As the surge from the Omicron variant continues to decline, Bishop David Bard introduces a new set of COVID-19 guidelines for Minnesota United Methodist Churches and encourages us to continue to act out of love for neighbor and care for our community.
Dear Friends in Christ in the United Methodist Churches of Minnesota,
I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
We are now approaching two years since COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our daily lives and our faith communities. As a conference, we have wanted to provide helpful guidance for congregational leaders as we have together managed the ups and downs, twists and turns of this pandemic. We have rooted our guidance in solid public health information and the faith values of caring for one another, doing no harm, and doing good in the name and spirit of Jesus. Thank you for all the ways you have cared for each other over these past two years. Thank you for making good decisions, even when they may have been difficult.
Early in the pandemic, the Minnesota Conference offered a phased re-gathering plan as guidance for our local churches. The plan was based on the best health information we had, and it has been a useful tool. What we have been discovering over time is that COVID does not always behave in ways that lend themselves to distinct phases. At this point, a more flexible approach seems called for—one rooted in the values of caring for one another, doing no harm, and doing good based on the best public health information now available. So while we will not continue with the color-coded phased re-gathering plan, we will continue to offer guidance (which you can always access here) and trust you will make good decisions based on it and your own unique circumstances. As circumstances warrant, advice and guidance will be updated.
In addition to reviewing our new guidance web page, here’s what I would offer to you now:
- I encourage you, if you have not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get vaccine boosters when appropriate. Vaccinations remain the single most important thing you can do to care for yourself and for others. While vaccinations do not guarantee one will remain COVID-free, those unvaccinated continue to be hospitalized and suffer severe illness at significantly greater rates. I know there are unique health circumstances for which vaccinations are contra-indicated. Those circumstances do not apply to the vast majority of us.
- I encourage your congregations to continue using high-quality masks when gathering indoors. This is particularly important when you gather in larger groups. After vaccinations, masks are the next best tool we have for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and slowing the spread also prevents the virus from developing into new variants. Singing while masked seems relatively safe. As community transmission rates decrease, and vaccination rates increase, masking requirements or advisories can be relaxed. Even as they are, continue to be courteous to those who choose to continue to mask. Always remember that people have unique health circumstances.
- While community transmission remains high, provide for appropriate social distancing in your gatherings.
- Pay attention to public health information, particularly for your area. Hospitalization rates and the availability of health care may be among the more important indicators to watch. Case rates provide a helpful indicator of the presence of the virus in your community.
I also hope we will build on what we have been learning over these past two years. We can connect meaningfully through virtual platforms. Connecting online will never, and should never, fully replace in-person gatherings. Yet we are finding we can conduct many meetings virtually. People can worship in meaningful ways virtually. We can create community virtually. Let’s build on what we’ve learned.
By God’s grace, we can continue to live together with resilience, kindness, and the determination to do what needs to be done. When we act out of love for neighbor and care for our community, we offer a powerful witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. When we creatively adapt ministry to changing circumstances, we demonstrate our care for a world in need of the good news of God’s love in Jesus. Again, thank you for all the ways you have already been resilient, kind, determined, loving, caring, and creative.
Grace and peace,
Bishop David A. Bard
Interim Bishop, Minnesota Conference