For something that can’t be seen with the naked eye, the coronavirus has a way of magnifying longtime injustices around the world.
The impact of the virus is visible in the nursing home resident isolated from loved ones and in the migrant laboring to put food on people’s tables. It’s in the long lines of cars at food banks and the disproportionate death toll among racial minorities.
Bishops spent much of their online meeting May 1 discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic aggravates problems The United Methodist Church has long sought to alleviate. Those problems include poverty, racism and mistreatment of migrants.
“COVID-19 has made our world more vulnerable,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño said.
She and other bishops discussed how United Methodists could show love of their neighbors and relieve suffering.
Specifically, bishops pointed to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s “Sheltering in Love” COVID-19 response fund. UMCOR is using the fund to address the heath concerns, food insecurity and other pressing needs of vulnerable populations worldwide.
The fund had raised about $200,000 as of May 1, said Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, who leads the bishops’ missional engagement team. However, he and other bishops said much more is needed from those who can afford to give.
Carcaño, who leads the California-Nevada Conference, is the chair of the denomination’s Immigration Task Force. She spoke about how the pandemic was affecting migrants around the globe.
She noted that under the cover of COVID-19, the United States has deported thousands of migrants “without any due process of law or any thought for their health and well-being or that of anyone else.” Some of those deported were sick with COVID-19 and have carried the disease to countries with already strained health care systems.
Even as some countries increase deportations, the bishop pointed out that many rely on migrants to toil in fields and meat-processing plants to keep people fed.
Her hope is that in the wake of this crisis, United Methodists and other people of faith would create “a mighty movement” to provide fair treatment for migrants. She also hopes to see church members work to reduce the economic hardships that often drive people to leave their home countries.
“If you welcome the migrant, Jesus said, ‘You welcome me,’” the bishop said, referencing Matthew 25. “On this day, friends, it is a good day to welcome the migrant — Jesus Christ himself — into our lives.”
The May Day bishops’ meeting reminded Bishop Sally Dyck of the distress call “mayday.”
“The mayday that calls for rescue is French for ‘Help me,’” she said, referring to the call that began as m’aidez.
She leads the bishops’ justice and reconciliation team that aims to help the church to hear such calls.
Dyck, who also leads the Northern Illinois Conference, emphasized that COVID-19 is exacerbating problems beyond U.S. borders.
In the Philippines, she said, governmental forces have arrested more than 20,000 people since March 17 on accusations of violating quarantine.
“And that’s more than all the COVID-19 tests conducted,” Dyck said. “Those arrested include 21 people from an urban poor community who were protesting that they simply needed food.”
She also noted that the disease was increasing educational, racial and economic disparities worldwide.
In her home city of Chicago, she said, African Americans comprise about 29% of the population but 70% of the city’s COVID-19 deaths.
She worried what months without schooling means for youngsters all over the world who cannot join in online learning because their families cannot afford the internet.
“Wherever we live and minister, we know that there is a call to bring Christ’s healing,” she told her colleagues.
“May our internal denominational differences not be another way of causing deeper and more egregious injustices and cruelty due to the financial disruption and missional drift. May we instead keep our focus on mission and unity for the sake of the Gospel, especially for the most vulnerable.”
The disease has also had a personal impact on the bishops. Retired Bishop Alfred Johnson’s wife, the Rev. Sherrie Dobbs Johnson, died of complications related to the virus on March 27. Other bishops have family members who are ill with the disease.
Holston, who also leads the South Carolina Conference, asked for prayers for his daughter Brittany, a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in an Atlanta hospital. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was in quarantine for a time.
“But she recently has been released and now is back at work, back on the front lines, working with COVID-19 patients,” Holston said.
The contagion continues its devastation. As of May 5, Johns Hopkins University reported that the coronavirus had sickened more than 3.6 million people and killed more than a quarter million worldwide. The U.S. has nearly a third of the world’s cases and the highest death toll.
In prayer, in giving and if at all possible, in staying home, United Methodists can show love for their neighbors, bishops said.
“We protect the most vulnerable among us by flattening the curve — those in prison, those in nursing homes, those essential workers doing work on our behalf,” said Bishop Kenneth Carter. He is outgoing president of Council of Bishops and leader of the Florida Conference.
At Carter’s request, retired Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany offered a prayer.
“We long to reach out and see your face, Jesus Christ, in the vulnerable,” she prayed, “in those who are sick with COVID-19, in those who have no shelter to hide them, in those who are persecuted because they are not able to stay home in a safe place.”