United Brethren churches exist in 18 countries. As of Wednesday, three of those countries hadn’t yet confirmed a case of COVID-19: Sierra Leone, Haiti, and El Salvador.

Now, only Sierra Leone remains virus-free.

On March 18, El Salvador reported its first case: a person who had recently visited Italy. Two more cases were reported on March 20. We have five churches in the El Salvador Mission District, which is under the supervision of Honduras Conference.

On March 19, Haiti reported two cases: a 31-year-old Haitian who had just returned from Paris, and a Belgian volunteering in a Port-au-Prince orphanage. As has happened in most countries, the news caused panic-buying–food, gas, soap, face masks, etc.

President Jovenel Moise moved to close all of Haiti’s airports, seaports, factories, and schools. There is an 8pm to 5am curfew, and a ban on gatherings above ten people. Two days before, he had announced a two-week suspension of flights from Europe, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Latin America.

Our 28 churches in Haiti became a United Brethren national conference–the tenth–last summer.

We have United Brethren churches in 18 countries–ten national conferences, and eight mission districts. In addition, UB Global missionaries with other organizations serve in ten countries where we don’t have UB churches. That gives us a presence in 28 countries. A few of those countries have not yet reported a case of the coronavirus…but are making preparations for its arrival.

Here is a look at the United Brethren world. As you’ll see, the United States isn’t the only country taking drastic measures to combat the virus. Numerous other countries throughout the world, including some with only a few or no cases, are also imposing strong restrictions of various kinds.

Beside each country heading is a number in parenthesis. That is the number of cases as of March 19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Those numbers change by the hour, but will give you an idea of the current severity in each country where we have a presence.


Africa

All things considered, Africa has not been hit very hard by the virus…yet. Egypt leads the way with 196 cases, and Algeria (72), Morocco (49), and Tunisia (29) are also in double digits. Those countries are all in North Africa. For most of sub-Sahara Africa, cases are just now popping up. The exception would be South Africa, which has 85 cases.

Sierra Leone (No cases)
We have a large presence in Sierra Leone, where UBs have served since 1855: 62 churches, dozens of primary schools, five high schools, and a major hospital.

Sierra Leone was perhaps hit harder by Ebola than any other country. But thus far, they have no cases of COVID-19–which may reflect a lack of testing. Both of the neighboring countries, Guinea and Liberia, have now reported cases. Earlier this week, Sierra Leone took some strong preventive measures.

1. People entering the country by any means will be isolated if they show any of these symptoms: fever above 99.5 degrees, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing.

2. Anyone coming from a country with 50+ confirmed cases will be automatically quarantined. Anyone coming from a country with less than 50 cases will not be quarantined, but will be contacted and checked throughout the next 14 days.

3. Four hospitals have been designated as quarantine facilities.

4. Citizens are encouraged not to travel internationally.

Liberia (2)
We have 9 churches in Liberia. The first case was reported Monday, March 16–the head of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency, who returned March 13 from a trip to Switzerland. A domestic worker for that official became the second case. The official refused mandatory quarantine after returning from Switzerland, and has been suspended from his job by Liberia’s president.

The announcement of this first case sparked panic in the capital of Monrovia, with a run on hand sanitizers and face masks. The country has banned traveling to countries that have more than 200 cases of the virus. All school and university activities have been suspended for one week, starting March 17.

Sierra Leone and Liberia are the only African countries with UB churches. However, UB Global has endorsed and sojourn missionaries serving in several other countries.

  • Nichie Parish Stonall serves with Impact Africa in South Africa, which has 85 cases.
  • The Mallay family serve in Togo, a West African country which has one case (but borders Burkina Faso, which has 20). Seth Mallay is a doctor in Togo.
  • The Steve and Amanda Taylor family serve at a school in Kenya, which has four cases. (Kenya’s first case was a 27-year-old Kenyan woman whose flight from the US included a layover in London.)

The Caribbean

There are many island nations in the Caribbean, and several have reported cases of COVID-19. Most are taking strong action to keep the disease out, including airplane travel restrictions. We have churches in just two of these countries: Jamaica and Haiti.

Jamaica (12 cases)
On Tuesday, March 10, Jamaica announced their first case of the coronavirus–a Jamaican woman who had recently returned from a trip to Great Britain. Our Jamaican churches had planned big services for last weekend as part of their annual national conference meeting, but they were cancelled.

