Statement from Bishop Mueller on Postponed General Conference

Statement from Bishop Mueller on Postponed General Conference

February 26, 2021

Yesterday, United Methodists across the global connection learned that the postponed General Conference 2020 had, once again, been postponed to Aug. 29 – Sept. 6, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can read the Council of Bishops’ press release on their website.

What this means for our church is that 2021 will not be focused on solving our deeply held differences in the church, but instead it will focus on continuing the work that we already have in place and preparing for the work that must be done when we meet again in 2022.

The Commission on the General Conference made the decision in a Feb. 20 meeting that holding a meeting of our global body in 2021 would not be feasible due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the technological barriers that would prevent a virtual meeting from taking place.

Instead, there will be a called virtual special session on May 8, 2021, to handle a limited number of legislative pieces, enabling us to make changes to the Book of Discipline so that we can continue to carry out ministry in 2021 and 2022. It will be a very brief session to establish a quorum to suspend the rules and allow us to vote on 12 pieces of legislation through a paper mail-in ballot system. You can read about those 12 legislative pieces here. The ballots will be mailed to delegates following the Special Session, and the results of the ballots will be released on July 13, 2021.

The Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation Through Separation, as well as other plans that have been submitted, will not be considered until our 2022 meeting. The budget will also not be considered until the postponed General Conference gathering. As well the 2016 Book of Discipline as amended will remain in full effect through our next General Conference gathering.

More information on all of these moving pieces will be forthcoming.

In this time of waiting, I am aware that some of you are anxious about settling the church’s future. That’s why I urge you to remember three things while we wait for the 2022 General Conference.

First, be graceful to each other, as you have done so well up to this point.

Second, continue to keep the main thing the main thing, which is creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.

And finally, during this time, we need to be open and aware of how God is at work in our midst. Maybe God has plans for us and our church that will be revealed to us in the coming months. 

I am proud of the work you have done in 2020, and continue to look forward to the work we will accomplish in 2021, 2022 and beyond. We all should remain in prayer that the work of God’s church will manifest in powerful ways.

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller
Bishop

Are You Ready To Be Ashed?

Are You Ready To Be Ashed?

ash wednesday

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

It will be Ash Wednesday in just a few days. Like seemingly everything else these days, it will be different. You may participate through an online service or in a drive-through experience or by self-imposing ashes as you gather with others.

Many people – and you may be one of them – aren’t convinced they’re ready for a somber and deeply reflective Ash Wednesday Service, let alone the entire season of Lent. Given what’s going on in the world, they’re ready to jump straight to Easter and its message of hope that arises out of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  

But inconvenient as Ash Wednesday is right now, we still need to deal with it head-on – by getting absolutely real with God, others, and ourselves about sin. This may come as a shock since we don’t talk much about sin anymore. In fact, the word seems to have disappeared from our faith vocabulary. But the Christian faith has a tradition dating back to our Jewish forebears of the necessity of dealing with it. 

Dealing with sin is serious business, and involves a great deal of vulnerability and willingness to wade into the muck and messiness of our own sinful actions. It begins with being convicted by the truth that what we’ve done harms God and others. It moves on to confession and an articulation of telling the truth about ourselves, expressing deep regret, and vowing to make things right. It mandates repenting, which literally means turning around and heading in a new direction, with our words, attitudes, and actions. It necessitates, as much as possible, making things right with others so that God’s justice becomes real. It leads to being forgiven. And eventually – but not always or easily – it can bring about reconciliation. 

Sin, however, is not merely a personal matter. It is also corporate and has infected the very fabric of our nation – from how we treat each other to how we treat the most vulnerable. We need the Holy Spirit to help us deal with the reality of this kind of sin. There needs to be far less selfishness, anger, opportunism, hatred and demonizing, and a great deal more conviction, confession, repentance, making-right and transformation. It probably will be resisted. It will be painful. And it will involve us taking the risk of naming this sin, often in concrete ways. But it is how God transforms human beings from the inside out. And that should be something we always seek for ourselves and every other person.

It’s important to remember something about sin, whether it’s our own or corporate. Sin is never the last word. This means we don’t deal with sin on Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent in a vacuum, uncertain what the outcome will be. We do it knowing that Jesus’ resurrection is far more powerful than the reality of sin. Ultimately, and somewhat paradoxically, this means dealing with sin – individually and corporately – can actually be a gift from God.

