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by Bishop Bob Hoshibata

Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

I thank God for the diligence of people who have worked to make our churches and ministry settings safe places where the Word of God is proclaimed and practiced, even as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic. With the increasing efforts to create and distribute effective vaccines, a word of blessing and hope comes to my heart from the Psalms. It is a word of gratitude for God’s providence:

“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.(Psalm 66:8-12, NIV)

It has been a very difficult year for us all. With the advent of vaccines and an organized protocol for distribution of vaccines that continues to be improved, we feel like we are now on the way out of the uncertainty and the danger that we have endured. There are days when we feel like we are taking tiny steps forward. And yet I write this with caution and concern for your safety because every day there is new information about the challenges of COVID-19.

Recently I was fortunate to receive my second vaccination. What I do not know for sure is whether I am fully protected from COVID-19 as I hope I am. Therefore, although I am dreaming of being with others (especially my children and grandchildren), I will not yet disregard safety measures. Most of all, I wear two masks when in public and I avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings. I realize that the danger of contracting and/or transmitting the virus is not yet past us.

Another concern is that there are striking inequities around the availability of the vaccine. Not all persons are yet eligible to receive it, some cannot medically tolerate the vaccines, while others will choose not to receive it. Access to technology to schedule an appointment and transportation to travel to a vaccine site remain an issue for some. New variants of the virus present new challenges and danger. Transmission of the virus may still be possible even if you have been vaccinated, so in the community at large, and in our churches, we must continue to be vigilant in observing safety precautions even if you, yourself, have completed your vaccine regimen.

While the CDC has issued new recommendations for persons who have been fully vaccinated which relax some restrictions, these guidelines can change with the discovery of new information about COVID-19. For this reason, we must continue to be patient and do our part to protect those among us who are still vulnerable.

I remind us all that the Desert Southwest Conference remains very cautious. For all church in-person gatherings, wear masks even if you have been vaccinated. Please keep to the guidelines in the DSC Phases Chart, including the maximum allowable numbers, distancing, and refraining from congregational singing. Track the COVID-19 statistics for your area. Our churches are places where COVID-19 can easily spread if we are not diligent. All DSC churches are required to abide by your Comprehensive Re-opening plan.

This may sound like a broken record, but even if you have completed your vaccine regimen, please continue to:

  • Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
  • Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers

To support our clergy who are working faithfully in this pandemic, the Conference continues to promote clergy wellness. DSC grants have been awarded and are still available to address these issues. For confidential wellness grants, contact your District Superintendent.

I am also pleased to share that a new Clergy Wellness Task Group, chaired by Rev. Kimber Govett, has very recently been formed to address the emotional and spiritual support needs of clergy. More information from them will be forthcoming.

Other grants are available to support technology-related projects in local churches. If you are interested in pursuing a grant to upgrade your technology capabilities, contact Dave McPherson.

To assist with your worship planning, the Rev. Stuart Salvatierra, a pastor at St. Mark’s UMC in Tucson, is designing a post-Easter worship service to offer clergy and worship teams a Sunday of rest. The theme for this service is “Finding the Holy in the Everyday,” which speaks clearly to us in this time. The service will be available for download on the conference website on March 18th.

On behalf of the DSC COVID-19 Response Team, I offer my prayers for your health and safety. I give thanks for the laity and clergy who have been searching for God’s wisdom for all of us as we move cautiously, and hopefully steadfastly toward an end of the pandemic. We lean on God’s love and grace as taught by the Psalmist and the poets of the faith, who declared:

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms? 
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms. 
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms,
leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.” 
(Elisha A. Hoffman, UM Hymnal #133)

Be well and stay safe, leaning on the love of God in Jesus Christ,
Bishop Bob

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