An Update on Church Reopening

May 26, 2020

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Many weeks into this season of pandemic, I pray that you and your loved ones remain well. It is a time of extraordinary challenge for all of us and each of us has found different ways of responding to the unique stresses it presents. However you have been coping, know that God remains with us and that the promise of hope in Christ continues to shine through the love and faithfulness and compassion and generosity we have seen in so many ways.

I want to let you know how things stand with our congregation.  We continue to offer at-home worship, available by computer, mobile phone, or landline telephone, through Zoom and Facebook.  20-25 folks have been attending or viewing these services each week.  If you haven’t tried them, I hope you will soon join us.  Our choir has also met online and has been recording a special anthem offering as well as composing a brand-new anthem of lament and hope for these times.  Through the C’ville Community ID Program, we have been able to provide vital ID cards to a handful of individuals in emergency situations and will continue to do that on a case-by-case basis.  Your faithful generosity has been a tremendous blessing, and not only have we been able to continue to pay all our staff, we are also (for the first time in a long time!) current on our Conference and District Apportionments!  Praise God for the gifts by which we remain in ministry even through these most challenging circumstances.

Since Governor Northam lifted some restrictions on churches, I am sure you are wondering what comes next for our church.  The Virginia Annual Conference was early to assemble a planning team with medical and legal expertise to advise on the process or re-opening our churches.  We are currently in Phase 1, which allows in-person worship only for a limited number of “pioneer” churches to test out procedures with small groups of 10 people or less at a time.  Very strict distancing and hygiene protocols are in place for those services, while others have chosen to hold drive-in services at which everyone must remain in their cars at all times.  For the moment, our Church Council has decided to stick with the online-only format.  When the state reaches Phase 2, more options will become available to us, but very strict distancing and hygiene requirements will still apply, numbers will be limited, and vital activities such as singing and taking the Lord’s Supper will not be possible.  Although some businesses and leaders are pushing to “get back to life” there is currently no vaccine and no treatment for this disease and the risk to individuals who contract the disease remains very high.  There is currently no way to know how long it will be before we are able to return to anything resembling “normal.”

In the meantime, our own Healthy Church Team has assembled and is reviewing the Conference guidance on how we chart a path through the stages of reopening.  Please pray for this team as they consider the many responsibilities and requirements that are essential to keeping everyone as safe and healthy as possible.  While we undertake this work, all other programs and activities remain closed, including the Scouts, Family Kitchen and the Clothes Closet.  Because we have a duty to ensure that the church is kept clean and germ-free and to document any potential exposures to COVID-19, access to the building is restricted as well. Under current guidance, anyone other than Church Staff or select Trustees must obtain authorization from the Pastor before entering the building for any reason. All persons entering the building must wear a face covering, wash their hands frequently, and maintain a distance of 6 feet from anyone of a different household.  Anyone entering the building will be asked to self-monitor and complete or update a Health Acknowledgement Form.

These requirements, while perhaps onerous and unfamiliar to us used to thinking of our church as “home,” may be difficult to accept. It is important that we remember our role in the community as an example of best practice and loving behavior.  Our scriptural mandate is to “do no harm” and to “do all the good we can” as we “stay in love with God.”  This places on us a special burden to hold everyone’s safety as our utmost priority.  In just three months, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the leading cause of death in the United States and the majority of our congregation is in the higher-risk category because of age or pre-existing medical condition.  It is estimated that possibly more than half of those carrying this deadly virus are presenting without visible symptoms.  For all of these reasons, the Conference Protocols are not recommendations and they are not optional.  There are to be no exceptions regardless of church size or location and the consequence of any violation will be complete closure of the church property until compliance is achieved.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for supporting our Healthy Church Team in all of their efforts to keep us safe.  Please know that my prayers are with you and that we yearn for the day we can be together again in worship and fellowship.  Thank you for continuing to look after one another and doing all you can to keep your own home and family safe.  Please let me know of any way I can support or assist you during this difficult time.

As Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, “As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.” (1 Thess 2:17).  May the peace of Christ fill your heart with all joy and thanksgiving as you are kept by the Spirit’s tether close to the heart of our loving Father.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Robert D. Lewis

The Best of All

Dear friends,

As we move toward the sixth week of our new life under the pandemic I’m reminded of the Psalmist’s cry,

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I bear pain in my soul,

    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

Certainly, many of us are asking that – whether because we are anxious to return to church, or to jobs, or to social life, or because this crisis has brought truly horrific suffering on physical, mental, emotional, and financial levels.  Nearly three million people have been confirmed infected by this disease – the reality is surely many more.  Likewise, at least 192,000 people have died around the world and over 50,000 in the United States alone. Twenty-six million Americans have lost jobs because of this enemy, and countless more have been forced to work with new pressures, dangers, and fears. We all want it to be over, but the most sober assessments tell us the end is a long way off.

Like the nation of Israel in exile, our world has been unthinkably shattered.  “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).

