Sympathy Notice: Rev. Gessel Berry Jr.
Rev. Gessel Berry Jr., retired member of the Northern Illinois Conference, passed away Friday, November 24, 2023. During his ministry he served Vincent; Chicago: Gorham; Highland Park: Be…
I hope you’ve learned one thing about me after these almost eight years: I love to study the Scriptures. I’m always amazed how different historic events, as well as personal experiences, bring new eyes, if you will, to understanding them.
During the pandemic, and now as we begin to imagine what life will be like when we are no longer sheltering in place as individuals, families, and congregations, my attention turned to a particular book that has not been my favorite: Leviticus! Leviticus is a book of instructions! Its context is the shaping of the people bound for the Promised Land, making them a people (no longer of Egypt) who are learning to love and worship God. These instructions also include how to be good neighbors with each other and those they encounter.
We are in a coronavirus wilderness and in need of being shaped anew in our love of God and our neighbors near and far. Everything is so new, and old answers don’t work for our many questions of “how then do we live? how do we worship? how do live in such a way that honors and cares for others?”
So what are the instructions given in Leviticus that drew my attention? This is my Common English Study Bible. It has lots of notes and commentary, including an outline of the book.
The first section is entitled “Instructions for Offerings”! This comprises seven chapters out of 28 total; one-fourth of the book of instructions. I wouldn’t have chosen to begin with this topic but the scripture calls me to do this. Please be as generous and regular in your giving to your church as you possibly can. It’s reported that churches who had already had a high percentage of electronic transfer have the least disruption in offerings. If you haven’t already, I would encourage each church to begin this practice. We are going to be in a pandemic mode for quite some time. Even when others are able to attend worship, some may not be able to be physically present for a while. Please give your offerings to your church to keep your church strong. And churches, please avail yourselves of the means to give electronically to the annual conference and keep the annual conference strong. (Click here for instructions)
The next set of instructions is entitled “Inauguration of Worship.” Yes, beginning worship! The book of instructions was given to teach people how to worship—especially how to lead worship! I have asked a group of people to develop some best practices, well thought through and some gleaned from others, to address ministry related to worship, but also spiritual formation groups like Sunday School, children’s ministry, small groups, VBS. Also, how the church office would run in a safe way; outreach ministries, such as food and homeless ministries; pastoral care; and special events. The ReTurn Team will be working to provide these “instructions” around the middle of May so that when we can “inaugurate” worship again, we will have prepared to do so.
The next part of the instructions is entitled “Instructions for Purifications,” chapters 11-15. These instructions are to help keep people safe from illness and contagion. This week our risk management officer, Dwayne Jackson, and the insurance committee sent out a document about how to care for and prepare our buildings to be safe from contagion. This document was sent to each clergyperson but can also be found here.
The next set had to do with food and worship! The ReTurn Team will provide some direction on coffee hours and potlucks. It may be a while before we can do what some of us do best as UMs—eat!
The book of instructions also gives us instructions for “The Day of Reconciliation” in the midst of these instructions and finally “Covenant Blessings (and Curses)”. The Day of Reconciliation is what we know as Yom Kippur practiced by our Jewish friends. It is the holiest day in the Jewish faith. We long for the day when we can come back together in our congregations and even as an annual conference to see each other’s faces, giving thanks for being “yet alive” and, yes, even mourning our losses of individuals as well as our way of life. The Covenant curses are a little daunting but essentially underscore the need to follow the instructions that are given to the people so that they can be healthy and in good relationship with God and one another.
Leviticus is a book of instructions that we as Christians rarely read because as the introduction to Leviticus in my CEB says “the instructions involve things that most people don’t do anymore” or at least as described for the people in the wilderness. I’m not directing you to go read Leviticus, but I am encouraging you to read and keep the instructions—or you could call them “best practices”—that are being given to us from our government as well as the church to be safe, to stay healthy, and to help others be safe and healthy.
I don’t want anyone to get COVID-19 from any of our churches, ministries, or clergy. I want everyone to stay healthy and safe. God bless you and keep you!
~Bishop Sally Dyck
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