A Letter from Bishop Gary Mueller Providing Guidance to Churches

May 6, 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

It is a challenging task to issue guidance for the vast array of diversity found in the congregations and members of the Arkansas Annual Conference, especially when some of you are ready to reopen immediately while others want to wait until late summer. However, this challenge pales in comparison to the task pastors and church leaders face as you make decisions about reopening your church that will impact the well-being and health of others.

I am offering the following guidance based on Governor Hutchinson’s May 4 guidelines, The Bishop’s Task Force on the Safe Reopening of Churches and the Cabinet, as well as CDC guidelines, State Department of Health guidelines, conversations with a number of pastors and laity, and a great deal of prayer. I reserve the right to change this guidance if the situation warrants.

  1. Churches should use the next few weeks to plan and carefully prepare before you take any actual steps to reopen. There’s an old saying, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Take time to develop a plan for your church, obtain necessary safety and cleaning supplies, and talk with the members of your congregation about their feelings and needs. Caution on the front end will make a significant positive difference for the long term. 
  2. Churches must not make decisions about how and when you reopen based on the faulty assumption that the worst of Covid-19 is over and everything can now quickly return to normal. The coronavirus can – and will – surge again if we are not vigilant about following guidance from experts concerning how and when to reopen. Quite frankly, it is still a dangerous time. Governor Hutchinson recently extended the state of emergency in Arkansas for 45 additional days. Medical modeling from the past couple of days has dramatically increased the expected number of cases and deaths from predictions issued just a few days ago. Perhaps most alarmingly, more and more people are ignoring the very health and safety practices that successfully contributed to the “flattening of the curve”.
  3. Churches need to utilize the deep resources of the Christian faith as you decide how and when your church will reopen. This ‘extra step’ is essential for Christians and quite probably will result in a different decision than you might make without this step. Jesus’ command to love God and your neighbor as yourself, John Wesley’s First General Rule to “Do no harm,” and Jesus’ admonition that whatever we do to “the least of these we do to him” challenge you to consider the impact of your decisions on others, especially children, those who have underlying medical conditions those over 65.
  4. Your church must understand that Governor Hutchinson’s May 4, 2020 guidance for reopening places of worship does not give churches a green light to open immediately with no restrictions. The Governor’s guidance should be treated as a directive as you plan for the safe phased reopening of your church. It is highly restrictive and focuses on concrete benchmarks that must be in place as churches begin the reopening process:  
    • online platform strongly encouraged
    • signs displayed to advise no entry if recent fever, symptoms or contact with positive patient
    • 6-ft. physical distancing except for family groups
    • face coverings should be provided and worn at all times inside by everyone over 10 years old
    • worship leaders addressing congregation & performing singers may take off face masks while speaking or singing
    • 12-ft. physical distance required at these times
    • hand sanitizing stations at entrances
    • ”meet and greet” times moved outside as possible
    • refreshments offered outdoors only
    • lines for entry/exit monitored for distancing
    • no physical contact
    • eliminate use of items touched by multiple people, like collections plates/shared books
    • refrain from having people come forward to common altar rail for holy communion, blessing, etc.
    • no classes for youth or child care
    • sanitize common areas

    Churches need to be aware that the Arkansas Department of Health has the right to intervene if your church reopens and is not employing recommended health and safety procedures issued by the Governor.

