July 1, 2020
Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
In the last few days, in several significant places, there have been conversations about the wisdom of wearing face coverings. The opinions vary, of course, but there is a preponderance of opinion and evidence that facial coverings assist in the mitigation of the spread of the Coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes, and they protect the most vulnerable among us. Additionally, we are finding that there is still much we do not know about the virus; its short and long term effects. What is becoming more evident however, is that the failure to observe social distancing and safety precautions like avoiding unprotected gatherings, is a contributing factor to the rapid increase of the spread of the disease.
Taking precautions such as wearing a mask speak to our willingness to care for others. Dare we say love others? 1st Corinthians 13:4-8 reminds us, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut. Doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies.” (The Message)
We abide by restrictions because God asks us to think and act out of love for others. So, for this update, I am asking you to live within that mandate to love others. For this update, there are no significant changes in our Desert Southwest Conference effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Churches in our DSC must continue to suspend in-person worship and group gatherings of any size, with these notable exceptions:
- For worship planning, preparations, live streaming or recording in the church building, no more than 5 persons may be present at the same time in the same space. Strict adherence to the safety precautions in accordance with your church’s re-opening plan must be observed. These should include but are not limited to observing physical distancing, washing hands frequently, wearing masks, cleaning, and disinfecting touched surfaces such as the pulpit, podium, no sharing of microphones without disinfecting between users.
- Food pantries and clothing centers that are ministries of caring and compassion offered by the church in response to the needs of the hungry in the community, may resume following strict no-contact safety guidelines.
- Childcare and pre-schools may re-open following your church’s re-opening plan and CDC, state, and local guidelines. This includes both third-party, non-UMC as well as church-sponsored child-care and pre-schools. Legal issues must have been addressed with legal counsel. See details in the UPDATE for June 24, 2020.
Some churches have inquired whether they are able to fulfill a written contract to serve as a polling place for the up-coming election cycle. This is permitted as a third-party commitment with a written agreement. In this situation, it is assumed that the polling place officials will be responsible for the disinfecting of the property, during the time of polling. However, churches may decide to provide additional disinfecting before and after use for quality control.
The DSC COVID-19 Response Team is looking at potential exceptions for geographic considerations, outdoor worship, drive-in (in-car) worship, and support group meetings. I ask your patience as we review, study, and evaluate the latest information and church plans.
Please remember that in the “Resource for Church Opening,” on our DSC website, Phase 1 begins when state and local officials have reported a 14 day downward trend of cases, hospitals are treating patients without crisis care, and there is a robust testing program in place, including antibody testing. Continue working on your plan for reopening to be ready for the time when the suspension of in-person gathering is lifted. A church must request and receive approval from its DS before restarting the activities allowed by the three exceptions, and your team plan for re-opening if not previously submitted.
As this update is being written, Arizona and Nevada are very much in the news for dramatic increase in cases, as well as the looming shortage of hospital beds that are available to handle the increase of hospitalizations. It is becoming more and more apparent that we all need to participate in efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
I close with a reminder that we are enduring this time so we can be part of the solution, not part of the problem. God calls us as Christ-followers to be caring and compassionate of others, just as Jesus cared for us. Let us remember to have love as the foundation of our words and actions in these days.
An update with any changes to our DSC response will be sent to you on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Until then, keep safe and keep praying.