As a congregation, I am proud of the way we have pulled together in time of crisis.  We have been praying for one another, calling to check on each other, and working hard in our community.  Despite being unable to gather in our sanctuary, our church has continued to hold worship online that has reached folks far beyond the boundaries of Charlottesville.  Your significant commitment to generosity means we have been able to continue paying salaries, utilities, and Apportionments. Our Community ID program has been able to serve a released inmate, a woman seeking a marriage license, and several homeless vets.  And although trying to sing together online has been frustrating, our choir has been meeting regularly to share, worship, pray, laugh, and even compose a new anthem! 

The Psalmist’s plea is resolved,

“But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-5)

Though the pain is real, so is the blessing.  For the most part, our nation’s response to this crisis has been one of generosity, compassion, courage, and love.  So, too, our congregation has responded in best Methodist fashion:

“Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,

to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.” (attr. John Wesley)

Thank you for your continued giving.  Thank you for your continual prayer.  Thank you for your cooperation with state and local health directives and thank you for your support of the most vulnerable and needy in our community.  Thank you for holding on to hope, keeping joy alive, and loving one another.  Thank you for being the church!

In the days after Christ’s resurrection, the disciples experienced an extended wait… The angel said, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7).  When they finally saw Jesus in Galilee, weeks and weeks after the event, he left them with clear instructions for an even more uncertain future. They were to be the church – worshiping, serving, sharing, and living as disciples, that the world might see and become disciples.  And he left them with a promise: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Please continue to take care of yourself, remembering that these are the most extraordinary times and we must treat ourselves with extra compassion.  Please continue to love and serve those around you, and to safeguard their health and yours.  Please continue to join in our worship, to pray for one another, and to stay in touch.  Please let me know how I can support and serve you through this time.  Please continue to give as generously as you can to sustain our church’s ministry.  Hold on to hope, and please remember Wesley’s final words: “The best of all is, God is with us.”

Yours in Christ,

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Stay the Course

Dear Virginia Conference,

I hope you and your families had a very blessed Easter celebration. Let us remember that our hope as believers is in Jesus Christ.

Though our Easter services looked quite different this year, I hope that, especially in this challenging time of a global pandemic, you heard the Easter story anew and, with confidence assured in the resurrected Christ, said, “Alleluia! Christ IS risen!”

Thank you to our pastors, church staff and volunteers who are continuing to find creative worship opportunities through livestream, phone, print and many other communications avenues, so we can worship, promote fellowship and do the mission of the church.

The commitment of so many of you to be flexible and to take on the challenges that COVID-19 presents empowers us to do God’s work effectively and SAFELY. It brings joy to our congregants, communities and the heart of God. And we must persevere.

Governor Northam’s statewide stay-at-home order is in effect until June 10. As such, in-person worship cannot take place until June 11. If the Governor’s executive order is rescinded or revised before June 10, we will re-evaluate the status of in-person worship.

In-person, “drive-thru” or “drive-in” worship services on or off Virginia Conference property remain canceled until further notice.

I ask that our Virginia Conference clergy and laity stay the course by continuing to observe social distancing, proper hygiene and follow the stay-at-home directive.

This is not an easy time for any of us, but in Christian love we need to look out for our vulnerable communities and do our utmost to decrease the strain on our healthcare system and emergency services. It is hard not to be able to meet in-person as a community of faith, but we know God is not the church building. God is so much more than a building.

For information about conference resources, ways churches are staying connected, church offerings and much more, please visit:

May the promise of Easter remain with us during the pandemic and through the rest of our year.

Peace and Blessings,

Bishop Sharma D. Lewis

We ARE the Church

We prayerfully ask that you sustain your generosity
so that Hinton Avenue can continue to be a blessing to others.

In fact, you may want to consider making your offerings to the church through a periodic automatic draft from your bank account, as many members have already done. This relieves you of writing and mailing a check (banks will mail it free of charge for you) and assures the church of your ongoing support, even on those times when you cannot be with us in Sunday worship.

You may also Give Now.

State Resources Shared with Faith Communities

Yesterday, I attended a statewide webinar for faith leaders hosted by the Office of Governor Ralph Northam and the Office of Health Equity of the Virginia Department of Health

On March 23, Northam issued Executive Order Fifty-Three that orders the closure of certain non-essential businesses, bans all gatherings of more than 10 people, and closes all K-12 schools for the remainder of the academic year. Governor Northam is also urging all Virginians to avoid non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible. This order goes into effect at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 and will remain in place until 11:59 PM on Thursday, April 23, 2020. This order applies to houses of worship.

Dr. Vanessa Walker-Harris – Deputy Secretary of Health 

Explained the salient points of that Executive Order.

This executive order:

  • Closes public and private K-12 schools through the end of school year.
  • Closes non-essential ‘Brick and mortar” businesses for 30 days
  • Bans public gatherings of more than 10 people. 
  • Urges Virginians to avoid non-essential travel outside the home.

