Subject: NCC Weekly News: Jeremiah and the Worship of Idols

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From Jim: May I Humbly Suggest...
I am fortunate that I am able to continue my daily work from home. The pace has not slackened one bit as I am on conference calls, participating in Zoom meetings, dealing with more emails than before the crisis, and am in touch with people all over the world throughout each day. 

Everything changed on September 11, 2001, and now everything has changed once again. After 9/11, even mystery writers changed their style and plots because of the new reality. I wonder how mysteries written from now on will read? It’s already odd to see television shows in which people are in close quarters or are touching their faces. 

Even my daily Bible reading feels different. Recently, I have been reading Jeremiah. In the 39th chapter, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon conquers Jerusalem, captures King Zedekiah of Judah, and takes captives to exile in Babylon. The book is filled with references to ‘pestilence;’ perhaps I am noticing these when I didn't before.

Nebuchadrezzar leaves a remnant in Judah and appoints Gedaliah as governor over them, but soon Ishmael leads a plot to assassinate Gedaliah. The entire situation—the defeat of Judah, the exile of the most prominent leaders, the assassination of the governor—contributes to a sense of desperation among those left behind. 

The remnant decides to flee to Egypt, the very land from which God delivered them from slavery centuries before. Jeremiah pronounces the word of the Lord to them, “All the people; who have determined to go to Egypt to settle there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; they shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I am bringing upon them.” (Jeremiah 42:17, NRSV)

Not only do the people reject Jeremiah’s warning, they assert he is lying. They go further and say that it was when they were making offerings to a false god, ‘the queen of heaven’, that things were all right and they vow to “go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her” (Jeremiah 44:19 excerpt, NRSV). 

May I humbly suggest that those who assert the coronavirus isn’t that serious, that we need to get back to work, to university, to church, that those who are fleeing to upstate New York and other rural areas, risk ignoring the pestilence and expert advice in the pursuit of mammon and false security and could place all of us in danger? 

I, too, wish I knew where to go to find safety. Every cough and sneeze, every tickling at the back of my throat, every ache and pain, makes me wonder if the virus has afflicted me. What will become of me, of my family, of those I love? 

Although Jeremiah repeatedly warns Israel that hard times are ahead, so too does the prophet proclaim God’s promise: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built” (Jeremiah 31:3-4 excerpts, NRSV). This is the promise to which I cling.

Grace and peace,
Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
In Historic Statement, Ecumenical Organizations Across the World Stand Together to Protect Life

In a historic joint pastoral statement released on March 26, the World Council of Churches, Regional Ecumenical Organizations, and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) affirmed the urgency of standing together to protect life amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time ever, all regions in the ecumenical movement around the world are standing together with a common message that urges both prayers and action for one world to protect life.

“We urge people everywhere to give the highest priority to addressing this situation and assisting in whatever ways we can in our collective efforts to protect life,” the statement reads.

“Ours is a global church, and this is an international crisis impacting oikumene, the whole inhabited world,” said Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the NCC. “The God of love is calling us together, and it is God’s love that will see us through.”

NCC Mourns the Passing of Rev. Dr. Dale Luffman, Committed Ecumenist

The National Council of Churches joins the family and friends of Rev. Dr. Dale Luffman in grieving his loss. Rev. Luffman died at his home in Redmond, Oregon, on the morning of Wednesday, March 25, 2020. He is survived by his wife Judy, three children and four grandchildren.

Dale was a minister in the Community of Christ and served the National Council of Churches as a committed member of the Governing Board and served on its Faith and Order Commission for many years. He retired after serving over 35 years as an appointee minister for Community of Christ, nearly 20 of which were served as a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles. He also served as the Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer for the Community of Christ. Dale continued to teach seminars and workshops in theology and scripture and served as an adjunct faculty member of Graceland University, teaching courses in scripture and practical theology for the Community of Christ Seminary.

A Pastoral Letter in a Time of Pandemic

As leaders in our beloved United Church of Christ, we write to speak a word of tender care to our congregations, our clergy, and our members.

