Holston COVID-19 Task Force

April 23, 2021

Dear Holston Friends,

About a year ago, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor established a Holston Conference COVID-19 Task Force to lead the Conference’s response and give direction to our churches concerning the pandemic. As you know, our Conference churches and institutions closed our buildings for in-person gatherings for several months. Then a Conference Protocol was put into effect allowing each local church to develop a plan, following the guidelines of the Protocol, to take steps allowing them to return to in-person worship. During and after this time, the Task Force continued to meet, monitor the COVID-19 cases across Holston, and pray for the proper time for restrictions to be lifted. This has been a difficult time for all of us.

Nevertheless, we are humbled by and grateful for the resilient spirit of the Holston Conference as you have remained committed to sharing the gospel while also keeping your communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of your efforts, lives have been saved, and the message of Jesus has been shared. While the pandemic is not yet over, we offer our deepest gratitude for the ways you embody the message of Galatians 6:9-10: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Thank you for being leaders in your communities during this global crisis.

Our premise in establishing the Protocol was to follow Wesley’s mandate to “Do No Harm.” This is still our guiding point; however, we are now operating through a different lens with the current information available. One of the medical personnel we have relied on heavily in our work, has kept a diligent record of the cases and deaths throughout the Conference. Both markers are down, and he believes the crisis point is behind us. Vaccinations are now more readily available, and more people are receiving them. Since our case numbers and death numbers are shrinking, and since all persons are now eligible for the vaccine, we believe the Task Force has served its purpose in being the decision making body concerning local church protocols.

Therefore, on May 1, 2021 the Holston Conference Protocol, “Taking Steps Forward Faithfully and Safely: A Plan for Returning to In-Person Worship in the Holston Annual Conference during the COVID-19 Pandemic” will be lifted. Local churches will be able to make decisions on their own regarding how they will continue to respond to the pandemic. In lifting the Protocol, we are not saying just do what you want to do. We are still trying to save lives. Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules – Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God, must still guide our hearts, our minds, and our actions. The action to lift the Holston Conference Protocol is not permission to return to how things were prior to the pandemic. Churches are expected to follow CDC guidelines and any additional safety guidelines that may be enforced or recommended by your city, county, or state officials. We are fully aware some areas are removing or have removed mask mandates; however, Holston Conference Churches are still required to wear masks during in-person gatherings.

Once again, we want to reiterate all churches should be following some sort of safety protocol. We also recommend following the COVID-19 cases and deaths in your community. As things change, whether numbers go up or down, please make appropriate adjustments to your plan. If your church wants to change, update, or delete tenents of the protocol it has already established, please make sure to provide a copy of the new guidelines you will follow to your District Superintendent. This is not for approval, but for a record of what you will be doing going forward. We also recommend churches check with your insurance company and notify them of changes in your guidelines for their records as well.

Finally, the Task Force wants to strongly encourage everyone who is able to receive the vaccine to take it as soon as possible. We have already seen how the vaccine has impacted the drop in new cases and deaths. We believe wearing masks, staying socially distanced, and getting vaccinated is the fastest way to return to our pre-COVID activities and gatherings.

Again, thank you for your diligence and patience in following the Holston Conference Protocol. Together, we have made a difference in the name of Christ. May we each continue to live in such a way that people may see Christ in us and our churches.

On Behalf of the COVID-19 Task Force,

Rev. Jeff Wright

Task Force Chair