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Hopeful Covid-19 News and Returning to Worship

Several congregations have asked the Regional Office to provide some guidance on returning to in-person worship. I am delighted to suggest some guidelines for your leadership to consider as you make plans.

The Oklahoma State Health Department is reporting lower numbers for COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations. Let’s just pause and celebrate that for a moment! Sadly, the COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma and nationwide are still very high.

Also, the Oklahoma State Health Department is reporting that 17% of the Oklahoma population has been vaccinated for COVID-19! Another moment to pause and celebrate!

This week, another level of the population is eligible to be vaccinated:  teachers and persons with co-morbidities. Pending vaccine supply, the state should be able to move through this segment of the population rather quickly.

Despite this good news, here is the link to the CDC Guidelines for Faith Communities, updated on February 12, 2021. The CDC Guidelines are continuing to invite all faith communities to be VERY cautious, and in fact continue to recommend on-line worship or outdoor worship.

With this information from the CDC, and as the coronavirus numbers trend down and the vaccination numbers trend up, we do not want to rush. However, I believe it is a good time to begin considering plans to return to in-person worship. If you have already returned to in-person worship, I trust you are continuing to practice all safety protocols. If you have not yet returned to in-person worship, your church members might be more than wondering when in-person worship will be possible. Also, please take into consideration your perspective and comfort level as the shepherd of the flock.

Wherever your congregation is on the grid, here are some suggested questions for discussion among your leadership, remembering that best practices are still wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.

  • What does the current CDC Guidelines recommend?
  • What does our church insurance provider recommend?
  • What is the positivity rate of COVID-19 in your community?
  • What are the hospitalizations of COVID-19 in your community?
  • What is the positivity rate of COVID-19 variant in your community?
  • How many church members are fully vaccinated? Will just vaccinated members be returning for a first phase? Or will all be invited to return allowing members decide what is best for their safety & well being?
  • What parts of worship should still be restricted? Singing. Passing the Peace. Passing the Offering Plate and Communion. Hugging/Handshaking.
  • What is a target date to begin in-person worship?  Still hard to determine but we are getting closer!
  • Should safety protocols continue for in-person worship?  Absolutely.  Wearing masks, washing hands, watching distance (6 ft).
  • Will your congregation continue on-line worship? I hope so!
  • Lastly, what crisis will determine a need to return to on-line worship only?

First Christian Church Norman

In Person Worship Protocols

Now that the church has returned to in-person worship at both the 8:40 and 10:45 services, we continue the following protocols that are to be strictly observed

  • *Masks must be worn over the mouth and nose at all times when in the church building.
  • *Greeting one another must be done from a distance and without physical contact.
  • *Extended conversations are to be held outside the church building.
  • *Maintain safe distancing (at least 6 feet) in the pews between households.
  • *Hymns, liturgies, prayers are to be hummed and/or spoken very softly.
  • *Please wash hands and wipe down surfaces in the bathroom after use.
  • *If you have been engaged in high-risk activities such as large gatherings, have been instructed to quarantine or isolate, or have been identified as a close contact of an individual with COVID-19, please do not attend worship in person.
  • *If you are considered at high risk for a severe COVID-19 infection (with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, chronic lung disease, immune deficiency, or needing supplemental oxygen), please do not attend worship in person.  In addition, it has been found that individuals over age 65 are at higher risk for a more severe infection.
  • *Even those who have received both vaccines must follow the above protocols to ensure maximum safety for all those participating in worship in the sanctuary.

COVID-19 Resources for Disciples of Christ

Disciples.org has many valuable resources available during this season for those affected by COVID-19. Please click HERE to see the many resources available to Disciples of Christ.

The webpage includes:

  • CARE Act Information
  • video messages from Rev. Terri Hord Owens
  • health information resources
  • public safety for congregations
  • information about caring for pastors and chaplains
  • information regarding personal finances including unemployment
  • financial resources for pastors
  • resources for ministry
  • crisis planning resources

Click HERE to read more.

