ARUMC Stage 2.5 GuidanceUpdated Guidance from Bishop Mueller

ARUMC Stage 2.5 Guidance
Updated Guidance from Bishop Mueller

September 13, 2020

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

I continue to be grateful for the outstanding and responsible leadership you have given your congregation and community since early March. The Covid-19 pandemic has stretched and stressed you, unleashed your creativity and exhausted you, and been difficult and demonstrated that being the Body of Christ matters more than having Church. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I am writing to offer you my latest guidance concerning indoor in-person gatherings.

As you know, ARUMC Stage 2 has allowed for a maximum of 50 people utilizing the “36 sq. ft. bubble”. I now believe it is appropriate to implement ARUMC Stage 2.5. This keeps all previous guidance in place, including mandatory “36 sq. ft. bubbles,” masks, and sanitation. However, there will no longer be a maximum number of people allowed to gather. Rather, the size of the room will now determine the number of people that can attend indoor in-person gatherings.

  • Calculating the number of “bubbles” in rooms. Calculate the number of “bubbles” you can fit in a room by taking the square footage of a room and dividing it by 36, which provides for 6 ft by 6 ft physical distancing. This is the maximum number of people who can attend in-person events in this room.

  • Calculating the number of “bubbles” in sanctuaries and worship centers. This involves two separate calculations. First, calculate the number of 36 sq. ft. “bubbles” that can be fit in the area where worship leaders are located. This is the maximum number of pastors, liturgists, musicians, and worship leaders who can fit in the chancel or on the stage. Second, calculate the number of “36 sq. ft. bubbles” that can be fit into the sanctuary or worship center seating area. This is the maximum number of worshippers who can attend worship at any one time.
  • Adjusting your calculations for family units of two or more. You will have to make two adjustments because of families that want to sit together. The first is to create a bigger “bubble” to accommodate more people. The second is to make sure you have six feet in every direction between “bubbles.” You may want to create bigger “bubbles” as you plan for in-person events. This adjustment may result in fewer “bubbles” in the room, but allow more people to attend.

I continue to pray for you. Let me know what the Conference Staff, District Mission Strategists and I can do to support you as you make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller
Bishop

Be A Reconciler

Be A Reconciler

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By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

Do I behave differently than I otherwise would because I am a Christian who is being transformed from the inside-out by the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? This is an appropriate question. It’s also an uncomfortable question because it brings me face-to-face with the reality that I may not be as different as I would like. But even more importantly, it spurs me to dive deeper into how my faith actually shapes how I live.

This is not, however, merely a theological question to ponder. It is rooted in real life in these days of deep divide, increasing polarization and a highly partisan presidential campaign. So let me rephrase my question, not just for me, but for all of us who are part of the Body of Christ. Do we behave any differently in the midst of deep division that is being played out than we otherwise would because of our relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? I’m glad if that question makes us uncomfortable. I’m grateful if it causes us to take some time for deep reflection. I’m hopeful that, indeed, we will act differently as a result of it being asked than we otherwise would. In fact, all three of these things are my prayer.

To be clear, this is not an attempt to tell you what to believe or how to vote. Rather it is a plea to more intentionally let our identity as Jesus’ followers shape how we see ourselves and how we live out who we are in a way that makes it clear how we are different because of Jesus. And this is why I want to move beyond my own feeble words to those of Holy Scripture. Listen to what Paul has to say on the subject,

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:16-19 CEB)

We know God is at work in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself. We have experienced that reconciliation first hand. And now we have the opportunity to help others experience how a relationship with Jesus truly leads to us being reconciled to each other. Quite simply, we need to work diligently to avoid becoming yet another divider and, instead, work to be a reconciler. 

Since this is an article filled with questions, it’s not surprising that I’m going to ask one more. What do you think might happen if over 130,000 United Methodists in Arkansas so believe what Paul says about reconciliation that we actively pursue it? I sure would love to find out. I hope you do, too.

The Year Topsy-Turvy Became Normal

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

A lot of things have changed in the last five months. Not just a little, but a lot. I don’t think it’s an overreach to say 2020 is the year topsy-turvy became normal!

Think of all that has changed the last five months. COVID-19 has dramatically altered our daily rhythm of living. A long-standing cry for racial justice has reached the tipping point so that our nation is involved in serious – and often painful – conversations about how to dismantle racism and build reconciliation. Many of you have been financially devastated, and literally are struggling day-to-day just to survive. If you are a parent, you are faced with the hard decision about sending your children to school. Our nation remains deeply polarized and it threatens to rend us apart. And to top it all off, your church that has been foundational in your life may still be meeting virtually, and you are uncertain when you will be able to gather again to sing hymns of praise, share Holy Communion, and enjoy in-person fellowship with people who are such an important part of your life. It’s been so long, you actually may be looking forward to the resumption of potlucks!

When everything seems like it has changed, it is important to remember that the important things in life have not changed. In fact, I am convinced they are more important than ever.