Haiti (0 cases)
Thus far, Haiti has no reported cases of the virus. There was one suspected case this week, but the test came back negative. However, Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, which has reported 12 cases (all apparently originating from Europe). Haiti closed its border with the Dominican Republic, banned travel for government officials, and suspended flights from Europe, Canada, and Latin America. They are evaluating whether or not to continue allowing flights from the USA. For now, all arriving passengers from the US must undergo health screenings.


Latin America

Mexico (93)
We have 40 churches in Mexico. Their first five cases all involved infections from Italy–three persons who attended a conference in northern Italy, and two students in Milan. They now have 82 cases.

Mexico’s president is facing strong criticism for his seemingly unconcerned attitude toward the virus. Public service announcements promote handwashing and social distancing, but that’s about the extent of it. The President of El Salvador begged Mexico to take strong action: “Otherwise, in 20 days the epicenter of this pandemic will not be Europe, but North America.”

The prodding may be working. Mexico will close all schools from March 20 to April 20.

Honduras (9)
On March 11, Honduras, where we have 110 churches, confirmed its first two cases of the virus, both involving Honduran women–a pregnant woman who returned on March 4 from a trip to Spain, and a 37-year-old woman from Tela (where we have a church) who returned on March 5 from a trip to Switzerland. Several other cases have now been reported, including a baby.

Honduras has taken strong steps. On Monday, March 16, the president imposed a seven-day lockdown on the country. Public and private sector workers have been sent home, public transportation banned, beaches closed, borders closed (by land, sea, and air), all flights suspended, non-essential businesses closed, dine-in restaurants closed. Nobody can visit nursing homes or hospitals. La Ceiba, the country’s third-largest city and the center of UB work in that country, is in a state of virtual lockdown. Likewise for San Pedro Sula, where we also have several churches.

In addition to our churches in Honduras, we have the Reeck, Andino, and Roberts families serving there with other mission organizations.

El Salvador (0)
El Salvador is a mission district under the direction of Honduras Conference. We have five churches there. El Salvador thus far has no confirmed cases, and is taking drastic action to keep it that way. On March 14, the president declared a national emergency, shut down commercial flights, sent home all non-essential public employees for 30 days, closed schools for 21 days, and banned nearly all foreign visitors. The country is now under a 21-day quarantine. All public transport is being sanitized three times a day, and all workers must wear masks.

Costa Rica (50 cases)
On March 6, Costa Rica, where we have just one church, became the first Central American country with a case of the coronavirus. It involved an American tourist from New York whose husband had had contact with an infected person. Costa Rica now has 50 confirmed cases and is being overwhelmed with testing.

Cost Rica’s government ordered the closing of all bars and discos. Until April 12, citizens and residents who enter the country will be required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. They will also undergo medical checks at the airport, and must state the address where they will self-quarantine.

Guatemala (6)
We have 18 churches in Guatemala, mostly in very poor urban areas. Guatemala confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Sunday, March 15–an 85-year-old man who had recently returned from Spain, and who died that day.

Guatemala has suspended all passenger flights until March 30, closed all schools and universities for three weeks, and is limiting gatherings to 100 people. They also blocked all deportation flights from the United States.

Pastor Jaime Chun, the elected superintendent of Guatemala National Conference, sent a note on March 19 saying, “Here in Guatemala, meetings of all kinds have been forbidden by the government. As of today, seven people are infected by the virus and 300 people are reported quarantined. The United Brethren churches here have stopped meeting. We closed the churches and opted for each family to pray, read the Bible at home, and communicate through Facebook and other means.”

Nicaragua (0)
We have 32 churches in Nicaragua. No cases have been reported, and the country seems to be openly disregarding all prevention measures. On March 14, President Daniel Ortega held a mass rally and parade in downtown Managua under the title “Love in the Time of COVID-19.” There are no travel restrictions. However, Cuba is reportedly sending doctors and pharmaceuticals to help Nicaragua prepare for the pandemic.

Europe

We have just three churches in Europe–a predominantly African church in Berlin, Germany; and two Haitian churches on the outskirts of Paris, France. Both of those countries have around 8000 cases of the virus.

In addition, we have endorsed missionaries in several other countries.

  • Spain (over 14,000 cases): Ron and Brenda Anderson serve with European Christian Mission, and Jaime Clore serves with SEND International. Spain has the second-most cases in Europe (after Italy).
  • Poland (246 cases): Arek and Donna Delik serve with Operation Mobilization.
  • Russia (147 cases): Kurt and Bekah Siegal serve with an organization in St. Petersburg.

Asia

All of the places with UB churches in Asia are dealing with the disease–Hong Kong (208), Macau (15), Thailand (212), and India (151).