2020-05-20T11:41:34-05:00May 20, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on COVID-19 Resources for Disciples of Christ

A Message from Rev. Pam Holt: Return to Worship or Still Safer at Home?

Return to Worship or Still Safer at Home?

Rev. Pam Holt, Regional Minister

We been practicing being “safer at home” for about six weeks now.  Like you, I lament that life has changed.  We cannot be with our family or our friends to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries in ways we are accustomed. We have cancelled weddings, graduations, and vacations.  We’ve cancelled many Regional and church events. We cannot even gather in person in our sanctuaries for worship or funerals. These days of safer at home are very hard, but I want to thank you for your part in loving your neighbor and yourself in staying home to stay safe and well.

I have been amazed at the wonderful worship services that are happening all around our denomination and our Region on-line, through live streaming. I am grateful for technology that allows us to be in worship together and share time around the Lord’s table through our devices.

In the past few days, we have learned that in Oklahoma, worship spaces can be opened for in-person gatherings beginning May 3rd. Please, please, don’t rush into returning to your sanctuary!

Following the guidelines and wisdom of the Centers for Disease Control and the Oklahoma Health Department, we know that the risks for in-person gatherings are still VERY HIGH.

The Region is strongly encouraging all of our congregations to continue to worship on-line until safe and responsible protocols can be put in place for each of our worshipping communities.

In preparation for some day returning to in-person worship, the Region hosted conversation with clergy this past week and has provided worksheets and initial questions for clergy and leadership teams to start making a plan, in writing, about safe practices to return to gathered worship.  These resources are provided on our website at OKdisciples.org under the COVID-19 Resources “Thinking About Returning to Worship?”

Please take your time to have discussions and put protocols in place and communicate expectations to the members BEFORE returning to in-person worships.

We are here to help.  Remember, go slow.  Take time to think and plan, together.  For your neighbor.  For your self.  For your pastor.

Stay well.  Stay safe.  Stay connected.  Stay hopeful.

May God’s blessing of peace and protection and God’s grace and mercy continue to be upon us all.

Regional Ministers Offer a Word on Re-opening Congregations

Please read the letter from the College of Regional Ministers regarding re-opening congregations, published by disciples.org

A Letter to the Church on Being the Church in This Moment

Dear Disciples of Christ,

As your Regional Ministry colleagues, we have listened carefully and prayerfully to the questions you are asking about when and how to meet again in person as the Church. We are asking many of the same questions.

We miss being with you in the spaces where we worship God together, witness the baptisms of eager youth full of hope and share the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. It has been months now since last we hugged or shook hands. It has been too long since we have seen you in person, and yet we continue to be inspired by your acts of service and leadership that we see on-line, and we continue to celebrate your ministry and share your story. It troubles our spirits to know that we cannot be physically present for funerals, visit at hospital bedsides or join in the celebrations of commissioning or ordination.

We are aware that this is an unprecedented time of challenge and uncertainty. Even medical experts are not ready to declare that they understand fully how this very contagious virus works, the range at which it can spread, or how to enhance prevention with a vaccine. It has already cost the lives of tens of thousands of our neighbors and more than a million confirmed cases have been reported in the U.S. and Canada.

The disease does not discriminate but we can take steps to protect the most vulnerable among us.