Think of all that is most important and will never change. God still is God, Jesus still is Lord and the Holy Spirit still is at work. You still need to have a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior that so transforms you from the inside-out you literally are born again. God still requires you ‘to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ The joy of the Lord still rings out more loudly than all the bad news of the world. You still can speak, act and live with integrity. There still is nothing in all creation that can separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ. God still sends people who are angels to you and God still sends you to be an angel to others. The Holy Spirit still will give you gifts to build up the Body of Christ and serve a broken world. You still can make a difference in someone’s life every single day.

When you get to be my age, you’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot of lessons. Many of them multiple times. There is one in particular that I have discovered is essential for thriving in a topsy-turvy world. It’s that I must hold onto those things in life that are most important, and carry them into a world that is constantly changing so I can adapt to the new realities I face without losing my soul. Sure, I wish life would change. Especially those things that are most painful and disruptive. But I can’t change the way things are. I can choose, however, to adapt and do things differently while still believing, living and proclaiming those things that are most important.

Yes, a lot has changed in the last five months. Yet because God is still God, Jesus is still Lord and the Holy Spirit is still at work, I can live in the love of the Lord, experience joy and look forward to the future with hope in a topsy-turvy world. And so can you!

Go Slow, Go Fast

Go Slow, Go Fast

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

The beautiful opening words of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes offer profound wisdom about the nature of life, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”

We have learned that we can’t control when the seasons of life take place, especially the painful and challenging ones. We have discovered that they come and go; when one ends, another quickly begins. And we have come to understand that we must adapt to the seasons as they are, and not how we would like them to be.

So what season are we in now? If we are in tune with what is going on around us, we realize we are in two seasons at the same time. The first is the season of COVID-19. The second is the season when the world has finally embraced the absolute necessity of dismantling racism and moving toward a new vision of living as a reconciled people.

It’s critically important to remember something as we figure out how we adapt to these two seasons that are so shaping our lives. Our relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior changes how we see, feel, think and act. This means we don’t just follow conventional wisdom. Instead, we do all we can to make sure we live the Jesus’ way in response to these two significant seasons.

What does this mean in the season of COVID-19? Quite simply, we go slow because the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Indeed, it has entered a new and dangerous stage. Dozens of churches in Arkansas have been places where people have been exposed to COVID-19, mostly because they have not followed the basic safety protocols outlined by Governor Hutchinson.

Like all of you, I long to gather face-to-face with sisters and brothers in faith as we pray, worship, study and serve. But in this season, Jesus’ words about loving our neighbor means we go slow. Let’s take small steps – making sure we do it with our masks on. Better to go slow and then speed up, than to go too quickly and have to deal with the illness or death of someone you love.

And what does living the Jesus’ way mean for this season of our increasing awareness of racism following the deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of the police? Quite frankly, addressing racial injustice has been on hold too long – far too long – and we dare not waste this moment. We must go fast as we address our role in it, as painful as that may be. We must go fast in coming to grips with how racism is part and parcel of our culture, government, private sector, and the church. And we must go fast to live out Jesus’ call to be a reconciled community in which ethnicity and race are not dividers, but wonderful gifts within the Body of Christ.

We are blessed because we have been embraced by Jesus and the fullness of his unconditional, invitational and transformational love. We are privileged to be called by him to follow him in everything we do. We have important seasonal work to do right now. There is a place for all of us to make a difference. For God’s sake, let’s show the world how to go slow and how to go fast.

The Second Corinthians Imperative

The Second Corinthians Imperative

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

I have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions the past several months. A broken heart. Anger. Holy outrage. Gratitude. Despair. And more often than I ever would have expected, hope. I suspect you, too, have had many different feelings as you have grieved people who have died from COVID-19, worried about your future in a decimated economy, watched the murder of George Floyd, had the outcry for justice stir your heart, and mourned the division in our nation. 

Feeling these emotions – sometimes contradictory, often confusing and occasionally out of control – is just part and parcel of being a human being. But God calls us to transcend how we feel and live the Jesus’ way. Not because we follow a list of “shoulds and musts,” or are overwhelmed by guilt. But because something happens to us when we accept Christ as our Savior and our Lord. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 5, 

6 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (NIV)

This does not mean we are suddenly perfect like angels or robots (your choice!). It means we have begun to see things differently, understand things differently, process things differently and act differently than we otherwise would because our relationship with Jesus has taken hold of us. Of course, at least for me, the progress is far slower than I want to admit. But it’s real. And to use Paul’s wording, it calls me to live as Christ’s ambassador.  

As Christ’s ambassador, I am called to do God’s work, not work for my preferences. This means I am called to help people be reconciled to God through a relationship with Christ. And let me tell you, I can only do this by venturing out of a beautiful sanctuary and loving those who struggle the most in life. It also means I am called to help people be reconciled to each other. And I can only do this when I work for justice for those who are the victims of racism, help those who live in poverty and share hope with those who have been abused. 

Yes, reconciliation is hard work. It comes at a price. But this should not surprise anyone. After all, this is exactly what God did when he willingly sent his only son, Jesus, to die on our behalf in order to reconcile us with himself – not because we deserved it, but because this is how much God loves us.