Bishop Ough: Staying safe, turning the dial to red

November 19, 2020

On Thursday, Nov. 19, Bishop Bruce R. Ough turned the dial on the Minnesota Conference's Phased Re-Gathering Plan for Churches from orange to red. Below is a letter to Minnesota United Methodists explaining the reason for the change:

Dear Minnesota United Methodists,

I am alarmed and frightened. The coronavirus pandemic is out of control in Minnesota and most of the country. Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Our front-line health care workers are exhausted. The Minnesota Department of Health told faith leaders in their most recent call that when you gather with others outside your home, you are not just at risk for exposure, you can expect to be exposed to COVID-19. That is how rampant the community spread currently is across our state.   

As you might know, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday announced a four-week shutdown of bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, and fitness clubs, starting Friday, Nov. 20. Weddings and funerals are permitted, but wedding receptions and post-funeral gatherings of any size are not.
Although in-person worship is still permitted, it is strongly discouraged by health officials and thus we are turning the dial on our Phased Re-Gathering Plan back to red for the foreseeable future. I ask that all churches return to virtual worship if you have not already done so, that all clergy and staff work from home, and that in-person activities in our buildings be limited to pre-schools, daycares, and emergency relief activities.

I urge you in your personal life and activities to re-double your efforts to keep people safe and help suppress the community spread of this terrible disease. Wear a mask. Stay home. Do not gather for Thanksgiving beyond your immediate household. There is no room for delay. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to set aside our personal and political preferences for the common good. Now is the time to lead the way.

The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting increasing numbers of new cases daily. Here are some sobering statistics for our state:

  • In May, we were averaging 800 new cases a day. Recently we have been seeing more than 7,000.
  • It took us 29 weeks to reach 100,000 cases, six weeks to reach 200,000, and will likely take less than three weeks to get to 300,000. We are in a snowball.
  • There are cases in every county in Minnesota and we are averaging a 30 percent positivity rate across the state. That means in a group of 10 people, three are likely to have COVID-19. A 30 percent or higher rate of community spread is considered high-risk.
  • In just two days, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, nearly 200 persons were admitted to hospitals statewide due to COVID-19. Our hospitals are reaching maximum capacity, and our healthcare shortage is growing due to staff persons being out sick after contracting the virus. 
The next six to 12 weeks will be critical, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and one of the nation’s leading infectious disease experts.
Group and family gatherings have been the most significant source of the spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks. We have the power to help change the trajectory of the pandemic in Minnesota. Doing no harm, acting for the common good, and protecting the most vulnerable among us is how we love our neighbors. We can give rise to the light in the midst of the darkness of this disease.

So, I am making a difficult ask. Advent and Christmas is a season when we most want to gather, but this year, we need to be a light to others to by continuing to worship at home and online, and limiting our personal activities to what is absolutely essential.
We can do this hard thing. We can do it because we do not rely on our own strength and capacities. We rely on the promise made real in the incarnation: God is with us. The birth of the Christ child we celebrate this season proclaims that. So now we live it.
Thank you for all the ways you are continuing to be creative in ministry and faithful to our call to heal a broken world!

Bishop Bruce R. Ough
Resident Bishop
Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church

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