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Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

We are learning more and more about the Coronavirus, how it spreads, who it affects, what the long-term effects are, and how to best protect ourselves. As the pandemic spreads, more of us are being impacted by the virus and the illness it causes. Not only is this pandemic taxing our medical and health systems, the impact of COVID-19 has rippling effects on our national and global economy, housing and homelessness, educational systems and much more; impacting those vulnerable and marginalized to the greatest extent.

A recent conversation with someone in one of our churches revealed that this individual believed that the coronavirus was a hoax. This person did not know anyone who had contracted COVID-19, nor did that person know anyone who had died because of it. Therefore, the logic was that this was all a hoax. Along with that pronouncement came the strong request that churches in the DSC be allowed to reopen fully for in-person worship and programming. For those of us who personally know someone who has contracted COVID-19 or someone who has died because of the disease, it is unthinkable that this pandemic would be called a “hoax.” I pray that this individual will never have to endure the suffering or the grief of coming face-to-face with COVID-19.

This is a time when we must lean on our faith to remind us that even if we cannot worship in person in our church sanctuary, we do not abandon our commitment to be in ministry, nor does God abandon us. In this time of continuing challenge, we place our trust in God’s presence with us. Let us remember that “The Lord is my strength and my might, and (God) has become my salvation; this is my God, whom I will praise and I will exalt.” (taken from Exodus 15:2)

It is important that the primary work of all the congregations in the Conference is to encourage us all to be part of the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, not a part of the problem. Please collaborate with church leadership to formulate a re-opening plan and a congregational covenant. If you have not already begun this helpful process, please do so. The re-opening plan can be found here.

It appears that wearing a mask is making a difference in the statistics for both Nevada and Arizona. However, we have not reached the level of decline that we want to see before moving into Phase I of the Re-Opening Process. So, for the moment, we will continue our suspension of in-person worship and other gatherings with the following exceptions:

  1. If you have a written agreement with a third-party entity for the use of the church, you may be required legally to honor that agreement and allow for the entity to use the church campus. Please work on updating your agreements and making clear what the responsibilities for cleaning/sanitizing after use, even if the church is not meeting for worship. Please inform your District Superintendent if you have not already done so.

 

  1. Churches that want to record or livestream worship with a group of no more than 5 persons are permitted to do so. Please inform your District Superintendent if you have not already done so.

 

  1. Food pantries and clothing centers offered by the church in response to the needs of the hungry in the community may resume these ministries of caring and compassion following strict no-contact safety guidelines.

 

  1. Childcare and pre-schools may re-open following your church’s re-opening plan and CDC, state, and local guidelines. This exception includes both third-party, non-UMC as well as church-sponsored child-care and pre-schools. In order to open child-care or pre-schools, special legal issues must be considered. A legal webinar was offered and has been recorded and is available with notes. If you are interested in this material, please contact our Conference Chancellor, Marilee Miller Clarke. I am strongly suggesting that you and your team view the webinar and develop a plan for re-opening the child-care or pre-school with your church’s legal advisor. If you do not have a legal advisor, our Conference Chancellor, Marilee Miller Clarke can be consulted. There is a $300 one-time fee for her professional consultation (a UMC reduced rate).

 

  1. Churches that are interested in conducting a drive-in worship must create a plan specifically related to the drive-in worship in addition to their general plan for re-opening. Although this is not a signal for the re-opening, it is an exemption for drive-in worship where congregation members remain in their cars and there is no contact. Please contact your District Superintendent if you are interested in and for approval of this model of worship.

Several churches in areas where the incidence rate of COVID-19 is low are interested in outdoor worship with social distancing. We are studying this model and will have guidance soon.

In the meantime, we had strong encouragement from our legal advisers that we need to give serious consideration to three matters. In order to get a better grasp on the complexities of these three, our conference chancellor, Marilee Miller Clarke, will be leading a webinar. The date and time for this webinar will be announced soon. The three topics are:

  1. Signed waivers
  2. Health questionnaires
  3. Signage at the entrance of church property or where gatherings will be held

Again and again I assure you that the work we are doing in the midst of this pandemic will become an integral part of our being the vital and courageous church when the pandemic in over. We pray fervently for that day. And we uphold one another and keep ourselves and others safe by our actions.

My next update will be published on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. Until then, pray with me as I pray for you!

In Christ,
Bishop Bob

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