Many of Hong Kong‘s early cases can be traced not to China, but to travelers returning from Europe or Canada. Macau‘s first two cases, on January 22, involved a man and woman from Wuhan, China. Macau took strong action early, including closing all of the casinos, and now have only 15 confirmed cases.

And, of course, the US and Canada are dealing with the virus.


Pray for our Brothers and Sisters Around the World

One of our Core Values is, “We Esteem Each Other.” It says:

As United Brethren people across the world, we recognize that what happens in any of our churches matters to each of us. We are concerned about the welfare of sister churches not only in the next town, but in other countries. From Central America to West Africa to the Far East to North America, we are part of each other. We help each other, we learn from each other, we esteem each other, and we cooperate with each other to accomplish more for the Kingdom than we could by ourselves.

Please remember in prayer our fellow United Brethren in other countries. Most of those countries have far fewer medical resources than we have in the United States (one ventilator in all of Sierra Leone!). Pray that, during this time, we can all be a light for Jesus for our communities and countries.

Due to the CDC’s mandate prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 at any one event for the next 8 weeks, we have cancelled the four “summits” planned for April and May. All were to be held in Daytona, Fla. They include:

  • The three Pastor & Spouse summits: April 20-23, April 27-30, and May 4-7.
  • The Ministry Leaders Summit: May 4-7.

In addition, three other events have been cancelled:

  • March 21: the UB Global Ignite Conference scheduled at Fowlerville UB church (Fowlerville, Mich.).
  • March 21: the UB Association workshop at Rhodes Grove Camp in Chambersburg, Pa.
  • March 30: the Idea to Action Symposium at Huntington University.

I was registered for a Pastor Summit. What do I need to do?

1. Notify the UB National Office that you have received this information. If within the next 48 hours we have not heard from you, we will call you to assure you have this news. Contact Cathy Reich in the Bishop’s office by email at cathy@ub.org, or call Cathy at 888-622-3019.

2. Cancel any flight arrangements you made. Some airlines are granting reimbursements, others are granting a one-year credit for the cost of the ticket. Most airlines are waiving change fees. (NOTE: If your travel is after April 30, however, you may need to wait until this is in effect for May travel. As of March 17, the cutoff date is April 30.)

3. Don’t worry about any hotel reservations we made on your behalf. They’ve all been cancelled. There will be no charge to you or the bishop’s budget.

4. Continue to pray for Bishop Fetters as together we are navigating unprecedented waters. Pray for each other, as you are all on the frontlines, doing ministry, shepherding your flock. We pray in the coming days that you will be granted all the wisdom, strength and health needed to lead well and lead strong.

5. Plan to attend the Pastor & Spouse Summits in 2022. Stay tuned for dates.

I was registered for the Ministry Leaders Summit. What do I need to do?

1. Notify the UB National Office that you received this information. If within the next 48 hours we have not heard from you, we will call you to assure you have this news. Contact Cathy Reich in the Bishop’s office by email at cathy@ub.org, or call Cathy at 888-622-3019.

2. Cancel any flight arrangements once the airlines extend into May. As of March 17, the cutoff is April 30. With the day-to-day changes, it shouldn’t be long for them to honor May cancellations. Cathy Reich will keep in touch with you on this one.

3. Don’t worry about any hotel reservations we made on your behalf. They’ve all been cancelled. There will be no charge to you or the summit budget.

4. If you are a youth worker: plan on attending the youth summit in 2021. Stay tuned for dates. For everyone else: plan on attending the next Ministry Leaders Summit in 2022. Stay tuned for dates.

5. Continue to pray for Bobby Culler and Craig Mickey as with the Bishop they are navigating unprecedented waters.

Rev. Kyle McQuillen

Rev. Kyle McQuillen passed away on March 16, 2020. He and his wife, Mar Louise, had been living in Fredericksburg, Va. Funeral plans are on hold as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. However, cards can be sent to Mar Louise at this address:

5714 Spring Arbor Circle
Fredericksburg, VA 224071

Kyle McQuillen served eight years as the denomination’s Director of Missions, 1993-2001. That was a time of unprecedented international expansion for the United Brethren church, as we added work in Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Haiti. The tumultuous civil war in Sierra Leone occurred during those years, we changed how we support UB missionaries, Hong Kong and Macau came under the control of China, and our various international fields became self-governing national conferences.

McQuillen grew up in the United Methodist Church, in which he served as a pastor and a missionary in Nigeria. While pastoring a UMC church in Shippensburg, Pa., he became friends with the local United Brethren pastor, Rev. C. Ray Miller, who was also chairperson of the UB Board of Missions. That contact led to McQuillen agreeing to serve as a UB missionary in Sierra Leone 1983-1985 to oversee the nationalization of our work there. He subsequently became an associate director of missions at the United Brethren national office, and in 1989 began four years as senior pastor of College Park UB church in Huntington, Ind.

