By: Bishop David Bard
Bishop David Bard has turned the dial on the Minnesota Conference's Phased Re-Gathering Plan for Churches from blue to yellow. Below is a letter to Minnesota United Methodists explaining the reason for the change and offering specific guidelines:
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.
I hope the summer has afforded you opportunities for rest, refreshment, and renewal. I hope you have been able to enjoy the beauty of our state. I hope you have been able to connect with family and friends, perhaps after a long absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summer began with deep hope that we were putting this pandemic in the rear-view mirror. People were being vaccinated at rapid rates. Case rates, test positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths were all declining. Yet this pandemic has been filled with unpredictability, and we are once again entering a new phase. Vaccination rates have slowed considerably and a new variant of the coronavirus, the Delta variant, has been spreading rapidly. The Delta variant is more easily transmitted, and there have been breakthrough cases among those who have been vaccinated. The latest research indicates that vaccinated people, though remarkably protected from being infected with COVID, are still able to become infected. When they are infected, they are less likely to suffer severe illness or be hospitalized, yet appear able to spread the virus to others. The result of the slowing of vaccinations and the spread of the Delta variant is that test positivity rates are up—now surpassing 5 percent in Minnesota (with some counties substantially higher), case rates are up, and hospitalizations and deaths are increasing, particularly in those places where fewer people have been vaccinated.
I know that, in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, you want to do all you can to promote public health, further the common good, and care for the well-being of others. How might we do that in this new phase of the pandemic?
First and foremost, if you have not been vaccinated and are eligible to receive a vaccine, do it. It is the single most important thing you can do to care for yourself and for others. Those currently suffering the most serious illness right now are the unvaccinated. Of those who are currently hospitalized with COVID, well over 90 percent are people who have not been vaccinated. Please get vaccinated. Encourage your fellow-church members to get vaccinated.
Because the positivity rate has exceeded 5 percent for the state as a whole, which means there is substantial community transmission, we are moving the dial back to yellow in our Phased Re-Gathering Plan for Churches. We understand there is great variation across our state in terms of community transmission and vaccination levels among your congregants, but please use caution. When your county surpasses a 5 percent positivity rate (check your county’s current rate here), we ask that you reinstate the yellow phase guidelines of social distancing, indoor masking, and no congregational singing. After vaccinations, masking and social distancing are the next best tools we have for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and slowing the spread also prevents the virus from developing into new variants. And of course, outdoor gatherings are considerably safer than indoor gatherings, so that is a great option as weather permits.
Friends, we are not where we had hoped to be at this point in the summer. We had hoped vaccination rates would have outpaced virus variations. We had hoped that our masks could be put in the bottom of our drawers or in the back of our closets. Yet I believe that by God’s grace we can muster the resilience, the kindness, and the determination to do what needs to be done to get past this pandemic. As followers of Jesus, we can lead in promoting public health, furthering the common good, and caring for the well-being of others. Thank you.
Bishop David A. Bard
Interim Bishop, Minnesota Conference
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church