So, how about it – are you ready to be ashed?

SAD and CAD

SAD and CAD

sunlight

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

I will always remember Wednesday, March 11, 2020. That was the day it became clear COVID-19 was becoming so dangerous I needed to immediately cancel all in-person events for the Arkansas Annual Conference. It was the beginning of a journey that has caused unspeakable pain and around the world and turned your life upside down. No wonder you were never so happy to see the calendar flip to a new year than you were last week when the giant ball dropped and it was suddenly 2021!

I have been amazed, but not surprised, by your response the last 11 months. You have demonstrated courage, creativity and compassion. You have been resilient and innovative in finding ways to offer worship, Bible study and missional outreach in brand new ways, often learning more about how to use technology than you ever imagined possible. You have responded with deep integrity in the face of pressure to act as if the pandemic is not real and deadly. It has been difficult. You have been stellar.

All of this, however, has taken its toll. You are exhausted with a weariness that penetrates to the core of your soul. You are concerned about the future of your congregation, and whether people will return once you begin a full offering of in-person activities. There are days you are not sure how you can move from the survival mode in which you find yourself to moving full speed ahead with our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.

The way so many of you are feeling right now reminds me of something I became acquainted with several years ago: Seasonal Affective Disorder, with its very appropriate acronym of SAD. It is the result of a drop in the serotonin level caused by reduced exposure to sunlight in the winter. SAD can trigger depression or at least a case of the blues. Thankfully though, the cure for SAD is pretty simple. Spend some time in the sun.  

Recently, it has occurred to me that the pandemic in which we’re mired has actually spawned a brand new affective disorder: COVID Affective Disorder, with its acronym of CAD. While this disorder has not yet been officially recognized, it is real; the result of COVID’s prolonged disruption, deep pain, grief, forced isolation, and theft of individuals’ ability to do many of the things that bring you meaning and hope. CAD can lead to severe depression, loss of energy, cynicism, anger, and hopelessness. Thank God, however, it does have a cure. Spend some time in the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. 

You don’t need to embark on a great journey to find the Light of the World. Jesus is already waiting for you. In fact, he’s doing everything possible to make it easy to join him. The Light he offers is a powerful unconditional, invitational and transformational love that will never dim regardless of what happens because of COVID. When you double down on dwelling in his Light – even if you know your faith is far from being fully mature – you will discover that Jesus will restore the purpose, joy, compassion, passion for God’s justice and hope that COVID Affective Disorder has depleted. Don’t wait any longer. Start spending some time in the Light of the World today! 

I’m Excited

I’m Excited

nativity

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

I don’t need to tell you that life is tough right now. You know how much COVID has disrupted and destroyed so much. You have seen too many people ready to move on and not wrestle with issues of racial injustice. You struggle with the diagnosis of an illness that is debilitating, and may well take your life in the coming months. You watch people you care about deeply struggling on a daily basis with depression that zaps their joy until it dries up and blows away.

This deep pain causes many people to look at you in disbelief as you once again prepare to celebrate the coming of the One you believe changes everything about everything. They cannot comprehend how you can so naively believe God became human to give people what they absolutely need, but can never get on their own – a whole new life in God that begins now and lasts forevermore. They are convinced you have lost your mind because you believe the birth of a baby to two homeless parents temporarily finding refuge in a stable in a small town was a cosmic event that has fundamentally altered heaven and earth.

However, you don’t believe in God’s initiative at Christmas because you have seen enough evidence that conclusively proves it. You begin to see more and more clearly what God is up to because you choose to take a leap of faith to believe. And once you do, you discover how Jesus’ birth at Christmas blossoms into a sacred mystery that so defines your life it is to be cherished, nurtured and shared.

I have lived a long time and experienced a great deal; some of it on the mountain top and some of it deep in the valley. I am far from perfect; those who love me most know this best and yet still love me. I have diligently tried to be faithful with my mind and my spirit; I still fall far too short far too often. Here’s what I’ve discovered on my life’s journey. I need a Savior. The best decision I have ever made was to take that leap of faith to stake my life on Jesus Christ as my Savior who came, lived, and died to give life that is both abundant and eternal. This choice has changed what I see, know, understand, believe, and do fundamentally and forever. 

