Dear South Georgia clergy, laity, and friends,
Before we even saw the effects of COVID-19 here in Georgia, I recorded a Palm Sunday message. Little did I know how timely the words “quietly courageous” would be today, nearly one year after Dr. Gil Rendle introduced them to us at last year’s Annual Conference session.
Today, maybe more than ever before, let us ask the questions, “How do we develop quietly courageous leadership? What does it look like to be a quietly courageous leader in today's world?” I invite us to use Holy Week as a great teaching moment and to look to Jesus as the teacher. His witness gives us the opportunity to learn from the most quietly courageous leader the world has ever known. (Watch video)
Last week I said it would be unlikely that in-person worship services and other gatherings would resume during the month of April. That was confirmed Sunday evening when President Trump announced the extension of social distancing and the voluntary national shut down through April 30. The Cabinet and I ask that you please extend your contingency planning to include the remainder of April since we will not be meeting in person during that time.
It’s hard for any of us to fathom not being together with our church family to observe Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, but I continue to be encouraged by the creative ways our congregations are being the church while scattered.
Our Connectional Ministries team has put together resources specifically for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, and I will lead a 10 a.m. worship service for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday for churches that are unable to stream their own service.
Many of you have asked for guidance around communion during this time. If John Wesley were with us today, I am confident he would say: use this time to offer your congregation a resource from the early Christian Church - the Love Feast, also known as the Agape Meal.
This ancient Christian practice is well-suited for use with online worship. It unites Christians in table fellowship using bread, cup, scripture, and prayer for encouragement and support—the very things we need most right now. It recalls the meals Jesus shared with the disciples during his ministry.
The New Testament letter of Jude, verse 12, contains a reference to the early Christian practice of a love feast. And who can read Acts 2:42, 46-47 without longing to experience this kind of connectedness among believers?
The Moravians, a group of German Christians, introduced the Love Feast/Agape Meal to John Wesley in Savannah, Georgia in 1737. Under Wesley’s influence it became a significant part of early Methodism. His diary notes state: “After evening prayers, we joined with the Germans in one of their love–feasts. It was begun and ended with thanksgiving and prayer, and celebrated in so decent and solemn a manner as a Christian of the apostolic age would have allowed to be worthy of Christ.”
The Love Feast can be celebrated during online worship. It does not require an ordained person to officiate; any Christian may conduct it. Historically it has often been used in situations where a service of Holy Communion was not feasible. Although its origins in the early church are closely interconnected with the origins of the Lord's Supper, the two services became quite distinct and should not be confused with each other. The Love Feast has its own uniqueness and can be a “fresh expression” of the Christian faith for our church members.
In addition to the order for a Love Feast found in The Book of Worship, here are links to two additional services that are well-adapted for use in online worship. These services are not lengthy and can follow the sermon as a response to the Word.
Link: A Liturgy for When We Cannot Meet
Link: Comfort Food: A Feast of Love
At a time when we are looking for ways to remain connected to each other, let us use this powerful resource from our own history. South Georgia is where John Wesley first experienced the Love Feast. In lieu of Communion, let us enthusiastically offer this to our congregation during this season in which we are not having in-person worship.
The Appointment-Making Process
The Cabinet and I have been meeting each week for both appointment making and for ongoing assessment of the coronavirus situation. Our appointment process has certainly been impacted by the virus and has altered our process for consultation with churches and pastors. It is our goal to publicly release appointments on Sunday, April 19. Thank you for your prayers for this discernment process.
Annual Conference/Moving Day
The Annual Conference planning team and I are looking at alternatives, and we anticipate making an announcement before the end of April. If the Annual Conference session is moved to a later date, moving day will still be June 17 unless the coronavirus situation necessitates further change.
Together We Pray - 12:19
The Cabinet and I ask you to join us in the COVID-19 Prayer Movement as we pray daily at 12:19 p.m. We are praying for a vaccine, for medical workers, for those with the virus, for grieving families, and for the Holy Spirit to continue stimulating the amazing creativity of our South Georgia congregations.
As we look toward the cross, may we pray these words together: Come, Lord Jesus, enable us to ride with you into Jerusalem. Enable us to sit with you at the table. Enable us to learn from your witness on the cross so that we can be who our communities and our world most need: quietly courageous leaders. Come, Lord Jesus, and make it be so for us. Amen.
Alive Together in Christ,
R. Lawson Bryan