We are sensitive to the grief and loss that many of you are experiencing. Most of us have never seen anything like this. The pandemic has interrupted our lives. Some have suffered the premature death of loved ones, while others live through and with severe pain and suffering. People are losing their jobs. Many of us have been placed under orders not to leave our homes and to shelter in place. In most of our communities, orders have been given to limit gathering in public spaces. This has been hard for all of us.

As leaders, we also bear witness to acts of profound kindness and creative ingenuity that remind us of the better angels within us. We are watching a Church prove itself to be incredibly adaptable as orders to stay at home have not ended our collective need even in times like these to give our thanks to God. Churches who not only have never gathered in a digital community, but who never thought they would need or want to, are doing just that – and experiencing something very profound and very meaningful. We have heard stories of whole families, spread across the country, being able to gather together for the same worship service via digital broadcast. That is such a meaningful gift the church has to offer in a season such as this.

Do you know someone who needs extra inspiration these days?

We all do!  That's why we've asked Christian leaders from across our 38 member communions to offer prayers, meditations, and devotionals for those of us who struggle with the challenges COVID-19 presents to our lives, our families, our health, and our finances.  

Please visit the link below and share our sign-up form with someone who will appreciate a little inspiration every day.  
Council of Bishops
African Methodist Episcopal Church

Re: Urgent Request for Relief for Religious Institutions

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Madam Speaker and Minority Leader McCarthy:

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged Americans in all sectors in ways that grow increasingly more difficult every day. The first priority is the health and safety of everyone and churches around the country are prioritizing how to provide critically needed material support and spiritual counsel within the contour of the restrictions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, as well as orders issued from state and local governments.

The Black Church, in particular, exercises a vital function within the communities we serve. It is estimated that there are more than 60,000 Black churches in the United States serving communities in the 50 states, making the Black church one of the largest property owners in the Black community. Our denomination, the African American Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), is one of the largest with an estimated 2.5 million members. Founded in Philadelphia in 1787, our church has been a leading voice of spiritual leadership, civil rights, and social uplift throughout our existence.

Conference of European Churches calls on churches to stay united in prayers

“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

As we all brace to fight COVID-19, being a fellowship of European churches, we reaffirm our common Christian faith based on the certainty that life is stronger than death, that Jesus Christ overcame death and the fear of it. Our faith holds us together, that is our strength.

Emboldened by the power of our spiritual unity and living faith, through the liturgy and proper instruction, with encouragement and consolation, we pray for all humankind. We pray for the healing of the sick, the souls of the departed, and courage and strength for the families of the afflicted, that our voluntary isolation may be transformed into genuine communion.

While we take measures to protect our loved ones, our communities and ourselves, let us remember to not lose touch. We need physical distancing – but we also need social solidarity. Let us find ways to speak to each other, comfort those who need it and stay with those who are lonely. Let us think of each other and remain connected with our brothers and sisters.

A Communique from the Middle East Council of Churches in the Season of Lent and in the Time of the Coronavirus

With the blessing of the Heads of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), in this Season of Lent and in the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic which threatens all of humanity, the MECC wishes to issue the following Communique to its member churches and all people of good will.

Fasting is a time of meditation, prayer, and conversion during which Christians repent and ask God and each other for forgiveness. The Church starts by asking forgiveness, in preparation for Easter, the crossing from darkness to light, from death to resurrection. The Church Fathers likened that journey to the People of God, the Church, crossing the desert into the Promised Land, the Land of the Covenant and into a new life with God, a journey in which they experienced hardships, difficulties, and temptations, while accepting God's Covenant, commandments, and salvation.

Washington National Cathedral donates 5,000 medical masks resurrected from crypts

The Washington National Cathedral will donate thousands of medical masks to two hospitals in the nation’s capital after discovering a trove of the much-needed protective equipment just feet from where Helen Keller and other prominent Americans lie in the cathedral’s underground crypts.

Bought in 2006 as a precaution during an outbreak of the H5N1 flu, also known as bird or avian flu, the more than 5,000 N95 respiratory masks had been forgotten until early this month, when the cathedral’s chief stonemason, Joseph Alonso, remembered coming across them in an unfinished area of the crypt level.