First and foremost, we write to encourage you to be patient and take your time, and not rush back into full in-person activities before we are confident it is safe to do so. We also write to ask that you join us in considering these questions when you discuss whether and how to be together again in sanctuaries, fellowship halls, classrooms, offices, and other special, sacred spaces. In addition to logistical questions about how to share communion, have appropriate social distancing, and disinfect the sanctuary, etc., consider these deeper, theological questions also:

  • How have you found ways to share in ministry without gathering as you normally did?
  • If you hosted online worship, Bible study, or other ministry, what have you discovered that may be encouraging or helpful for the times ahead?
  • Who are the people among you who have shown themselves to be strong, loving, and wise companions in this challenging time?
  • We are often acutely aware of what we miss in a time such as Has the congregation gained anything that it did not have or realize a gift or a strength it already had before?
  • In what ways might the congregation be affected if, because of contracting the novel corona virus at your next in-person gathering, a member or visitor’s illness resulted in death?
  • Jesus said to the first disciples: I give you a new commandment, that you love one

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. John 13:34 (NRSV) What will we do, who love one another as Jesus loved, when the medical community continues to call attention to the risks of in-person meetings?

We do not presume to have all the answers for you. Every congregation will prayerfully and carefully discern for itself how and when to reconnect onsite. What we can offer is to tell you how we Regional Ministers and the General Units of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are dealing with our own gatherings.

We will not make on-site visits for the time being. We believe that we have a responsibility to exercise an abundance of caution for the safety of all those we serve. We will reconsider that decision when there is more medical evidence that the pandemic has been effectively contained.

We Disciples are a people bound by nothing more or less than a covenant with God and one another. When we read together in worship the Preamble to the Design for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we conclude with this powerful reminder of the extent of our shared calling:We are carrying on our work online, many from spaces in our homes. We are meeting once a week by Zoom and we are connecting with pastors and lay leaders by phone, email, text, and social media. We are sharing some of the best information and creative resources being compiled. These are available on disciples.org, regional websites and social media outlets. Frankly, we would be devastated if the health of any one of us were compromised because another of us were, unknowingly, carriers of the virus. By God’s grace and your support, we have the means to keep in touch, do the work you have come to expect from us, and pray with you.

In the bonds of Christian faith
we yield ourselves to God
that we may serve the One whose kingdom has no end.
Blessing, glory, and honor be to God forever. Amen. (from the Preamble to the Design)

With you, we desire to bless, glorify, and honor God in this moment and always.

Affectionately yours in Christ,

  • John Mobley, Alabama/Northwest Florida
  • Jay Hartley, Arizona
  • LaTaunya Bynum, Northern California/Nevada
  • Jennifer Garbin, Canada
  • Allen Harris, Capital Area
  • Joan Bell-Haynes, Central Rocky Mountain
  • Betsy Goehring, Florida
  • Denise Bell, Georgia
  • Nadine Burton, Great River Region
  • Teresa Dulyea-Parker, Illinois/Wisconsin
  • Rick Spleth, Indiana & Ohio
  • Ken Marston & Steve Martin, Kansas
  • Bill Rose-Heim, Greater Kansas City
  • Dean Phelps, Kentucky & Ohio
  • Eugene James, Michigan & Ohio
  • Paul Koch & Ron Routlege, Mid-America
  • Chris Morton, Nebraska
  • Thad Allen, Northeastern, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia & Ohio
  • Sandy Messick, Northern Lights
  • Pam Holt, Oklahoma
  • Cathy and Doug Wirt, Oregon/SW Idaho
  • Richie Sanchez, Pacific Southwest
  • Andy Mangum, Southwest
  • Christal Williams, Tennessee
  • John Richardson, Upper Midwest
  • Bill Spangler-Dunning, Virginia
2020-05-13T15:24:41-05:00May 5, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on Regional Ministers Offer a Word on Re-opening Congregations

General Minister and President on re-opening congregations

Please read a message from General Minister and President, Terri Hord Owens published by disciples.org

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — John 13:34-35  (NRSV)

Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens

General Minister and President

Dear Church:

We are in Eastertide, when we rejoice in the good news of the resurrection, and yet so much our journey still feels like the wilderness. I continue to pray for you as we walk through these days of distancing together.

This week, some state governments are beginning to lift stay-at-home orders and allow some businesses and industries to reopen their doors. These reopening conversations are understandably raising questions about how and when churches should resume in-person worship services. These are difficult decisions, but I want to encourage you, as difficult as it is, not to rush too quickly back. It is not yet time to gather for worship in person.

