July 15, 2020
To all friends of United Methodist Chapel of the Valley,
The Governor of California on Monday of this week mandated that many areas that had been opened in our state be closed again in 30 counties. San Diego county was one of them. Inside worship services were one of the areas that were to be closed again. Because of this, we have received word from our Bishop and District Superintendent that we will not be allowed to have in-person services until this has turned around.
I have been on a zoom call with our District Superintendent and then on a zoom call with faith leaders and the county of San Diego to talk about the details of this new mandate. I specifically asked about the age question and if there was still a recommendation of over 65 staying in as much as possible. They came back pretty definitively that those over 65 and those with immune-compromised systems are still very highly recommended to stay at home and if out to socially distance and mask. And there was also a big discussion about singing. And it is stated in the guidelines that there is to be no community singing or chanting indoors during this time. The possibility of singing outdoors with masks and social distancing is a possibility, that is being checked on and we will be informed of the answer ASAP.
With all of this, the Church Administrative Board agreed that we will continue to do our services the way we are currently doing, virtually on-line and with devotion guides being sent out, through at least August. We will continue to follow the guidelines set by the Bishop and cabinet, the state and county. We also agreed to search for avenues to be in community in ways that are safe for all.
I know this is very difficult and disheartening. I know we all desire to gather together again, to see one another’s faces and to be able to hug one another. I know there is also fear and concern of contracting this virus. I want to share with you that I too have those same thoughts. I want to assure you that I am doing my very best to keep current with all of the guidelines and understanding of this pandemic. I am in prayer and I ask that you join me in pray that we may make it through this time.
I will continue to update you when I have information. I am available to answer questions or address your concerns. You can call me at the office during office hours Monday through Thursday from 9:30 until 11:30 am. You can also contact me if you have prayer concerns or a pastoral concern. You can also find up to date information on our Facebook page and our webpage www.umchapelvalley.org. You can also see the videos of each Sunday service on our pages as well. The videos go along with the devotion guides we send out each week.
I look forward to the time we can see one another in person!
Together on the Journey,
An Update on Re-opening as of June 27, 2020
The Church Administrative Board, at their last meeting, continued the conversation about the timing of reopening our church building for in- person worship services. We looked at the Conference guidelines, the state guidelines and the county guidelines for reopening. All three of those guidelines HIGHLY recommended that those over the age of 65 or those with immune-compromised medical conditions, should not attend in person church services until at least Phase 4 (in the church phases not the states). We also looked at how different the services would have to be…no singing, no fellowship or food following the service, social distancing, face masks, no sitting together except family units, communion served differently or not at all, the cleaning before and after each service, and no pew cushions (hard to keep sanitized). For these many reasons, we decided to continue what we are doing for at least July. We will continue to monitor and see how it is going around us and discuss it again at our July meeting. We are also looking at a way to somehow gather together outside if possible. In the meantime, you can worship with us on the web by going to our webpage at www.umchapelvalley.org and watch the services. We also have zoom coffee hour at 10 am on Sundays. The address is sent with your devotion guides each week. You can also get the zoom information by calling the church office or emailing the church office by Thursday morning.
A Letter from our Bishop May 22, 2020
First of all, thank you for your faithfulness in following our California-Pacific Conference guidelines and closing your sanctuaries to all in-person public worship services. Safety has to be our number one concern right now, and your patience has helped to lessen the spread of the virus. Thank you!
We have heard from our federal, as well as some state and county officials, that it is safe to return to in-person public worship. But, as your Resident Bishop, I disagree with this assessment.
I care so much for your safety that, if even one person is infected with the virus by prematurely opening our in-person places of worship, this would not be worth the risk. Therefore, I am declaring that our in-person public gathering worship services shall remain closed and our vibrant virtual worship offerings remain open until a detailed local church plan of re-opening is drafted and submitted to your District Superintendent and approved, even if your state, county or city has approved reopening. This also applies to outside worshipping groups who may rent your facility. Please remember: we never closed our churches! We simply moved to a different way of doing church.
