March 11, 2020

TO:                      The New York Annual Conference
FROM:                 Thomas J. Bickerton, Resident Bishop
RE:                       Coronavirus Update

Bishop Bickerton’s Response to Rising Coronavirus Concerns in New Rochelle and Among Members of the New York Annual Conference

Dear Friends & Colleagues,
By now, you’ve likely heard the news that New Rochelle, New York has been hit hard by COVID-19, otherwise known as Coronavirus.
Yesterday's reports of 10 additional cases of the virus in Westchester County, brings the total number of confirmed cases to 108 in New Rochelle alone. By comparison, New York City has 36 reported cases.  New Rochelle is now home to the largest Coronavirus cluster in the United States. 
These findings prompted New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to accept the recommendation of State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker for new emergency measures to better control the novel Coronavirus cluster in New Rochelle.
In response, Gov. Cuomo has called in the National Guard to set up a one-mile radius “containment zone” around New Rochelle.
What this means, according to an announcement issued yesterday by the Governor’s office, is that New Rochelle schools, houses of worship and other large gathering facilities in the city will be temporarily closed for a two-week period from March 12-25. The National Guard has also been deployed to a State Health Department Command Post in New Rochelle to assist with food delivery, cleaning and other community support efforts.

Many of you have reached out already to inquire about our New Rochelle United Methodist Church (located squarely within the “containment zone” and just a short walk from the Synagogue attended by the first person diagnosed in the area) and how to best manage the impact on your own churches as well.

We have been in direct communication with Rev. Angela Redman, the pastor of New Rochelle UMC, and Denise Smartt Sears, the Metropolitan District Superintendent, about a plan for their congregation.  One idea being seriously considered is the use of “Live Streaming” technology for worship and ZOOM internet for congregational Bible Studies, meetings, etc.  Angela is taking a pro-active approach to this and my office is in direct contact with her and the congregation about their alternatives as they face the challenges these next two weeks bring.  It has been of critical importance that we partner together to provide collaborative solutions moving forward.

I want to continue to encourage all of our NYAC churches to operate with intentionality, and clear thinking in taking the necessary precautions as your response to the threat of this virus in your community. 

Refraining from using the common cup in Holy Communion and refraining from having renewal of baptism water in the narthex of your church are two clear practices to be utilized in worship.  Today I learned sign language for the “Passing of the Peace” in a worship service I attended and found it to be a fun and creative way to encourage the joy of sharing fellowship with one another without excess contact. 
Our Communications staff at the Conference Center is prepared to offer information, support and resources on how to conduct live streaming during worship and the use of ZOOM internet technology in conducting meetings.  I would encourage all of our leaders to be aggressive in communicating with your congregation and offering whenever possible an encouraging word about Coronavirus, the precautions you are taking, and the word of hope that will help someone to not overreact. 

Remember throughout that your non-anxious leadership will calm fears and help people to clearly think through alternatives.
Just today, we received an update from Rev. Dr. Brian R. Bodt with Hamden UMC. He shared a special health notice prepared in collaboration with Yale School of Medicine physicians in his congregation with the intention of  quelling fears and spelling out protocol needed to keep everyone safe moving forward.
The notice does a wonderful job of outlining information in a clear, concise and non-hyperbolic manner. I’ve asked that it be uploaded to our site along with the growing list of resources that should help you stay informed and educated by reliable sources. You can access this and other information from the carousel on our site.

Undoubtedly, we are living in a very unique time in our history as we continue to manage the daily business of the United Methodist Church, while also working to adapt the familiar to accommodate this current health crisis.

As always, I will continue to pray for each and every one of our churches, the leaders within them and our members, many of whom are working to sort through a myriad of emotions and concerns. Please know as well that all members of our NYAC office as well as the connected churches in your Cooperative Parish are your resource, when you need to field questions, assess practices, gather information and/or allay concerns in the weeks and months ahead.

I will continue to share information, assess and offer insight on any needed adjustments and lift you up in prayer.

Let us in particular lift up the people of New Rochelle and our congregation in that city.  And let us pray for anyone, anywhere affected by this virus that they may find healing and wholeness.  We are a people of faith who are called to use the gift of science and medicine and community organization to tend to all of the people under our care.  To that end, let us pray for one another that we may lead in ways that are faithful to the calling God has placed upon us all.

The Journey Continues, . . .

Grace & Peace,

Thomas Bickerton
Resident Bishop


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