Rev. Kyle McQuillen

Rev. Kyle McQuillen passed away on March 16, 2020. He was the United Brethren director of missions 1993-2001, during which time unprecedented international expansion occurred. Before that he was pastor of College Park UB church (Huntington, Ind.), an associate director of missions, and a missionary in Sierra Leone. Following is a chapter about McQuillen from “All for Christ,” Volume 2.

In August 2001, Kyle McQuillen retired after eight years as the United Brethren Director of Missions. His tenure saw the greatest overseas expansion in UB history, with new work started in Thailand, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Mexico.

When it comes to United Brethren missions, 2001 was the end of an era. Until that time, Huntington, Ind., was the United Brethren world headquarters, and the bishop was the bishop for the entire UB world. The 2001 General Conference changed all of that, formally establishing a structure with seven sovereign national conferences — the US, Canada, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Those conferences chose their own leaders and administered their own affairs.

But prior to 2001, we were, basically, colonial. UBs around the world looked to that office building in Indiana. It was our Mecca.

For the conferences and mission districts outside of North America, the bishop was somewhat secondary. The person most visible to them was the Director of Missions. That’s who chaired their annual conference meetings, ordained their ministers, dispensed funds, and made numerous decisions regarding their work. A very powerful and influential person. A person whose constituency existed outside of North America, and who was highly esteemed there.

In 2001, the Director of Missions position changed in many ways. The title changed to Director of Global Ministries. But more significantly, the position was stripped of all authority in the national conferences. Now, the Director of Global Ministries came as an observer and as a partner to work alongside the national conferences.

Kyle McQuillen was the last Director of Missions when the position held a great deal of authority around the world. His eight years in that position were a wild ride.

From the Coal Mines to the Pastorate

Kyle and Mar Louise McQuillen both grew up in Philipsburg, a town in central Pennsylvania. Kyle was the son of a coal miner. From age twelve until he went to college, he and his brother ran Caterpillar bulldozers for the coal company, scraping topsoil off of coal for open-pit mining. They worked every weekend and through the summer, but neither wanted to spend a career doing that. Plus, the coal business petered out in central Pennsylvania, and a lot of companies went under. So while Kyle’s brother began a career with General Motors, Kyle headed for the ministry.

Kyle entered Lycoming College, a small Methodist liberal arts school of about 1200 students in Williamsport, Pa. After his freshman year, he traveled to England in 1958 and spent two years at the University of Exeter — his first taste of world travel. Then he returned to Lycoming for his senior year. In 1960, he proceeded to Wesley Seminary in Washington, D. C., earning a Master of Divinity degree. Meanwhile, Mar Louise became a Licensed Practical Nurse.

At age 19, Kyle began serving in the ministry. He started with stdent pastorates while in college, 1958-1963. After graduating from seminary in 1963, Kyle was ordained and became a fulltime pastor in Mercersburg, Pa.

In 1965, Kyle got a tremendous introduction to world missions. Dr. James Teeter, a surgeon friend from Waynesboro, Pa., asked Kyle if he would be interested in visiting United Methodist mission fields. He provided a substantial monetary gift which enabled Kyle to spend six weeks traveling around the world.

When Kyle returned, he and Mar Louise began talking about their shared interest in missions. They finally made themselves available to the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which in 1968 accepted them for service in Nigeria.

But first, the Methodists required six months of orientation for new missionaries, including two weeks in a cross-cultural or ethnic context. Husbands and wives were assigned to different places. Kyle worked in Spanish Harlem — visiting homes, attending churches, and trying to grasp how people lived in a very poor, run-down community. Mar Louise spent her two weeks in a hospital for mentally handicapped children.

To Africa

In mid-1969, the McQuillens traveled to Africa. Because of the Biafran war raging in Nigeria at the time, they couldn’t get visas from the United States to Nigeria. So, they went to Sierra Leone, hoping to secure visas there. It took six months.

“It was a difficult period of trying to fill in the time as we waited for our visas,” Kyle said. They homeschooled their three kids and helped with the United Methodist national church in Sierra Leone.

“We almost gave up hope that our visas would come,” Kyle recalled. In fact, he was prepared to take a new job as the Director of Stewardship for the UMCs in Sierra Leone, beginning on January 1, 1970. He would work under the supervision of an African bishop. But on December 27, their visas arrived.