I know that it is heartbreaking not to be able to gather. We want nothing more than to hug our loved ones and squeeze the hands of our grieving friends. We want nothing more than to worship together and join our voices together in song. We want nothing more than to break bread together at our beloved communion tables.

But the phased reopening plans developed by public health experts call for several benchmarks to indicate safety such as 14 days of declining case counts, widespread testing, and contact tracing. We are not there yet.

The economic impact of this pandemic is devastating, to be sure, and many of the decisions to reopen business are in response. There is and will be much work to do as we care for our hurting neighbors.

Church, we don’t make decisions based on economics. We make decisions based on love. And here in this time, in the midst of this pandemic, the loving thing to do is not to gather for worship. Love, as we know from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, is patient. Love does not insist on its own way.

It is not easy to love from a distance. It is not easy to overcome our own desire for being physically close to our church family. It is not easy to give up the familiar in favor of this new way of being.

It is likely we will never meet in quite the same way again. But we have a historic opportunity here. We have the chance to test new ways, learn creatively, imagine beyond old boundaries and grow in our understanding of the family of God.

Let me be clear: even as we have gathered in different ways, we are still the church. Even as we have worshiped on Facebook and YouTube from our living room couches, even as we have prayed over Zoom, we are the church, and God is at work in and through us. We will continue to be the church.

There are a number of resources available for helping congregations think through how and when to resume in-person worship services, and we have linked to several of them on our COVID-19 resource page. I found this guidance from the Wisconsin Council of Churches and this pastoral letter from Disciples pastor Brandon Gilvin particularly helpful.

In addition, this letter from the College of Regional Ministers offers wisdom and hope. Many regional ministers are also offering guidance based on realities in your local context. I urge you to listen to them and to be in conversation with one another as you make prayerful decisions with your church leadership.

I have been inspired by the creativity, innovation, and compassion from Disciples over the past two months. You are already imagining new ways of being church, and I have confidence that we will face the future together with courage and grace, strengthened always by the love of God.

Grateful to be serving with you,

Rev. Terri Hord Owens

General Minister and President

2020-05-04T13:45:24-05:00May 4, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on General Minister and President on re-opening congregations

April 23: Statewide Conversation with Family Communities

Do you have questions about the Coronavirus and the impact on faith communities? Are you wondering how your faith community should respond, or how to care for others while protecting yourself? How do you address the fears and anxieties associated with the virus?

The impact of this virus on our faith communities is very real and serious. Faith communities need the facts to make the best decisions possible to care for their congregations. As the chairperson of Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s Faith-based committee of the Wellness Now Coalition, I have brought together OKC-County Dept. of Health, Tulsa County Dept. of Health, the State Dept. Of Health and the American Heart Association to do a presentation for clergy and faith communities along with an opportunity for questions and answers.

You are invited to attend but must RSVP by contacting  Steven.Embree@Heart.org to receive the Zoom link for the live broadcast next Thursday, April 23 at 3pm.

Be sure to send your questions along with your RSVP. Click HERE to view the flyer.

Hope you can join us on Zoom for this important conversation,
Blessings,
Daniel U’Ren
2020-04-29T13:36:22-05:00Apr 22, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on April 23: Statewide Conversation with Family Communities

Thinking of Returning to Worship?

During a Zoom call last week, Oklahoma Governor Stitt announced to a group of faith leaders that he determined that May 3rd, is the day that houses of worship could begin welcoming people for “in person” worship. He encouraged social distancing.

As you plan, prepare, produce, and pray this week, Pam Holt and Michael Davison invite you to meet with colleagues for a conversation. We will discuss things to be thinking about IF AND WHEN you intend to return to the sanctuary for worship and church for other activities.  We’ll consider some questions and ideas for guiding your congregation to return to gathering for worship.