  5. Churches that cannot fully implement the Governor’s guidance must not reopen.  If at any time there is a reported case of COVID-19 in your church, you must immediately close until the proper safety steps have been taken.
  6. Churches must consider issues of liability in reopening. It is essential to contact your insurance company and Board of Trustees prior to reopening in order to address potential liability risks your church may face.
  7. Churches are strongly urged to use the following dates and stages to safely reopen. This recommended schedule 1) gives your church adequate time to plan and obtain PPE and appropriate sanitation supplies; 2) allows for the gathering of data concerning the impact on the number of cases and deaths from states opening at a faster pace than Arkansas; and 3) enables you to implement your church’s plan in steps that will allow you to learn and adapt.
    • Continuing: No churches should hold in-person indoor activities through at least May 17.
    • Continuing: Churches should continue streaming worship and other activities online.
    • Continuing: Churches can continue drive-in worship and drive-through communion utilizing previous guidance.
    • Effective immediately: Churches can conduct small outdoor study groups or Bible Studies of 10 or fewer people if CDC, State Department of Health and the Governor’s guidance issued May 4 are strictly enforced.
    • May 31: Stage 1 begins for groups of 10 or fewer persons for in-person events if CDC, State Department of Health and the Governor’s guidance issued May 4 are strictly enforced.
    • Mid-June: It is anticipated that Stage 2 for groups of 50 or fewer persons for in-person events if CDC, State Department of Health and the Governor’s latest issued guidance.
  8. Churches should do everything reasonably possible to keep track of individuals by date who attend any in-person church event as your church reopens so the information can be provided to the State Department of Health should anyone who has attended an event test positive for COVID-19.
  9. Churches must be fully aware of the potentially tragic consequences to people in your families, congregation and community if your church opens without fully implementing the Governor’s May 4 guidance. The premature reopening of churches without implementing the recommended guidelines will have a direct impact on the health and well-being of people you know and love. Wishful thinking and best intentions are not enough to keep people alive.
  10. Churches should continue to utilize the guidance document produced by the Arkansas Annual Conference: “Arkansas Annual Conference Guidance: The Safe Reopening of Churches In Response to COVID-19”. Please check this link regularly as it will be updated. 

You have important and weighty decisions to make in the upcoming weeks about when and how to reopen. I hope you will remember four things as you move through these days. First, I love you. Second, I respect you and know you will make the best possible decision. Third, I will be praying for you. And, fourth, we are not striving just to go back to our old normal – we want to seize this opportunity to embrace Jesus’ new normal.

God bless you.

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller
Bishop

Arkansas Conference Distributes Grant Monies for Communications in Partnership with the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas

Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Arkansas, many churches moved to an online or limited in-person format to continue worshiping together and sharing the message of Jesus Christ. To assist with this effort, the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas generously gave a grant to Arkansas United Methodist Churches with the intention of keeping congregations connected during the outbreak. With this grant, the Conference was able to provide 52 charges with 6 months of Zoom Pro, 22 charges with funds for printed materials and postage, 14 charges with funds for mileage, and 56 charges with Mevo cameras; for a total of over $30,000 in funds distributed across the state. “We are excited to see we received the Mevo grant and look forward to seeing how to utilize this new tool for ministry,” said Rev. Allen Crum of White Hall UMC, one of the recipients of the grant. We are incredibly thankful for the Foundation’s gift and their dedication to supporting local churches across the state of Arkansas in these times.

ARUMC Reschedules District, Annual Conferences to Online Zoom Meetings

ARUMC Reschedules District, Annual Conferences to Online Zoom Meetings

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (April 24, 2020) – In an effort to ensure the health and safety of voting members and visitors to the 2020 Arkansas Annual Conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference has made the decision to reschedule the May 27 – 30 gathering in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and move the business of the conference to an online Zoom meeting.

Bishop Gary Mueller commented, “Although Annual Conference has always been about being together, I am grateful for technology and our conference staff that are enabling us to adapt in a difficult season so we can still connect and carry out the essential business of the Arkansas Conference.”

In accordance with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’sExecutive Order #20-15, meetings such as Annual Conference via remote communication are allowed.

The rescheduled date for the Annual Conference business session will be Saturday, June 13 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. All clergy and lay voting members will be provided information to join the Zoom call, and guests will be able to view the meeting through a YouTube livestream.

This session will consist only of items deemed essential.

The Clergy Session will be held on Wednesday, May 27 beginning at 1:30 – 2 p.m. on Zoom. Participants who will need to participate in this meeting include all who would normally attend the clergy session.

Additionally, on May 27 from 2:15 – 4 p.m., clergy voting members will participate in the clergy voting session via Zoom. clergy in full connection, clergy with voting rights, those presented for commissioning and ordination, and Board of Ministry lay members.