The McQuillens were sent deep into the Nigerian bush to a village called Zinna. In an area with a quarter-million people, they were the only Caucasians. Zinna was a quiet village in a nice setting. Though it was a hot part of the world, Zinna, located on a hill, tended to be relatively cool. The McQuillens lived in a cement block house with a tin roof and cement floor. No electricity. No running water; they carried water from a river a mile away. They lit kerosene lamps, cooked on a wood stove, and used a kerosene-powered refrigerator. Youngest daughter Janet’s playmates were all Africans.

The two older children, Keith and Susan, attended a boarding school 600 miles away. Kyle and Mar Louise saw them once every five-and-a-half months, when they would came to Zinna for about seven weeks.

Mar Louise, being a nurse, worked in village dispensaries that handled such things as childbirths, circumcisions, snakebites, malaria, and minor surgeries. Anything more difficult got referred to a hospital, though there was no hospital nearby.

Kyle worked with African pastors in the Hausa language (which he learned), training them as evangelists and pastors. He also taught English twice a week at a high school two hours away.

Three years into their term, Mar Louise contracted hepatitis. Because of the incubation period, they knew when she got it: during a communion service. That day, Kyle had waded into the dirty river, muck up to his knees, to help baptize 105 people. Afterwards, there was a communion service. Because they only had about a dozen cups, they kept reusing them — someone would drink, then they’d refill it for the next person. Mar Louise evidently caught hepatitis from someone who drank from the same cup.

Mar Louise spent five-and-a-half months in bed. She was jaundiced and lost a lot of weight. Finally, a doctor told them that if they stayed in Nigeria, she would die. So in 1972, one year short of their four-year term, they returned to the States on medical leave. When they received Mar Louise’s liver damage report, it was decided they wouldn’t return to Nigeria anytime soon.

Among Kyle McQuillen’s priorities in Nigeria was transferring the Nigerian church away from missionary supervision. He worked with the Nigerian leaders to make this happen. When he and Mar Louise left the country, no missionaries came to replace them. “The church had come to stand on its own,” Kyle said.

Back to Africa with the United Brethren

Kyle spent the next year traveling across the United States to speak in United Methodist churches about Africa. Then he was assigned to a United Methodist church in Shippensburg, Pa. Next door was Prince Street United Brethren church, then pastored by C. Ray Miller. The Millers and McQuillens became good friends. Kyle even did some preaching and evangelistic services for the UBs.

In 1983, the Missions board decided to nationalize the Sierra Leone church, and needed a new field superintendent who could make it happen. Bishop C. Ray Miller, the chairman of the Board of Missions, knew someone who might be up to the task — a person with experience in nationalizing an African church, and with experience in Sierra Leone itself.

After seven years in Shippensburg, Kyle and Mar Louise accepted a church in Berwick, Pa. It was there, in 1983, that they received a call from Bishop Jerry Datema. Would they be interested in going to Sierra Leone to oversee the nationalization process? At the end of 1983, Kyle, Mar Louise, and daughter Janet were back in Sierra Leone. They intended to stay for several years, accomplish their task, and re-enter the Methodist ministry.

“I had no intention at that point of leaving the United Methodist Church,” Kyle said. “I was seconded, loaned, from one denomination to another. The United Brethren church even paid into my United Methodist pension while I was in Sierra Leone.”

The nationalization process went faster than expected (as told in chapter 5 of All for Christ, Volume 1). In the spring of 1985, met with the Board of Missions and told them he saw no reason to wait; the Sierra Leoneans were ready. The Board agreed. When he left in 1985, he was the last Field Superintendent. After 130 years of missionary work, the United Brethren work in Sierra Leone was fully in the hands of Sierra Leoneans.

Mission Director

The McQuillens accepted a pastorate in Bellefonte, Pa., near Penn State University. In Kyle’s second year there, Bishop Datema contacted him again, asking him to serve on the Board of Missions as a non-UB representative. Then, in 1987, Datema invited him to join the staff as associate director of Missions.

“That was probably the biggest decision of my professional life,” Kyle said. “I would be leaving the church where I had been converted. I had gone to college and seminary in Methodist schools, had 28 years invested in pension in the Methodist church, and nearly all of my background was in the Methodist church. At that point, I knew I could no longer be seconded, but would have to change denominations. But I made the decision, and we left on very good terms.”

Kyle transferred his ministerial credentials to Pennsylvania Conference, and he and Mar Louise became members of College Park UB church in Huntington, Ind.