Dr. Megan Healy talked about Unemployment Benefits

If you are laid off and/or NOT getting a paycheck, you are encouraged to apply for unemployment benefits here. (This advice applies to faith-based workers whose organizations have not paid payroll taxes in the past. Currently, these workers are NOT eligible to receive benefits, but that rule may change in the coming days.)

Karen Kimsey – Virginia Medicaid is Taking Action to Fight COVID-19

  • Ensuring members do not lose coverage due to lapses in paperwork or a change in circumstances
  • No co-pays for any Medicaid
  • 90 days supply of many routine prescriptions
  • No pre-approvals needed and automatic approval extensions for manu critical medical services
  • Outreach to higher risk and older members to receive critical needs
  • Encouraging use of telehealth


Heidi Hertz – Feeding Virginia during COVID19

Students and children:

  • 100% of schools providing meals to children 0-18 yrs old
  • Innovative strategies being used such as drive up and bus routes deliveries
  • Text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877 (for closest feeding sites & times to you)
  • Longer breaks means additional need

Community and family resources:

Tracey Wiley – Financial Resources Update – 

Visit for information about low-interest loans for small businesses and non-profits.

Curtis Brown, VA Dept of Emergency Management (VDEM)

Disaster Funding Available through FEMA

CULTURAL IMPACT – Suja Amir, who is on the Governor’s Asian American Advisory Board – member of Asian Latino Solidarity Alliance of Central VA

  • Census is now more important than ever – online or by paper
  • Increasing hostile sentiments toward Asians – verbal and physical attacks
  • Spike in white supremacists toward Jewish communities

Thanks to Rev. Michael Cheuk of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective for this synopsis.

The church is NOT the building. WE are the church.

COVID-19 is forcing us to connect in new and transformative ways.

Our enforced physical separation is a challenge – especially for those of us with serious health concerns, those who are aged, and those who live alone.  Others may be experiencing acute anxiety because of insecure employment or fragile financial stability.  We all know and dearly love someone who is deeply impacted by the fear and uncertainty of these days.

Today, Governor Ralph Northam announced that in-person schooling would remain closed through the end of this academic year.  He instructed non-essential businesses to close and limited gatherings of people to 10 or less.  He emphasized the desire not to punish or restrict, but to keep us all safe.  It’s going to be challenging to work out this new normal which will last for at least the next thirty days, and perhaps far longer.

We ARE the Church

Even though we cannot gather, we remain the Body of Christ in and among the world.  We are called, as disciples of Jesus, to transform the world.  Our work continues.

It’s been important to make some long-overdue upgrades to our online presence and digital communications.  This is not to say that old fashioned ways of staying in touch fall by the wayside.  It’s more important than ever to remember our elderly friends and relatives and those who may not have access to technology with cards, letters, and calls.  You’ll be hearing more about how we can organize that this coming week.  For now, here are a few new things we are doing:

  • Posting ways to get involved and help our community on Facebook and our website
  • Forming a Facebook Group for church family concerns, discussion, and prayers
  • Streaming services of worship online from Facebook and our website
  • Creating digital meeting spaces through Zoom for choir, meetings, bible study, and prayer

This past week or more I’ve participated in a number of conference calls with other clergy in Charlottesville, United Methodist pastors on our District, and hundreds of faith leaders across the state of Virginia.  We are all working overtime to understand the needs and resources of this present moment and how best to keep us connected as a church with a mission in the world.

Connect US to OTHERS

Upgrading our email communication to MailChimp is one more way of seeking to be more effective and more efficient in keeping us in touch and engaged.  You are receiving this email because you’ve gotten church mailings in the past.  Would you pass this one to one other person who might benefit from being connected to our ministry?  Don’t forget to check out Facebook . Thank you for your faithfulness during these days and know that I am praying with and for you.  If I can be there for you in any way, or if you are aware of another’s need that I should know of, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Grace and peace,  

Update 3/23 – Ways to Help

UVA Medical Center needs blood!

Virginia hospitals are experiencing a severe blood shortage across the state. UVA Health encourages members of the community who are healthy & eligible to contact the American Red Cross <> to make an appointment to donate at one of their fixed locations.  

Charlottesville City School’s Free Lunch Program

Charlottesville City Schools is offering Free Lunch to Students during coronavirus pandemic. The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation is creating a school-based fund to support their food delivery efforts — stay tuned!

Support UVA Emergency Call Center Staff

When you shop, grab some extra snacks!

UVA Emergency Call Center is in need of commercially available, individually wrapped snacks (bars like RXBar, KIND, Health Warrior, GoMacro (Vegan); and/or Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks, Pita Chips, etc.) to keep their staff fueled and ready to serve. The Charlottesville Clergy Collective is organizing a central donation point to which churches can give. If you’d like to help, drop your snacks at the carport of the parsonage and Robert will deliver them to the collection point. Thanks!