All District Conferences have been rescheduled to Zoom meetings, which will take place between May 16 – 19 and will last approximately one hour each. The new District Conference dates are as follows:

  • Southeast District – Saturday, May 16, 10 a.m.
  • Southwest District – Sunday, May 17, 2 p.m.
  • Northeast District – Sunday, May 17, 4 p.m.
  • Northwest District – Monday, May 18, 6:30 p.m.
  • Central District – Tuesday, May 19, 6:30 p.m.

Participants for the District Conferences will include all district clergy; district laity who are members of Annual Conference by charge conference vote; district laity who are members re: Conference Standing Rules; and those selected to serve as lay-clergy equalization at-large members. The meetings will also be open to all guests for viewing through YouTube live stream.

In district sessions, the agenda will consist only of items that have been considered essential. For Lay equalization, due to the unique nature of circumstances, we will continue to use our current standing rules.

Those who may have trouble being part of the online sessions because of internet connectivity issues will be provided a place to participate in a safe manner consistent with current guidelines. Specific locations and safety precautions are being identified and will be announced soon.

To allow for in-person ordination, the Ordination Service has been rescheduled for Sunday, Aug. 30 beginning at 4:00 pm. A location has not yet been set, but plans are still in the works for the service to take place in a church setting.

For updated Annual Conference information, visit arumc.org/ac2020/.

Summer Event Cancellations in the ARUMC

Summer Event Cancellations in the ARUMC

As uncertainty about when the COVID-19 pandemic will subside persists, organizations and ministries from around the Arkansas Conference have made announcements that their summer activities have been canceled or postponed.

You can find a list of cancellations, along with official announcements from each organization, in the list below.

ACCYM Choir Tour, Jr & Sr High Assemblies

The ACCYM Choir Tour and Assembly task force’s met this past week and decided, based on recommendations from the local and national government and for the health of our participants. In the interest of keeping everyone safe and healthy, and loving one another the best we can, we sadly announce that Choir Tour and both Junior High and Senior High Assembly is canceled for the summer of 2020. This decision was made by the ARUMC with the health of all of our students and churches in mind.

A big shout to our task forces as they are still looking into options of providing an alternative virtual experience that would be free of charge for all participants. Please continue to watch your e-mail for updates on this virtual offering. Stay safe and healthy as we are all in this together!

Camp Tanako

Dear Tanako Family,

The Camp Tanako Board of Trustees has decided to cancel Overnight summer camp for the 2020 season. At this time, we are also canceling Day Camp in June. The Board will announce June 1 if Day Camp will open in July.

The decision to cancel came after prayerful consideration and in an effort to follow recommendations from the Governor and state health officials. Ultimately the safety of our campers and staff are what is most important. We will work with parents to refund deposits made for summer camp.

We hope to offer some type of programming in late summer. We are looking at hosting retreats for churches, children’s ministries, and youth groups as we feel community will be needed when we can gather again.

In May, we will begin Tanako Tales, a program that will bring all who love Tanako together once a week to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to reminisce on fond memories of camp.

Due to the camps being canceled, Tanako needs your support more than ever. We ask that all who are able, consider donating a onetime gift or becoming a sustaining donor. You may do so by visiting tanako.org/donate.

Until we meet again,

Kayla Hardage,
Executive Director

Mission U

From the Mission u National Office:

We are sorry to inform you that, due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our virtual Mission u training (planned for April 30-May 3 and May 27-30) and we are urging that every conference also cancel their own Mission u events.

After much prayer and discussion, the Mission u team and United Methodist Women senior leadership team agreed that it is too great a risk to gather in person this summer.

Ozark Mission Project

To the OMP family of volunteers and supporters,

We pray you and yours are safe and are successfully coping in these trying times.

(OMP) has been in mission for over 33 years in Arkansas transforming lives through worship, fellowship, and hands-on mission. It is more important than ever for OMP to serve our youth, college students, and neighbors during this time.

The COVID-19 crisis is continuing to evolve quickly, and we are making decisions that prioritize the health and safety of all our participants.