Though still in their original packaging, the masks were technically expired, and cathedral staffers first reached out to the manufacturer and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine whether they were safe to use.

A trip back in time and a sobering vision

Black History Month is generally a time to recognize achievements and celebrate legends.

But last October, a diverse group of 14 representatives from the Florida United Methodist Church conference traveled to Hampton, Va., to observe history that was haunting, disturbing and sobering.

Ultimately, they hope the experience will be liberating.

Sharon Austin, the conference’s Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, said there was obvious symbolism at the 2019 Christian Unity Gathering, which commemorated the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans at Old Point Comfort.

They gathered near the water at the exact 1619 demarcation point of the “White Lion,’’ an English privateer that transported “20 and odd’’ Africans, who had been captured from a Portuguese slave ship. Colonial officials in Virginia traded food for the slaves.

“As we stood there, I told my husband, ‘Everything we have experienced in our lives that reflects racism overtly or had racist overtones, it started right here,’ ” Austin said. “There was no mystery about it. It was an opportunity to think about what our grandparents and great-grandparents endured.’’

It was an eye-opening time for all involved.

Lessons amid a disaster—an open letter to my colleagues in ministry

Beloved colleagues in ministry, This is a message I wish I didn’t have to write.

I do not want to know what I know. Because I learned my lessons about disaster ministry in one of the ugliest and horrific events that still resonates within my own soul, my local community and our nation. My teacher has been pain and heartache. My classroom has been a setting where complex traumatic grief has lived for the past seven plus years. It was in December 14, 2012 that I sat in a fire station next to Sandy Hook Elementary School and was called forth to minister as my community absorbed unimaginable devastation to heart, mind, body and soul.

Beloved colleagues, if you are like me; you were not trained for anything like this in Seminary. My journey has a pastor and human being has taught me some pretty difficult lessons about trauma and ministry. Though the coming disaster will be different the one I experienced, there are a few things that I learned that I wished someone had told me beforehand. Perhaps some of these lessons will be helpful to you in the coming days, months, and years. If not, feel free to ignore what I am about to tell you.

WCC webpage available on "Coping with the Coronavirus"

The World Council of Churches (WCC), via a specific landing page on its website, is reaching out to the worldwide fellowship with a sense of pastoral care amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In view of the rapid spread of the virus in countries across the world, the page brings together the most essential information on where to find reliable updates on the situation, as well as how the WCC is responding.

“The WCC has dual roles at this time, both being an employer of staff in Switzerland and in several other countries and a worldwide fellowship of churches. This web page is to make sure the most important information is readily available, so that we can help member churches to stay informed, but also so that we as a fellowship can help bring hope and light to how churches are, and can be, contributing to constructive responses to the coronavirus and its consequences for people’s lives, physically as well as spiritually,” says WCC director of communication Marianne Ejdersten.

Poverty Amidst Pandemic: A Moral Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us into an unprecedented national emergency. This emergency, however, results from a deeper and much longer-term crisis - that of poverty and inequality and of a society that ignores the needs of 140 million people who are poor or a $400 emergency away from being poor.

These millions of people are in dire need of critical attention immediately. We call on you to fulfill your moral and Constitutional responsibilities: expand the COVID-19 emergency provisions to care for us all and enact our Moral Agenda immediately.

Why is this important?

We cannot return to normal. Addressing the depth of the crises that have been revealed in this pandemic means enacting universal health care, expanding social welfare programs, ensuring access to water and sanitation, cash assistance to poor and low income families, good jobs, living wages and an annual income and protecting our democracy. It means ensuring that our abundant national resources are used for the general welfare, instead of war, walls, and the wealthy.

We also call on you to immediately enact the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to fully address the COVID-19 outbreak and the underlying crises of poverty and inequality that made so many vulnerable right now. Read them here:

Serving as a leading voice of witness to the living Christ in the public square since 1950, 
the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) brings together 38 member communions 
and more than 40 million Christians in a common expression of God's love and promise of unity. 
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