I realize that this is disappointing news for some of you who have yearned to be back in person with your local worshipping community. I am appealing to you to be patient until that point at which we have deemed it to be safe to return to in-person worship. I am praying that this will not be a prolonged period and that we will see the number of new cases and deaths of COVID-19 diminishing in your area. A more detailed criteria and process will be outlined this coming week, so please look for this information during May 25-31, 2020.
The most important reason for in-person worship to remain closed is to do no harm and keep everyone safe. Yet, another reason to delay opening is that I have checked with our Chancellor and annual conference insurance representatives and what I learned was that any church who violates this directive is subject to being fully liable for those who may contract COVID-19. This means that the pastor and lay leadership would be legally responsible for such a liability. This is the reason that I am taking on the responsibility of declaring that we will not reopen our public in-person worship services without the proper safeguards and guidelines that will ensure everyone’s safety. If you need to blame anyone for not allowing you to reopen public worship, I accept this as my responsibility.
For any direct questions or counsel, please contact your District Superintendent. If you need to talk this over with me, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me close with a prayer to our Gracious God in whom, “we live and move and have our being…”
Gracious God: We ask for your divine presence and leading during this critical time period of the world wide pandemic. We pray for healing for those who have contracted COVID-19 and for those who have lost loved ones. We ask for patience and trust in your divine view, and mercy on our leaders, clergy and laity who must make difficult decisions. May your divine values of love, compassion, and care lead us to make the best decisions for our churches and communities. In Christ’s name we ask this. Amen.
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop
A Statement for UM Chapel of the Valley May 22, 2020
The church is not the building, the church is a people. We have not been closed. We have continued to be in prayer, we have worshipped and we have been doing the work of ministry. We have been and continue to be essential. However, the United Methodist Chapel of the Valley’s building will continue to be closed. We, in consultation with our Bishop, District Superintendent and the church leadership, are working on a plan to methodically and safely open the doors of the building when we can do so with no harm to all who enter. In the meantime, we will continue to be the church in prayer, in ministry and in worship in the safety of our homes. Worship with us online, pray with us daily and when we do open our doors, we invite you to join us in person. May God Bless us and be with us all.
Thoughts from Pastor Julie May 22,2020
A song I have sung since I was a child, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” The church is essential…ALL of us are essential. The church has never been closed. Ministry, worship, prayer have all been happening continuously. Do I want to gather together again and be able to sing and fellowship and eat and pray together….absolutely! However, I want to do that when we can all worship together. Until then, I will be patient and I will, in dialogue with the church leadership and Bishop, with guidance from the health departments of our county and state and do an opening safely. Jesus said to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves….I see wearing my face mask (believe me I am not a fan of my mask because of claustrophobia) as loving my neighbor, so I wear it. I see social distancing as a way of loving my neighbor as myself. John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist church gave three simple rules…Do no harm, Do good, and Stay in love with God. There is NO one in my congregation I am willing to sacrifice so that I can do corporate worship the way I want to. Do no harm! I am going to work towards a slow, methodical, safe way to open at the appropriate time. Do good! And I am going to stay in love with God and know that God is bigger than this, is with us all whether it is in the church building or my house in front of my computer. I am going to continue to love God with all that I am! And I am going to do the very best I can to love my neighbor as myself by social distancing, wearing a mask, washing my hands and constantly learn new ways to reach out and connect. I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together and we are not closed! And yes, we ALL are essential!
April 22, 2020
To Family and Friends of the United Methodist Chapel of the Valley,
I cannot believe it was 6 weeks ago that we said we were not going to be worshipping in person. I continue to keep apprised of the situation within our community, county, state and conference. I continue to attend webinars with other faith-based leaders with the county and with our annual conference. I am doing the best I can to keep you informed. Bishop Grant Hagiya continued his directive to suspend all public worship services until further notice and we are all monitoring the situation and continue to listen to the direction of the WHO (World Health Organization), the CDC (Center Disease Control), and the San Diego County Health Organization. We continue to take this extraordinary step to keep you all safe.