At this time, based on recommendations from local and national health officials and in consideration of the population we serve, the OMP Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to cancel our 2020 in-person summer camps.

We will be refunding all summer 2020 camper fees in full back to the participating churches and individual families as part of this decision.

We are heartbroken that we will not be working together side-by-side this summer, but we won’t let this virus stand in our way of spiritual growth. In efforts to continue supporting our youth at this time, a task force has been formed to reimagine how OMP can still be involved in transforming lives with our neighbors, campers, and volunteers this summer – just in a new way.

The task force and OMP staff are planning to provide a virtual alternative camp option during the normal weeks OMP would have taken place during the summer of 2020. The experience will be free of charge to all Y.OUth who have completed 4th through 12th grades. The weeks that will be offered are as follows:

Week 1: June 8-12

Week 2: June 22-26

Week 3: July 13-17

We will be putting an agenda and activities together between now and May 15, 2020 and will have more information to share with you soon. If you would like to be a part of this new vision for this summer, please contact Hanna French, Director of Programs and Communications, at hfrench@ozarkmissionproject.org.

We, as a ministry, are leading by faith and not by fear. This faith is what has led us to offer an alternative camp for free this summer, because we believe so strongly in the need for connection.

At this point our plan is to seek grants and use our existing reserves to pay for these camps. However, if you or your church would like to help by donating to the camps, that would be much appreciated. Please visit our website to make your contribution.

OMP is known for building wheelchair ramps-but the relationships that we build with one another is what keeps this ministry strong. Our organization has a history of demonstrating our flexibility and adaptability in implementing large changes for the benefit of all involved. We are confident, with God’s hands on this ministry, that we will continue to transform lives this summer.

We are grateful for what you have done and will do to make OMP thrive. While we cannot be in hands-on ministry this summer, we look forward to continuing to build relationships and can’t wait to work side-by­side with you to transform lives once again.

Peace in Christ,

Bailey Faulkner

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Prepares For Possible Surge In COVID-19 CasesTurns to innovative resources to protect Associates, providers and patients

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Prepares For Possible Surge In COVID-19 Cases
Turns to innovative resources to protect Associates, providers and patients

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare received a donation of N95 masks from the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church in preparation of an anticipated increase in COVID-19 activity. Credit: Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In the face of a public health crisis that is taxing the healthcare infrastructure across the country, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH) is implementing creative new solutions to protect both caregivers and patients. For weeks, the Supply Chain team at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has relentlessly pursued supplies that meet our high performance standards. As supplies from traditional sources become more difficult to acquire, Methodist Le Bonheur is turning to alternate sources to obtain the personal protection equipment needed for Associates, providers and patients as they continue to provide optimal care for patients.

MLH is collaborating with the local and state health departments to receive distributions from the Strategic National Stockpile allocated by the State of Tennessee and Shelby County Health Department. MLH has received separate distributions which included thousands of N95 masks, as well as gowns, surgical masks and face shields. MLH has also turned to its established internal disaster reserve inventory for personal protection equipment. MLH partnered with local companies outside of the healthcare industry to secure PPE, including those that have converted factories that typically produce carpet or other household goods and are instead producing the PPE needed for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle.

The hospital system is also using innovative methods to make sure our Associates are protected. The MLH clinical engineering team created a face shield prototype. It met the exacting standards of our infection prevention experts, and they are now producing 1,000 face shields a week. At Methodist Olive Branch, Associate and Registered Dietitian Mary Karen Dixon adapted a pattern to manufacture isolation gowns in-house out of plastic sheeting. Team members now create 150-250 personal isolation gowns per day. Upon learning of the initiative, Home Depot in Horn Lake donated all the plastic sheeting in the store to Methodist Olive Branch to make the gowns. At Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital, a team from the operating room is sewing an alternative to the N95 mask. This idea originated from the University of Florida Health’s Department of Anesthesiology. The masks are made by using Halyard 600 instrument wrap, which blocks 99% of particulates. The material is typically used to wrap and protect surgical instruments and can withstand hydrogen peroxide sterilization. This supply of masks will be stored for use in the event that our standard supply is not sufficient.

MLH has leveraged our relationships with United Methodist Church conferences to accept donations of personal protective equipment. The Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church donated N95 masks from their emergency flood kits. Revered Doctor Albert Mosley, MLH Senior V.P. & Chief Mission Integration Officer, drove more than 120 miles to Winona, MS to pick up that donation. He also drove to Little Rock to pick up N95 masks donated by the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. In addition, United Methodist Church volunteers sewed and donated 1,000 facemasks to be worn by MLH Associates in non-patient care positions so the supply of surgical masks could be used exclusively by Associates in patient-facing roles.

Over the past few weeks, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has received thousands of N95 masks, surgical masks and gloves through donations from businesses and individuals. “We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our neighbors in the Mid-South,” said Mosley.

“Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is doing everything in its power to apply the most up to date science to our clinical protocols and our PPE conservation practices in preparation for a patient surge. Our Supply Chain team has been working around the clock for weeks, employing ingenuity and persistence to secure the supplies and equipment we need to face the task at hand,” Michael Ugwueke, president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.

How to Help –

  • While MLH greatly appreciates the outpouring of kindness, some hospitals are being surprised with donations or are receiving donations that violate COVID-19 visitation policies.
  • If you would like to inquire about donating, please complete the online form: www.methodisthealth.org/communitygiving.

A member from the MLH team will be in touch with donors as soon as possible, patience is appreciated as responses may be delayed due to a high volume in donations. “With sincere gratitude, we would like to thank all of those who have already supported our work by making a generous donation of PPE, food or funds. Please know how much we deeply appreciate your support of our mission now more than ever,” said Ugwueke.

For an extensive list of donors please visit: www.methodisthealth.org/communitygiving.

About Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare
Based in Memphis, Tennessee, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH) has been caring for patients and families regardless of ability to pay for more than 100 years. Guided by roots in the United Methodist Church and founded in 1918 to help meet the growing need for quality healthcare in the great Memphis area, MLH has grown from one hospital into a comprehensive healthcare system with 13,000 Associates supporting six hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient facilities, hospice residence and physician practices serving communities across the Mid-South. From transplants and advanced heart procedures to expert neurology services and compassionate cancer care, MLH offers clinical expertise with a focus on improving every life we touch.

Arkansas United Methodist Bishop Gary Mueller Named to Governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media contact: Amy Ezell
amy.ezell@arumc.org
501-324-8030, 870-761-1580

(APRIL 18, 2020: LITTLE ROCK, AR) – Today, Governor Asa Hutchinson named Bishop Gary Mueller to the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force that will provide guidance for opening the state of Arkansas following the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The state task force is made up of 27 individuals that represent industry, small businesses, outdoor recreation and sports, agriculture and other groups. Stuart Walton will serve as the Task Force’s Chair.

Bishop Gary Mueller has served in the Arkansas office of episcopacy since July of 2012. He is a graduate from Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and has served churches since 1978.

As an elected United Methodist bishop, Mueller is responsible for guarding the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline of the Church. He is to lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service to the world. As a Bishop, Mueller is called to be a prophetic voice and courageous leader in the cause of justice for all people.

There are currently 630 United Methodist Churches in Arkansas.

Mueller is a trustee for Hendrix College and Philander Smith College; serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, is Vice-President of the General Commission of United Methodist Men; is on the Board of Directors for Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare and the Methodist Foundation of Arkansas; and is a member of the South Central Jurisdiction Mission Council.

“I am grateful for Governor Hutchinson’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am honored to serve the state of Arkansas in creating a plan that helps Arkansas recover economically and safely, to benefit our people as a whole. As always, all who are affected by the coronavirus will continue to be in my prayers.” Bishop Mueller shared.

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The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church is one of the 54 annual conferences that make up the United Methodist Church in the United States. Founded in 2003, the Conference, as part of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, is responsible for coordinating more than 600 United Methodist churches and over 300 clergy throughout Arkansas to fulfill its trajectory “to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.” The Conference also supports a number of United Methodist-affiliated ministries in the state of Arkansas. For more information, visit arumc.org.