For two years, Kyle worked in the Missions Department alongside two other associate directors, Hazel McCray and Harold Wust. Kyle didn’t expect to ever go back into the pastorate. But in 1989, he was invited to become pastor of College Park UB church. He remained there for four years. Then, in 1993, after Jerry Datema announced his retirement, Kyle agreed to let his name appear on the ballot for Director of Missions. The 1993 General Conference elected him to that position, and the 1997 General Conference re-elected him.

When asked what he most enjoyed about his work as Director of Missions, Kyle replied: “Unquestionably, the thing I have enjoyed most is my association with people of other cultures and the opportunity to see the church grow outside of the United States. I will miss my relationships with pastors and laypeople of other conferences. It’s not the travel, the going to another place, because travel — the waiting in airports — isn’t fun. It’s being there with them — people like Jose Ramirez, Francisco Raudales, Juan Pavon, Peter Lee, and Lloyd Spencer.”

The Globetrotting Ends

One time on a plane, Kyle and Mar Louise listed the countries they had visited — not just stopovers in airports, but actual visits. They ended up with 82 countries. The major omissions were the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Australia, Brazil, and the southern part of South America.

He said, “Of the 82 countries I have visited, the one country to which I could easily emigrate would be England. We both like it very much.”

It went back to Kyle’s college days at the University of Exeter. As of 2001, every year for the past 25 years, the McQuillens had vacationed in England. While serving in Sierra Leone, they left briefly to spend their 25th anniversary in England, something Kyle had always promised Mar Louise they would do.

Retiring to Florida

Kyle and Mar Louise retired to Edgewater, Fla., just south of Daytona Beach. They moved into a home in a gated community of about 600 homes on the intercoastal waterway; Kyle’s brother had retired to the same community. Mar Louise actually moved there in 2000 and began working in a doctor’s office

“My family wants to make sure I do something,” Kyle said before leaving office, “because it’s been an active life. They say, ‘Don’t come down here and sit. You’ll go nuts.’ It’s wide open what I could do. I don’t want to necessarily end up as a greeter at Wal-Mart, and I don’t want to do 60-hour work weeks anymore. But I want something that will keep me busy.” As it turned out, those 60-hour weeks didn’t necessarily go away.

He began volunteering for the local police department, became a prison chaplain, and later joined the staff of Edgewater Alliance Church.

As of June 2014, he was overseeing a reentry program for 292 inmates at Tomoka State Prison in Daytona Beach. He wrote, “I work 55 hours a week at the prison and love my work among so many inmates on whom others have given up hope.” He was also serving two days a week as pastor of Visitation and Member Care at his church.

“I’m 76 now and enjoying life as much as ever!”

As a result of CDC directives against group meetings of 50+ people, we have two cancellations to report:

  • March 21: the UB Association workshop at Rhodes Grove Camp in Chambersburg, Pa. Cancelled.
  • March 30: the Idea to Action Symposium at Huntington University. Cancelled.

A number of United Brethren churches have cancelled services and other church activities for the next 1-3 weeks. The ones we know of are all located in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. The governors of those states issued executive orders banning most public gatherings of 250+ (Michigan and Indiana) or 100+ people, and all public and private K-12 schools have been closed for at least two weeks.

We have 163 UB churches in the United States. Nearly 80% are located in four states: Ohio (40), Pennsylvania (33), Michigan (31), and Indiana (22). We also have 1-5 churches in 17 other states.

Many UB churches that have decided to continue meeting have informed the congregation of precautions they are taking. Most of the largest churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana are cancelling and going to an online-only format (like Facetime). Around ten senior pastors posted video messages to their congregations.

Church governance boards are tackling the issue thoughtfully and thoroughly. Here is a run-down of what churches are doing thus far, along with links to what they are communicating to the congregation. No doubt other churches have communicated instructions to parishioners in ways beyond their websites and Facebook pages.

Ohio

  • Mainstreet (Walbridge) suspended services through the end of March. The website has a very good message, along with excellent video remarks from Pastor Marty Pennington.
  • Alvordton and Kunkle UB churches in northwest Ohio have cancelled services for March 15 and 22, along with other events. Alvordton is also cancelling their April 4 Easter egg hunt.
  • New Hope (Bryan) is “suspending all large gatherings and events in our campuses until further notice.” They are also partnering with area churches and the community to provide free lunches to families in the Bryan area, and have launched efforts to solicit donations and volunteers. Read all about it on their Facebook page.
  • Bethel (Elmore) will meet, but Pastor Tim Sherman made this video with practical instructions for parishioners.
  • New Horizons (Rockford) will meet, but issued a thorough statement about the precautions they are taking. Among other things, they added seats in the sanctuary to allow more space (social distancing) between people.
  • Renew Communities (Berea) is cancelling this weekend, and will most likely cancel in later weeks.  Here is an excellent video message from Pastor Andy Sikora.

