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Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

Grace and peace to you in the spirit of Christ, who preached the Good News to all.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR CARE! As churches begin to open for limited ministry and worship, we are hearing of extraordinary care and concern for safety. There are precautions that are being taken, honoring the covenants listed in the Re-Opening Plans created by your local church COVID Response Teams. There is sensitivity to the differing levels of comfort people have for returning. The mask and social distancing requirements are being faithfully, willingly followed. There is great joy in being able to see one another, even with the restrictions being observed.

LET’S KEEP VIGILANT! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK YOU ARE DOING! Recent statistics are showing an alarming, dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in the Desert Southwest Conference. Nevada and Arizona are both besieged by concerning increases that equal the numbers we experienced in the early days of this past summer. Despite an encouraging decline, the trend is now reversed.

Many factors seem to be contributing to this: COVID-19 fatigue, letting our guard down, and social gatherings that expose more people to the virus.

We are all weary of the social distancing that has been strongly advised by health authorities, the scientific community, and many of our leaders. Attendance at worship services are now considered among the risky activities, especially when safety precautions are not observed. I ask all churches to follow strictly the safe practices in your Comprehensive Plans.

One of the most difficult restrictions to contend with personally has been the restriction on travel for the holidays and family gatherings. To minimize the spread of the disease, wisdom dictates the limiting of travel and large family gatherings. I am saddened to not be celebrating with family and friends this holiday season. The risk is too great and the potential cost to the health of those I love is too great. Please, stay at home if you can, travel cautiously if you must, and observe recommendations about how to gather and celebrate safely.

We are discovering new facts about the novel coronavirus. On the encouraging side, we have learned more about ways to prevent infection; we have better means of treating those who have contracted the disease; and progress is being made in the development of and delivery for a safe and effective vaccine. Thank you to the churches that have paused re-opening plans and expectations until the infection rate declines again. We are back to the days of asking us all to help flatten the curve.

TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK? I am convinced that correctly wearing a face covering is an effective weapon against COVID-19. The latest finding is that such a face covering, correctly worn, may prevent you from spreading the virus if you are infected AND a face covering may also protect you from getting infected.

TO SING OR NOT TO SING? The latest information we have is the singing and loud speaking are activities that are suspected of spreading the virus. We continue to discourage singing and speaking aloud when in person gatherings are resumed. You may be interested in a webinar featuring Dr. Elizabeth Schauer, Professor of Music at the University of Arizona and director of the chancel choir of St. Mark’s UMC in Tucson. Dr. Schauer will share about the practices she has developed for use with her students and then will respond to questions you may have. The date for the webinar is Wednesday, December 16, at 10:00 am MST. Details of the webinar will be forthcoming from our Director of Communications, Christina Dillabough.

NEW GRANTS FOR TECH SUPPORT Since we will be continuing to offer worship and other gatherings using new technology, in addition to the COVID-19 grants offered by the New Faith Team and the Covenant Council, an announcement will soon be made from your Vital Faith Team offering up to $5,000 grants for upgrading of tech equipment/support. Details will be forthcoming.

A REQUEST FOR YOUR PRAYERS. I have become aware of 10 of our clergy in the Desert Southwest Conference who are at various stages of battling COVID-19. In addition, there are family members of clergy or staff who have been infected. Please pray for these persons for care and recovery.

In this time when we focus on giving thanks for the many blessings we receive from God, chief among these blessings are the deep relationships we have. If we cannot be in the physical presence of these loved ones this holiday season, keep strong in the faith that is proclaimed in the familiar hymn:

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

We share each other’s woes, our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.”
(UM Hymnal #557, words by John Fawcett)

With deep thanksgiving and relentless hope,

Bishop Bob

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