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A message from Kent Olson, Chairperson

What can our churches do in the midst of a public health crisis?  Are there specific ways specific ministries we can embrace that utilize distinctive capabilities of our congregations—ways in which we can serve that others can’t, or can’t do as well?

We know that local congregations are ideally situated to create support and communication networks that can greatly benefit members who have been particularly affected by this crisis.  And without an undue amount of imagination or effort, we can probably discern effective ways to expand those networks beyond our membership and into our local communities.  We need to do so immediately.  And we need to utilize the connectional benefits that United Methodists distinctively enjoy, creating cross-congregational support structures, and sharing “best practices” for support strategies quickly across all of our DSW congregations and indeed with all United Methodist congregations.

The scope of these crisis-response ministries is foreboding.  As difficult as it will be to respond to the needs that arise in this crisis, we must also seek to help meet immediate needs without putting bandages on a broken status quo that needs to be transformed rather than simply nursed along.

We know that that the COVID-19 crisis represents a very significant potential “switching point” for our society.  A decade ago the Great Recession presented us with another crisis.  That crisis also represented a potential switching point, and while other directions were possible our society chose to prioritize our financial institutions, our large corporations, and the core features of our market-based economy over the needs of millions of ordinary Americans who were losing their jobs, losing their homes, and losing whatever financial security they might have had.  We could choose for this time to be different.  We could choose to focus our attention and our resources on meeting the needs of those who are most vulnerable from both a public health and an economic perspective.

With our economy facing severe risks and Wall Street suffering huge losses, our government appears to be posed to adopt a massive response to the COVID-19 crisis.  When the health of corporate America is widely acknowledged to be in grave danger, we seem to be willing to recognize that sometimes our market-based system is simply inadequate to deal with whatever shock has emerged.  When that happens, the business world and indeed the great majority of Americans clamor for government action.

But there are tens of millions of vulnerable people in our nation (and many hundreds of millions more around the world) who face crises day after day, month after month, and sometimes year after year, for whom our market-based system is never adequate to meet the basic needs that would enable them to flourish as children of God.  Surely the parable of the good Samaritan teaches us that the vulnerable, powerless victim on the side of the road is at least as deserving of our help as a wealthy and powerful victim.

Transformative “switching point” opportunities rarely present themselves.  Our economic and political ideologies have ingrained within us the understanding that there is no such thing as the common good (only a collection of individual goods), and so our public health crisis could easily become just one more event to divide us.  But it has become painfully obvious that our neighbor’s health does indeed affect our health.  And so, for a brief moment in time, there is an apparent willingness to consider other visions and values.  Jesus and the prophets invite us to share the visions and the values of God’s kingdom on earth.  Can we overcome our reluctance (even now) to share those visions and values with a society that, momentarily at least, appears hungry to hear about them?

How could we do this?  Or rather, how can we, in collaboration with God and with one another, respond to this crisis in a manner which will create both healthier human beings and a healthier society?  John Wesley stepped up to the plate in his day.  Now it’s our turn to bat.

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