Michigan

  • Fowlerville UB is cancelling its Saturday evening and Sunday morning services, youth meetings, and other events for the next two weeks. There will be a 10:45 online service via Facebook or through their new app. See video message here.
  • Homefront in Grandville is doing online-only services for the next three weeks (March 15, 22, and 29). Here is their statement.
  • Gaines (Caledonia) is cancelling all activities through Saturday, March 21.
  • Elem3nt (Blissfield) is cancelling services March 15, and will address it week by week. Pastor Gayle Ruble’s statement cited the governor’s call for limiting gatherings to less than 250 people. “This decision is solely based upon elem3nt desiring to obey the laws of the land as our civic duty. Please understand we do not view this is as an infringement upon our religious rites or religious convictions. Our desire is to be above reproach by living out our calling to be model citizens by the way we conduct ourselves.”
  • Brown Corners has cancelled services for March 15, 22, and 29, along with all other activities at the church. Pastor Jeremiah Ketchum made this video, and the church website has a statement.
  • Eden (Mason) initially planned to hold only an 11 am service on March 15, with no Sunday school, children’s church, or nursery. But on March 14, at the request of the city of Mason, they decided to cancel services and church activities through the end of March. They will provide weekly audio messages until regular church activities can resume. Here is their statement.
  • Calvary Community Church (Saginaw) has cancelled services and activities through the end of March. Pastor Ted Doolittle gave a video statement on their Facebook page.

Indiana

  • The three churches in Fort Wayne have suspended services and other activities for the next two weeks: Emmanuel, Living Grace, and Anchor. The Living Grace statement from Pastor Jason Holliday says, “We want to err on the side of caution, especially with the elderly in our congregation in mind. We also want to be a part of the solution….This is a CRAZY time, but it is also an opportunity for us to BE the church even when we can’t GO to church.”
  • College Park (Huntington) cancelled its March 15 services.
  • Hopewell UB (Auburn) is cancelling for March 15.

Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania governor has not placed a ban on public gatherings, and we’re not aware of any UB churches in Pennsylvania that have cancelled services because of the coronavirus. But some have issued statements about the coronavirus.

  • King Street (Chambersburg) “will stay open, with cautions.” They published this statement on their website.
  • Otterbein (Greencastle) will hold its service this weekend, but Pastor David Rawley said, “I anticipate that we will soon suspend our regular schedule and gatherings.”
  • First UB (New Castle) and Cochranton, and no doubt others, issued messages saying they intend to meet, but with precautions.

Statements from Governors

Indiana

Non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people. That includes any event or gathering of people who are in one room or a single space at the same time, including cafeterias, churches, stadiums, conference rooms, auditoriums, etc.

Michigan

An executive order prohibits any gathering of over 250 people in the same space. There are exemptions for mass transit, industrial and manufacturing work, and the purchase of groceries and other consumer goods. There is no exemption for churches. The governor also closed all public and private schools until April 6.

Ohio

Governor Mike DeWine banned gatherings of 100 or more people in confined indoor or outdoor spaces. There are a number of exemptions, including churches. “The order exempts public transit, medical facilities, retail spaces, libraries and other transient settings as well as offices, restaurants, factories, athletic events without spectators, and religious gatherings including weddings and funerals.” The governor also closed all public and private K-12 schools for three weeks.

Pennsylvania

The governor ordered the closing of all public and private K-12 schools for two weeks. The governor imposed strong restrictions on hard-hit Montgomery County (Philadelphia), including on “mass gatherings.” But beyond Philadelphia, there are (so far) no restrictions on public gatherings.

Todd Fetters, Bishop

The coronavirus has been on people’s minds, and the urgency is escalating dramatically. The coronavirus is impacting schools, travel, conventions, concerts, the stock market, business operations, athletic events, store inventories, and much more. On a personal note, Jeff Bleijerveld and I were scheduled to fly to Jamaica this Saturday for General Conference, the international gathering of United Brethren leaders. On Wednesday, that event was cancelled and rescheduled for 2021.

Obviously, the coronavirus will impact church life. How should we respond?

None of us should be alarmist; Scripture cautions against living in fear. But neither should we tell people it’s all an over-reaction. Conditions and knowledge are constantly evolving. All we can do is act on what we know right now. Next week, we can act on what we know then. Fortunately, there is much we do know about the coronavirus—how it spreads, who it preys upon, and sensible steps we can take.

What advice do I have for United Brethren churches in the United States? Let me suggest a few things.