No wonder I’m excited about getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth – no wonder I hope you are excited, too!

Updated COVID-19 Guidelines from Bishop Mueller

November 13, 2020

Greetings in the Name of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

I am writing today with a heavy heart. This morning, Mary Hughes, wife of Berryville pastor Andy Hughes, died as a result of being infected with COVID-19. Her death makes very personal the reality we are facing: the pandemic is surging out of control. Governor Hutchinson just announced that there have been 2,312 new cases since yesterday and hospitalizations are now at a record high.

Sadly, though, things are not getting better. In fact, they are getting worse. Far worse. And they will continue to get worse for the foreseeable future – especially as we move into the holiday season. Governor Asa Hutchinson shared earlier this week that, “The numbers aren’t good. The trend is not good… and we are in for a very challenging time.”

In spite of this reality, there are still individual Christians and congregations focusing more on what they consider to be their religious rights than on the public health crisis. In fact, they refuse to wear masks and gather unsafely as forms of protest. I want to be abundantly clear. We are not in a battle to protect religious freedom. Rather, we find ourselves in a dangerous moment and, as people of faith, are called to demonstrate that we are more concerned than anything else with loving our neighbors like Jesus instructs us to do by acting in ways that keep people safe.

The updated guidelines for churches issued by Gov. Hutchinson earlier this week are virtually the same as the ARUMC Stage 2.5 guidelines that we have had in place for several months. Here are the key components of ARUMC Stage 2.5, along with recent updates to the guidelines.

  1. Masks must be worn for all indoor and outdoor church activities. 36 square foot bubbles for each family unit must be used for any indoor or outdoor in-person gathering. Plans must be in place for the safe entrance and exit of all activities. Hand sanitizers must be available and adequate sanitation utilized between events.
  2. The Board of Trustees of each congregation must approve all plans related to addressing COVID-19. Congregations must keep their District Superintendent apprised of their plans and of any instances of COVID-19.
  3. Lists of participants for each event must be kept so that contact tracing can be undertaken if needed.
  4. Churches should be aware that their local situations may include a higher positivity rate and develop closing policies based on:
    • the number of active cases and hospitalizations in their county
    • actions of their local school districts – if schools go virtual, worship should go virtual as well
    • probable exposure and contact tracing guidelines from the ADH and CDC
  5. Singing should only be done with masks in place. Choirs should not participate in worship for the foreseeable future. Special music should be offered by individuals.
  6. No candles should be blown out at any Christmas services, even if done outdoors. Battery operated candles are an acceptable alternative.
  7. In-person events (including nursery, children and youth) should last no more than 60 minutes if held outdoors and 45 minutes if held indoors.
  8. Overnight trips for youth, college students and young adults are not recommended through at least April 30, 2021.
  9. Arkansas Department of Health directives must continue to be followed for all weekday programs, nursery and childcare.
  10. Recently updated resources:
    A map indicating the number of active cases per 1,000 population for each county: https://public.tableau.com/profile/arkansascenterforhealthimprovement#!/vizhome/CityTable/Community
    ADH guidance:
    https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-guidance-for-faith-based-organizations https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/pdf/Holiday_GuidanceFINAL11.10.20.pdf
    CDC guidance:
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/faith-based.html
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/community/COVID19-events-gatherings-readiness-and-planning-tool.pdf
    ARUMC guidance: https://arumc.org/covid19

I don’t have to tell you that your congregations need to continue to lead with consistency, compassion and strength for the foreseeable future – because you already know it. While it will be a challenge, I know that Arkansas United Methodist lay leaders and clergy can do it. In fact, I will be praying for you every day. More importantly, the Holy Spirit will help you do what you need to do, when you need to do it, in just the way you need to do it.

Finally, I want to make sure you understand that I know how hard these past eight months have been. Some of you have been ridiculed – even attacked – for your caution and leadership. No wonder you have a deep weariness, and are just ready for life to return to normal. I am grateful for all the ways the laity and clergy of the United Methodist Church in Arkansas have led the way in showing Jesus’ love by putting the safety and well-being of people first.

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller
Bishop