available, then consider recording your Easter sermon in an audio-only format. There are lots of free websites where you can upload your audio files for your congregation to hear, such as SoundCloud, Anchor, and even YouTube. You can also consider starting a podcast for your church, and uploading your audio sermons to one of the many podcast hosting services available online.

Hold Your Easter Service at a Later Date

In The United Methodist Church, we recognize Easter as the day where we celebrate the risen Christ at the end of the 40-day Lenten season. But have you ever wondered why the date for Easter changes from year to year? According to Ask the UMC, “In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea set the date for the celebration of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. For this reason, the date will change each year and can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25.” Although this has been the traditional understanding of Easter for hundreds of years, there are no rules that say you can’t hold your Easter service days, weeks, or even months later. Consider postponing your Easter service until the current regulations of social distancing have eased.

For all information regarding the Arkansas Conference’s response to COVID-19, visit our resource page below.

General Conference Postponed Over COVID-19 ConcernsMeeting Will Move to 2021

General Conference Postponed Over COVID-19 Concerns
Meeting Will Move to 2021

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

This story was updated on March 23, 2020 to reflect the announcement that General Conference will be rescheduled to 2021.

The Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference has announced that General Conference 2020, previously scheduled for May 5 – 15 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will no longer occur as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Executive Committee was notified by the Minneapolis Convention Center that events taking place through May 10, 2020 will be restricted, following recommendations made by the Minnesota Department of Health, the governor of Minnesota and the mayor of Minneapolis.

Current recommendations in Minnesota are that events with 50 or more people either be postponed or canceled.

The General Conference is a quadrennial event that brings together delegates from not only the United States of America but from countries in Africa, Europe, and Asia as well. More than 43% of delegates are from outside of the United States.

This year’s General Conference will bring together 862 delegates from all over the world, as well as communicators, bishops, venue staff, and spectators, bringing the total in attendance to well over 1,000 individuals.

The Commission met by teleconference on March 21 to discuss plans for the event, including setting new dates for the General Conference. In a press release sent on March 23, the Commission determined that General Conference will not meet in 2020, and will instead work with the Minneapolis Convention Center to determine a rescheduled date in 2021.

“Because it is important for people to be safe and to make sure that all delegates from around the world can participate, I am grateful the decision has been made to postpone General Conference,” said Bishop Mueller of the Arkansas Conference. “I hope that all Arkansas United Methodists will continue to demonstrate a spirit of unity we are experiencing during this pandemic as we walk into the future.”

The Rev. Mark Norman, Southeast District Superintendent and Lead Clergy Delegate of the Arkansas Delegation, shared his own relief at the decision to postpone General Conference, and offered a word of advice for how United Methodists should continue forward following this announcement.

“With this global pandemic we have to make the safety and health of the entire General Conference a priority. My concern is how we will move forward as denomination. On one hand it is a good thing to have more time to have fruitful conversations. On the other hand if we fill this extra time being mean and rude to one another, we destroy our witness in the world! I have truly loved the recent creativity and passion of Arkansas United Methodists. Let’s use our energy serving our neighbors and sharing the gospel beyond the walls of our churches!

For more information regarding General Conference 2020, please check the General Conference page on our website at arumc.org/gc2020. We will also be updating our social media with any breaking news regarding General Conference 2020.

The Commission’s press release can be read here: www.umc.org/en/content/united-methodist-general-conference-to-be-postponed

The March 23 press release can be read here: https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/general-conference-to-move-to-2021

Recommended Practices for Protecting You and Your Community from COVID-19

Recommended Practices for Protecting You and Your Community from COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our communities, we want to make sure clergy, laity and all leaders of churches are prepared for a potential outbreak.

Local Church Leaders: Plan & Prepare

Below are guidelines for faith leaders, found on the CDC’s website, that will better prepare you to make important decisions for your congregation and your community.