You may access the planning document HERE.

Michael and Pam are leading two opportunities for clergy to meet: April 21 and April 23.  Information to connect to the conversation can be found on the Christian Church in Oklahoma Disciples Clergy Facebook page, a place for our clergy with standing to discuss theology, biblical issues, share joys, concerns, and prayer.

2020-04-22T11:08:26-05:00Apr 21, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on Thinking of Returning to Worship?

Congregations Are Eligible for the CARES Act

April 3, 2020

Colleagues & Congregational Leaders,

Good Morning. This is a glorious and cold Friday morning in Oklahoma, but this email brings some important news regarding the CARES Act.

The CARES Act Payroll Protection Program (PPP) is to help prevent employees from losing their jobs, and is designed to assist non-profit organizations which include churches, pre-schools, and schools with loans to be an immediate cash infusion for payroll costs, group health care expenses, interest on any mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities (electricity, gas, water, telephone, internet). There is a forgiveness element to the loan. The loan becomes a grant if used within the specified time frame of funding. Your church is eligible to apply for this Payroll Protection Program. Click here to read how to apply through Disciples Church Extension Fund.

I participated in the webinar from Church, Law & Tax yesterday and am providing you some important information regarding this part of CARES Act. Eric Gray from Oklahoma Disciples Foundation has also provided some resources. Eric Gray, Michael Davison, and I will be available to help you through this process. Do not hesitate to call us.

After reviewing the documents below, invite the appropriate person in church leadership to complete the application and apply directly with your bank, which needs to be an SBA lender. This will take some work in completing the form, gathering documents, achieving the appropriate approval from the church Board, but it is vital to your church. The time to apply for this loan is limited.

Week of Compassion is instituting a grant program, Household Solidarity Grants for Income Loss, to help respond to critical economic needs during the COVID-19 outbreaks in the US and Canada. We are coordinating this program along with other General Ministries to help Disciples individuals and families during this pandemic. Access to the application is below.

Household Solidarity Grants for Income Loss are available to Disciples of Christ congregations on behalf of members and pastors who are experiencing significant financial hardship. Eligible households must have lost wages due to COVID-19 (illness, protective social measures, or reduced hours/gigs) and must not be eligible for state unemployment insurance (USA) or the GSTC (Canada). Additional funds are available for households that do not qualify for federal stimulus benefits. (This application is also in Spanish and Korean should you need it.) For more information, email Week of Compassion at info@weekofcompassion.org

Please call us if you need assistance or have any questions.

Peace,

Pam Holt Signature

Rev. Pamela Holt

Resources
We created a folder that contains all the forms/applications listed below so you can download them.  Click here to access the folder.

CARES Act Interpretation by Disciples
General Unit Presidents Gary Kidwell, Rick Reisinger and Todd Adams have provided some interpretation of the US Federal disaster bill, CARES Act.  PDFs of all their work can be found at this link (under “financial considerations” on the COVID-19 page): https://disciples.org/dns/disciples-and-covid-19/#financial

Week of Compassion
WOC Income Loss Grant Application

SBA Link  
https://content.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/PPP–IFRN%20FINAL.pdf

BOK Documents provided by Oklahoma Disciples Foundation Regarding PPP
BOK Check List for Documents
PPP Eligible Loan Amount
PPP Forgivable Calculation
PPP Is My Business Eligible

National Council of Nonprofits Summary Regarding PPP
CARES Act Loan Options for Nonprofits

Application to apply for PPP
PPP Borrower Application

501c3 Verification
You will need a 501c3 letter with the various US federal programs requiring proof.  Please email directly to yearbook@disciples.org so the letter can be sent directly to you.

Governing Documents
Please review your congregation’s governing documents, Constitution & ByLaws for how to hold a Board meeting.  If there is no provision for the Board to act electronically or in a crisis, here is what the State of Oklahoma says about action by a Board without a meeting.