So we will continue to not hold Sunday morning worship services. I will continue recording the Sunday morning message and putting it on our Facebook page (Chapel of the Valley United Methodist Church El Cajon – there is a link on our webpage) or on our webpage www.umchapelvalley.org. I will also be emailing or mailing a devotion page each week and making phone calls to keep in touch. I encourage you to also make phone calls to each other to keep in touch. Try calling a different person each day. We have had a zoom meeting for our Church Administrative Board (CAB). We have also had one worship service on zoom. I have not given up on trying to have a Bible study or a prayer gathering on zoom, still trying to work on the complications we had. I will keep you informed on the plans. We have also had the church now able to take online donations or donations from your mobile phone or you can text your donation. There are instructions on line on our web page. You can also continue to send in your pledges and offerings via the mail or by dropping it off during church office hours or by dropping it through the mail slot in the Pastor’s office. Our prayer chain is still active, so you can call me or leave a message on the church phone line. If you do leave a message, please let me know if you would like it made public on the prayer chain. I ask that you also continue to keep me and all of our church in your prayers.
The office hours are changing slightly. To limit exposure myself, I have been directed to shorten the hours by our district and conference. The office will still be open if you need to call Monday – Thursday from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Please continue to take care of yourselves. Wash your hands, practice social distancing when you do go out, and if you are feeling sick please call your doctor before you go in unless it is an emergency. Please keep the church and me apprised of your concerns so we can respond as needed to your needs.
Together on the Journey!
Pastor Julie Elkins
I am also including a portion of the latest letter from our Bishop, you can get his weekly updates by going to the website www.calpacumc.org.
From Our Bishop
As I begin this Monday Briefing for the California-Pacific Conference on the worldwide pandemic, let me remind you of the “Stockdale Paradox” made popular by leadership guru, Jim Collins. This paradox is about Admiral James Stockdale who was shot down over Vietnam during the war and held for 8 years as prisoner of war by the enemy. He believes the prisoners of war (POW’s) who didn’t make it were too optimistic. In his own words: “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
Stockdale believed these optimists failed to confront the reality of their situation, something he accepted, and then proactively worked to do something, ever so small to change this reality. He did things like developed a communication system to his fellow POWs by tapping the walls and sending intelligence information through sharing seemingly innocent letters he wrote to his wife.
Ultimately, he retained the faith that someday he would be liberated, regardless of the torture and terrible conditions of the prison. It led Jim Collins to coin the phrase: “Confront the brutal facts, but never lose hope.” The Vietnam War eventually ended, and Stockdale was freed, returning home as a true hero.
“Confront the brutal facts, but never lose hope.” This is what we must do amid the COVID-19 crisis, especially as it relates to our churches. A group of us faith leaders recently met online with Governor Newsom and he was just as articulate and compassionate with us as he has been on his state briefings. He compassionately cares about us, the people, and prioritizes our safety and well-being over the economic downturn that has also devastated our society.
Because of this, I don’t think that we are going to be able to open our churches right away. We have an older demographic as members and each person is beloved by God. I will be pushing for our own list of protocols before we can safely return to public worship, but that is realistically at least another month away. I know that this is difficult to hear, and there could be some dramatic intervention. But, it is more likely that, for the safety of our members and friends, we will probably be using electronic means to worship and meet all of the month of May.
However, remember we are a people of faith who never lose hope. That hope is expressed in returning to live worship, Holy Communion, Bible study, visitations, weddings, funerals and Baptisms. We await in exile like our fore-bearers, but we wait in hope and anticipation that our day will dawn and we will return to that which has given us comfort and joy.
Will it be the same as before? I am doubtful. We will have to adapt to new circumstances, and continue to innovate even when we are allowed to meet in person. This pandemic has changed everything, and will continue to force us to change. I believe that is good news, as our complacency and hubris of the past has paralyzed us with a nostalgia that is life threatening. Dealing with the sheer mortality of COVID-19 has shocked us into “Confronting our brutal facts, but never losing hope.”
We will continue to monitor our situation daily and report to you when we think it is safe to return to public worship and gatherings, but never lose hope!
Be the Hope!
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop