Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace as we engage in courageous ministry in the name of Jesus!
Earlier today, I sent a letter to the clergy of the Conference sharing an important decision that I have made in consultation with the leadership of the Conference. I want to share the essential information with you.
As I monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in our Conference, I am deeply concerned about the health and well-being of our congregations and communities. The number of persons affected grows daily; hourly in some situations. At the present moment, Nevada reports 1,113 confirmed cases, 17 deaths; Arizona reports 1,289 cases and 24 deaths. A week ago, on March 23, Nevada had 212 cases and four deaths; Arizona had 234 cases and two deaths.
I am directing us all to follow the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” practices which will result in slowing the rate of infection and death. In concert with the directives of Governor Doug Ducey in Arizona and President Donald Trump, you are to continue the life-saving work of suspending in-person worship and other group gatherings until April 30, 2020. This pertains to all gatherings at the church, no matter how small and includes drive-up worship services, committee meetings, 12 step programs, choir rehearsals, and other church gatherings.
For churches that host groups that use their facilities, such as congregations or groups renting space for worship, meetings, or office space, this suspension of all meetings applies to these groups as well.
For churches that host social service ministries, including food or clothing pantries or provide other social services that serve those who are the most vulnerable among us, please follow state guidelines.
There are alternative ways for us to engage in all these activities; let your wisdom and faith determine the best way for you to move forward, as you help save lives.
This pandemic will end, and it will end sooner as we all follow this mandate. Let me repeat: you are to continue to suspend in-person worship and all other group gatherings until April 30. We are continually monitoring information that comes from many trusted sources in order to best advise us when it is safe to return to worship in person. While we hope that group activities can resume soon, we’ll advise you if, and when the time comes to lift the suspension or if we must extend it. In the meantime, let’s continue to explore, to learn, to practice new ways of serving and worshiping God. Email or phone colleagues to learn and share. Go to the conference website to check for FAQ updates and new ideas, resources, and information.
We all long to be back in our sanctuaries and in our communities. But I pray that we will continue to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to work together as we learn and experiment with new ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ! Many are already doing just that; and I pray that all of us will continue to do so until the pandemic ends. The words of Pope Francis inspire us:
“We find ourselves afraid and lost. We were caught off-guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented … all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.”
I am wrapping you in prayer for strength and faith for these days in the name of Jesus Christ!