Dear Friends in Christ in the United Methodist Churches of Minnesota,
Grace to you and peace in the name of the risen Christ, our hope and our joy.
Two days ago, I gratefully received my second COVID-19 vaccination, and I know you’re glad that there are only two because it seems I write you every time I get vaccinated!
When last I wrote, there was optimism in the air. Vaccines were coming online at an accelerated rate. Caseloads had gone down significantly. Hospitalizations and deaths had also decreased. Gov. Tim Walz was announcing an easing of restrictions. I also noted that this pandemic is filled with unpredictability, challenging even the most thoughtful re-opening plans. It had been my hope that the trajectory of the pandemic would be such that we would now be announcing a change of category in our Phased Re-Gathering Plan from orange to yellow or even blue.
The most recent faith community briefing from the Minnesota Department of Health has postponed that change. Two weeks ago, Minnesota was averaging 500 to 1,100 cases per day. Today we are averaging 800 to 1,900 cases per day and there were more than 2,000 on April 7. Hospitalizations are increasing among 10- to 19-year-olds and 30- to 59-year-olds. Our testing positivity rate is over 6 percent, and the goal is under 5 percent. Newer, more transmissible variants make up more than half of new cases. I am writing you from Michigan, where the figures are even worse, witnessing to the need for us to continue to take this virus seriously and do all we can to mitigate its impact.
Friends, I know you are weary. I thank you that in spite of your weariness, you have continued to make thoughtful and careful decisions about ministry during this time. You continue to respond graciously to advice offered by my office and the conference. I recognize that in a state as big as Minnesota, state-wide statistics may not reflect local realities. The cases, hospitalizations, positivity rates, and vaccination rates in your community may suggest the possibility of more in-person events than our orange phase would indicate. Pay attention to your county public health office as you make choices, using the guidelines of the orange phase as a starting point. Whatever choices you make, continue to engage in mitigation practices that protect the public health and promote the common good—masks and social distancing. When you are able to be vaccinated, get vaccinated. The sooner more people are vaccinated, the more quickly the spread of COVID will slow and the less likely it is that new variants will develop.
I will review our situation regularly and continue to offer the best guidance I can, in consultation with our conference staff. We all desire to be together in some of the old, familiar ways. Until then, we gather as we can, in parking lots and online, in small gatherings outdoors or smaller gatherings indoors when warranted. We will do what we need to do because we are a people who care for one another, because we are a people of hope.
Hope. Easter is about hope; it is about a God always at work for good in the world, even in the face of death, disappointment, and destruction. God, in Jesus Christ, is always at work for good in the world, and we are invited to be part of God’s work for goodness, health, and well-being. We cannot deny the forces of death and illness. They are real. Yet we can live with patient hope, doing what we need to do as we witness to the resurrection power of God’s love.
Bishop David Bard
Interim Bishop, Minnesota Conference
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church