In the State of Oklahoma from Articles of Incorporation
Here are relevant portions of 18 O.S. Section 1027 providing for action by a Board of Directors (or other governing body) without a meeting.

F. Unless otherwise restricted by the certificate of incorporation or bylaws:
1. Any action required or permitted to be taken at any meeting of the board of directors, or of any committee thereof may be taken without a meeting if all members of the board or committee, as the case may be, consent thereto in writing or by electronic transmission, and the writing or writings or electronic transmission or transmissions are filed with the minutes of proceedings of the board or committee; and the filing shall be in paper form if the minutes are maintained in paper form and shall be in electronic form if the minutes are maintained in electronic form; and any person whether or not then a director may provide, whether through instruction to an agent or otherwise, that a consent to action will be effective at a future time (including a time determined upon the happening of an event), no later than sixty (60) days after such instruction is given or such provision is made and such consent shall be deemed to have been given for purposes of this subsection at such effective time so long as such person is then a director and did not revoke the consent prior to such time; and any such consent shall be revocable prior to its becoming effective;

G.
2. Except as may be otherwise provided by the certificate of incorporation, the provisions of this section shall apply to such a corporation, and when so applied, all references to the board of directors, to members thereof, and to shareholders shall be deemed to refer to the governing body of the corporation, the members thereof and the members of the corporation, respectively; and all references to stock, capital stock, or shares shall be deemed to refer to memberships of a nonprofit nonstock corporation and to membership interests of any other nonstock corporation.

2020-04-07T12:55:53-05:00Apr 6, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on Congregations Are Eligible for the CARES Act

Introducing COVID-19 NBA Response Grants

Updated 04-08-20  To offer a rapid and impactful response to the Coronavirus pandemicthe NBA Board of Trustees has authorized grant funding to support Disciples-related ministries that are working locally in response to this crisis. With this funding we seek to offer relief to ministries that have been detrimentally impacted and to support new projects created in service to those suffering because of the pandemic.

The legacy of the National Benevolent Association is rooted in compassionate response to health, social service, and community justice needs since our founding. Our mission is to accompany one another in the creation of communities of compassion and care, and to advocate for the well-being of humanity. In this ever-changing new era of health crisis, we at NBA hear God’s call to care, and we are moved to action.

Over three grant cycles, the NBA will provide grants of $1,000–$15,000 to eligible Disciples-related health and social services ministries and projects that are experiencing adverse effects related to COVID-19. Ministries may apply to each of the three grant periods, with a capped maximum award of $30,000 per ministry.

Below, please find information and links for the new grant program.

NBA grant webpage and online application is here: https://www.nbacares.org/covid-19-grants. From this page, visitors can download the information in Korean or Spanish.

NBA email newsletter about the grants is available here: https://mailchi.mp/nbacares/covid-19-nba-response-grants

A brief description of the COVID-19 NBA Response Grants program: 
To offer a rapid and impactful response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the National Benevolent Association is offering grant funding to support Disciples-related ministries that are working locally in response to this crisis. With this funding we seek to offer relief to ministries that have been detrimentally impacted and to support new projects created in service to those suffering because of the pandemic. All Disciples-related health and social services ministries and congregation-affiliated projects in the United States and Canada are invited to apply. Eligible applicants must demonstrate in detail their financial need for support related to COVID-19. For more information and to apply, visit NBAcares.org/covid-19-grants.

Click HERE to go to the NBA website and learn more about the available grants.

2020-04-08T14:07:38-05:00Apr 6, 2020|COVID-19 Resources|Comments Off on Introducing COVID-19 NBA Response Grants

A Message from Rev. Terri Hords Owens

Please watch a message from General Minister and President, Rev. Terri Hord Owens as she provides faithful guidance and resources concerning COVID-19.

2020-04-01T16:14:21-05:00Mar 16, 2020|COVID-19 Resources, Regional News|Comments Off on A Message from Rev. Terri Hords Owens