  • Update your emergency operations plan with the help of your local public health department, emergency operations coordinator or planning team, and other relevant partners to include COVID-19 planning.
  • Identify space that can be used to separate sick people if needed.
  • Develop an emergency communication plan for distributing timely and accurate information to workers and those you serve.
  • Identify actions to take if you need to temporarily postpone or cancel events, programs, and services, especially for groups at greater risk such as older adults or people with chronic health conditions.
  • Promote the practice of everyday preventative actions.
    • Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.
    • Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.
    • Stay home when sick.
  • Provide COVID-19 prevention supplies at your organization (e.g., soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash baskets, and a couple of disposable facemasks, just in case someone becomes sick during an event).
  • Plan for staff absences by developing flexible attendance and sick-leave policies, plan for alternative coverage and monitor and track COVID-19 related staff absences.
  • Engage with stigmatized groups and speak out against negative behaviors to help counter stigma and discrimination.

Important Steps for Everyone to Take (If COVID-19 is in your community)

  • Stay informed about local COVID-19 information and updates.
  • Put your emergency operations and communication plans into action.
  • Communicate with your community members if events and services are changed, postponed, or canceled.
  • Emphasize everyday preventive actions through intensified communications with employees and visitors to your organization.
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Limit close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet).
  • During an event, if someone becomes sick separate them into an isolated room and ask them to leave as soon as possible.

*All information gathered from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

For up-to-date information regarding what you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit the Center for Disease Control & Prevention website at www.cdc.gov. Tips for faith and community leaders can be found here www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/index.html.

For Little Rock Residents: Please continue to check the City of Little Rock’s website at www.littlerock.gov/city-administration/mayors-office/covid-19-information/

  • The City of Little Rock is implementing a curfew, beginning Wednesday, March 18. The curfew will be from 12 a.m. – 5 a.m. (this excludes overnight workers)
  • Gatherings of more than 50 people are also postponed until further notice, following new guidelines from the CDC.

We will continue to update this post as new information from federal, state, and local governments becomes available.

The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Have you ever prepared for a presentation, planning out your key points, creating a PowerPoint, memorizing your wording exactly, and then the day of the event completely scrap your entire plan and just wing it?

That’s pretty much what I did a few weeks ago. My mom had asked me and my older brother to speak to her class at Crossett High School for career day. It was mostly a “here’s what I did with my life and make sure you go to college, kids!” kind of presentation.

If you know me, you know that speaking in front of large groups of people is by far one of the most uncomfortable things for me to do. After all, that’s why I went into print journalism instead of TV journalism.

But because it was my mom who asked me (and I know better than to say no to a request from my mother) and because I love my job, I agreed to do it.

So I spent the last month — yes, month because I am somebody who overthinks and overprepares for everything — looking back over my portfolio of writing materials and planning out exactly what I was going to say to these kids.

I had a full list, full of bullet points about what my entire educational experience, every job I worked, all the articles I had written, the exact things I was going to say, when I was going to say it, etc.

But, as I said at the beginning, the day of the presentation, something happened and I completely scrapped my PowerPoint and my talking points.

I was reminded that I usually do my best writing when I put my fingers to the keyboard and let the words flow out, so I did that with my speech as well.

I still hit all of the points I wanted to, but instead of reading accomplishments off of a script like a robot, I talked to the kids and asked them questions and connected with them in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to with a planned out script.

Many of the kids couldn’t care less about what I had to say, of course, but I could tell that some of them were really hearing me and contemplating my words. And maybe I convinced a few of them to pursue a career in communications!

One of the things I learned about this experience is that you can’t plan for everything, and sometimes you’ll do better by not preparing and just letting things happen as they will.

Our Church is kind of like that now. There are all of these groups working on plans and hammering out legislation and advocating for their causes, in the hopes that their plans will come to fruition and everything they hoped for will work out in the end.

But like with my speech on career day, things don’t always follow a script or a formula. We don’t know what will happen. As much as we plan, we can’t plan for everything.

As the saying goes, “the best-laid plains of mice and men often go awry.”

We’re only a few months away from General Conference 2020 and at the end of it, there will be people who get their way and people who don’t.

I don’t know that the legislation submitted at the beginning of the General Conference will be the same legislation we end with. Everything could change between May 5 -15.

But maybe we’ll be better off if we get away from the planning for a bit, let the Holy Spirit come in and give us hearts of peace and compassion, and just wing it.

I hope and pray that something better and fairer and more compassionate and more loving comes out of it than anything we’ve planned so far.