1. Mobilize your church leaders to prepare.
Some church boards have been discussing what they need to do to prepare for the worst. Some are making contingency plans in case services are cancelled. Someone needs to be buying hand sanitizer. Think ahead. At this point, there is no excuse for being caught off-guard. I’m pleased to see that some UB churches are already making plans and preparing their congregations for what may be ahead. I would love to hear what you are communicating to your congregation.

2. Do what’s necessary to keep from spreading the virus.
We know for certain that the coronavirus is highly contagious. So, in the weeks and maybe months ahead, advise your fellow churchgoers on practical ways to avoid spreading the virus. No hugging. Replace handshakes with elbow bumps. Cough into your elbow. Place bottles of hand sanitizer in the lobby. Wipe down doorknobs, light switches, and table surfaces. Use common sense.

3. Give vulnerable people permission to stay home.
We know the coronavirus is especially deadly for elderly people, and for people with compromised immune systems. You know who those people are in your church. Be proactive. Tell them, “I know you want to be in church and that you’re not afraid of catching this virus. But we don’t want anything to happen to you. We encourage you to skip church on Sunday morning, just until this blows over.”

4. Instruct people who don’t feel well to stay home.
It may or may not be the coronavirus. But err on the side of caution. Err on the side of protecting your congregation.

5. Think ahead about creative ways to stay relationally connected.
The Church is the Church, whether or not people gather in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. Some of our pastors preach via Facetime when services are cancelled because of a snowstorm. Use technology—phones, email, Facebook, texting—to keep communication channels open. Make sure people are kept informed about anybody who is hospitalized with the virus.

6. Be sensitive to the many ways the virus affects people in your congregation.
If schools close, working parents will scramble to make arrangements for their kids. Some people will suffer financial hardship because of their line of work—layoffs, shutdowns, etc. Vulnerable people still need to go out—to get food, fill prescriptions, meet doctors’ appointments, etc. In times like these, let the Church be the Church.

7. Pray.
Pray for God’s protection over your pastor(s), who will most likely be at greater risk of exposure than others. Pray for the vulnerable people in your congregation. Pray for those affected financially. Pray for our national, state, and local government officials, as they make drastic and unpopular decisions to safeguard public health.

I can’t predict what will happen in the weeks ahead. Things could get far worse…or maybe they won’t. We just don’t know. So let’s be smart. Let’s engage in practices that can prevent spreading the coronavirus. Let’s be especially protective of the vulnerable people in our midst. And let us not live in fear. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV).

On Tuesday, the United Brethren National Office sent out information about the General Conference meeting. It was to begin this coming Sunday in Jamaica.

Well, things can change quickly. The event has been put off until March of 2021. The following message was sent to General Conference delegates and attendees:

“In light of concerns regarding the coronavirus and the declining number of travelers able to attend our General Conference, we regret to inform you that we will not proceed with our General Conference as planned. We have decided that we will postpone the conference until March 13-18, 2021. It will still take place in Jamaica.”

UB Global is working on refunding airline tickets.

On Tuesday, Jamaica announced their first case of the coronavirus–a Jamaican woman who had recently returned from a trip to Great Britain. Our Jamaican churches had planned big services for this coming weekend as part of their annual national conference meeting, but they have now cancelled those services.

We also mentioned that Honduras, where we have 110 churches, hadn’t yet confirmed a case of the coronavirus. Well, on Wednesday Honduras confirmed two cases, both involving Honduran women–one of whom returned from a trip to Spain, the other from a trip to Switzerland.

Gaines United Brethren Church in Caledonia, Mich. (20 minutes southeast of Grand Rapids) is a congregation with a rich history. Our church is looking forward to writing our next chapter of ministry. We are looking for a senior pastor who will provide scriptural teaching and enable us to be a community of Christ followers who will influence and encourage people around us, one life at a time.

Our next senior pastor will bring a giftedness in biblical preaching/teaching and a pastor’s heart. A strong commitment to motivating people and promoting the ministries of the church in the community is essential. Skill and experience with both administration and helping people develop their spiritual life will be a benefit. It is also expected that this individual will maintain professional ministerial credentials with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA.

Gaines Church is a congregation of approximately 200 people. We are a committed group which is both financially stable and generationally balanced. We are located in a rapidly growing region (15% in the past decade) and have both the facilities and staff (part-time worship, kids, youth, and administration) which will enable growth. We also have plans to update and add to our existing facility while continuing to reach out to families in the community.

If this sounds like something for which God has been preparing you, please send a copy of your resume, a cover letter, and a current photo to bishop@ub.org.