June 3, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

This has surely been a week of emotional and spiritual upheaval! Although this update was intended to focus on the DSC response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the violence and death and the loss of property in the wake of significant and disturbing deaths of our Black sisters and brothers make this update more about our spiritual grounding as Christ followers.

In our response to these senseless and heartless murders as well as the continuing of the historic sin of racism towards all people of color, our faith demands that we love others as Jesus taught us. The same insistence on loving as Jesus taught us is appropriately also required as we respond to the Coronavirus in our communities and in our world.

After much prayerful conversation, consultation, and inquiry, I am continuing the suspension of in-person worship and group gatherings of any size, including gatherings for the purpose of worship planning, streaming, or videotaping in the Desert Southwest Conference.

In the last 2 weeks, infections and deaths continue to increase numerically. With the recent relaxation of restrictions in Nevada and Arizona, the numbers reflect increases in the statistics that demonstrate that when we let our guard down, we invite the spread of the virus. Our congregations remain potential fertile ground for the spread of the virus.

Conversations with clergy inspire me with stories of ways that laity and pastors are stepping up to the plate, taking the challenge in hand, developing new forms of ministry, worship, evangelism, teaching and connecting us even when we cannot gather to worship in person. I pray that this will continue.

Although we yearn to be physically together again, the time is not right for us to do so. While we wait patiently, I urge you to get started on the essential work of preparation by reading the material here, forming your team of leaders, praying together and meeting to discuss the many safety-related adaptations that must be accomplished for your church campus in order to develop a plan and prayerfully create a covenant. When you have completed the plan and covenant, submit them to your District Superintendent who, with Rev. Tom Mattick, our DSC Disaster Response Coordinator, will review your plan and covenant. When they are approved, you will be ready when I give you the signal to begin to enter Phase 1 of the DSC Re-Opening Plan.

There are three important resources being developed to give you support as you do your planning for re-opening. Take note and plan to take advantage of these opportunities:

    • A Powerpoint presentation “Re-Opening Our Facilities,” created by the DSC COVID-19 Response Team. This PowerPoint will be available soon and will guide you through the Checklist that you will use for the development of your Re-Opening Plan.
    •  The DSC COVID-19 Response Team will also host a live webinar to respond to questions you may have about the PowerPoint on Tuesday June 16th at 2:30 pm. If you engage the Ministry in the Season of COVID-19 and Beyond documents and view the “Re-Opening Our Facilities,” PowerPoint and have questions, this is your opportunity to ask questions. You can register by clicking here.
    • A third resource, will be hosted by Marilee Miller Clarke, attorney and the DSC Conference Chancellor. Marilee will be offering her perspective about legal aspects of the opening of pre-schools, head start programs, childcare centers, and third-party groups hosted/contracted on UM campuses. This legal webinar will be offered on Wednesday, June 17th from 10:00 – 11:30 am and you can register by clicking here.

I am praying diligently for a clear path for us to begin our re-opening. Let us please remember why this is so important to the safety and well-being of our congregations and our communities. Please be patient, and please keep praying. Even in times of chaos we have our faith in Jesus Christ to lean on. I find reassurance in some of the hymns that nurtured me as I grew in The United Methodist Church, such as:

“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
 When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
 Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”  (Charles Albert Tinley, UM Hymnal #512)

God is with us and will be with us through this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in this time of tumult in our streets and in our souls. God is leading us to be a courageous church, loving like Jesus, acting for justice and united in hope.

In prayer with you,
Bishop Bob

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