April 23, 2020
Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
I greet you in the name and spirit of Jesus, our Rock and Redeemer!
Like many of us, I have missed the rhythms of the church: in-person worship, coffee and conversation, potlucks, hugs, Bible studies and fellowship. You may likewise be feeling lost, and displaced, living in a wilderness, wandering. Despite our efforts to adapt, we long for things to be back as they used to be.
At the same time, I have watched grim statistics of COVID-19 in Nevada and Arizona where the numbers are continuing to rise dramatically.
On March 24, in Nevada, 275 persons tested positive and 6 died. On that same day, Arizona had 329 cases and 6 deaths.
A month later, on April 23, Nevada’s count was 4,208 cases, 189 deaths; and Arizona reported 5,769 cases, 249 deaths. On the same day, the numbers on the Navajo Nation reported 1,282 cases and 49 deaths.
We have not yet seen the worst of the ravages of the novel coronavirus (nCoV). Additionally, the medical community is warning us that a second occurrence is possible, especially when communities relax restrictions too soon. Therefore, I am directing that United Methodist churches continue the suspension of in-person worship and other gatherings of any size until further notice. I will be monitoring the situation and I will communicate each Wednesday on our website with an update about the suspension.
I wish I could more accurately predict when we can resume our activities. I know we won’t be able to resume everything at once. It will be a gradual, careful process. It is also clear that we will not soon, if ever, return to being church exactly as we were before. This is difficult news to receive, but I pray you will not rush to resume church activities.
Your conference leadership is reading, consulting, praying daily, studying what experts are saying. We are monitoring:
- The recommendations from sources such as the CDC, state governments, and the medical and scientific communities;
- Criteria that must be met before relaxing the suspension. These criteria include the availability of more testing, the assurance that the healthcare system will be able to handle any possible influx of patients, and the assurance of protection for the vulnerable populations of our communities;
- Our preparedness to systematically initiate a phased approach to re-opening; and if necessary, to reinstitute restrictions quickly if the virus resurges;
- How we would safely re-open our churches and ministries in phases.
Our Conference Connectional Ministry staff is compiling an important resource to assist you in planning for the re-opening of our physical buildings and a resumption of in-person ministry. The day of re-opening is not yet upon us, but it will come. Until then, let me restate my directive to the Desert Southwest Conference. Our United Methodist churches must continue the suspension of in-person worship and other gatherings of any size until further notice. I will be monitoring the situation and will communicate each Wednesday with an update about the suspension.
As Romans 12:12 admonishes, let’s keep patient even in this perplexing time. Keep learning and experiencing new ways of being in ministry. Remember that your local church continues to have financial obligations it must fulfill, so please, if possible, continue your generous support of your local church through mail in or on-line giving. Care for one another with cards, letters, phone calls, emails, texts to share God’s love and your caring with others. Do your best to keep yourself healthy and thereby protect the vulnerable among us.
As I hold you in prayer, I ask you to pray fervently for:
- Those who are battling or who have died of COVID-19 and their families and loved ones;
- First responders and healthcare workers; business owners; families, parents and children in the communities around us;
- Communities in Arizona and Southern Nevada without access to basic provisions like running water or adequate healthcare or community resources;
- Our congregations and our families and loved ones.
Let us hold one another in the spirit of Jesus the Christ as we rejoice in hope, remain patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer (from Romans 12:12).