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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

As we continue in this time of physical separation, and as we endure spiritual and economic hardships, the words of Philippians ring in my heart:  “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete:  be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  (Philippians 2:1-2)  Let us remember that the suspension of in-person church gatherings has as its foundation the call by Jesus to love one another.  It is this love demonstrated by Jesus that unites us as we persevere in times of physical separation and anxiety.

My thoughts and prayers in the past week have been for the world that is changing daily, right before our eyes and in ways we could not have imagined just a half year ago. Yet we are faced with the incredibly complex and painful choice between restricting our social interactions for safety from COVID-19 with the difficulties and economic hardships that accompany it on one hand, and rescinding the stay-at-home order and risking more infections, more hospitalizations, and more deaths in our congregations, communities, and around the globe.

The current statistics show that in both Nevada and Arizona, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb. There is more we can and must do to support and honor the work of first responders, researchers, and service providers who courageously work on our behalf. We must all do our part by continuing the suspension of in-person worship and all other group activities including for the production of worship. Please help slow the spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus! This suspension will continue in place until further notice. I will update you again in two weeks, on Wednesday, June 3. Because of new evidence that in-person worship, including singing contribute to the swift spread of the virus, we must be highly cautious.

On May 14th, the stay at home order was lifted for Arizonans and many services previously deemed “non-essential” were reclassified. As a result of this change, Arizona experienced a loosening of the restrictions designed to minimize the spread of the novel Coronavirus. In other places where restrictions were lifted, a spike or a resurgence of infections and deaths is occurring. We are yet not rid of the risk and threat of COVID-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci urged us to stick to the rules, saying, “I know it’s difficult, but we’re having a lot of suffering, a lot of death. This is inconvenient from an economic and a personal standpoint, but we just have to do it. That is our major weapon against this virus right now. We don’t have a vaccine that’s deployable. This is the only thing we have.”

Prayerfully, I ask that you have patience. In the meantime, I am asking you to do some important preparatory work in anticipation of a time when the CDC guidelines are met, and we can begin to reopen our churches slowly and cautiously.

I am asking that each pastor form a team of leaders to begin the critical conversations about what you must do to make your church campus safe. You must look carefully and thoughtfully at the myriad decisions that must be made. You are required to complete specific actions to get ready to reopen your church. These actions are described in a guide, Ministry in the Season of COVID-19 & Beyond, to assist you as you do this.

We are all missing the connection that we cherish about being the body of Christ. Still, I believe the most important thing we can do now is to observe safety precautions including wearing a mask and other actions to protect us and others, as we pray for and prepare for the day when we can begin to move forward in tiny steps.

In Christ,
Bishop Bob

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