On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Bishop Bruce R. Ough turned the dial on the Minnesota Conference's Phased Re-Gathering Plan for Churches from yellow to orange. Below is a letter he sent to Minnesota United Methodists explaining the reason for the change:
CBS News reported the following on Saturday: “There are new signs that the nation’s months long battle against the coronavirus is moving in a dangerous direction. There were more than 83,000 confirmed cases reported Friday, marking a new record high for a single day in the country. The outbreak is also more widespread. The latest surge is pushing the number of infections to more than 8.4 million and increasing the death toll past 223,000 according to Johns Hopkins University…41 states reported an increase in average new cases. Fifteen states also showed record hospitalization, indicating more precautions are needed—fast.”
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health reported these statistics and recommendations to the religious community last Tuesday:
• There have been more than 1,000 cases a day in Minnesota in recent days—representing the most widespread community spread since the start of the pandemic.
• A look at how spread has increased in Minnesota over just the past few weeks (the numbers listed are cumulative since the start of the pandemic):
|Three weeks ago||Last week|
|Cases associated with wedding||365||570|
|Outbreaks associated with wedding||41||62|
|Cases associated with a funeral||124||136|
|Outbreaks associated with a funeral||18||20|
|Cases associated with worship||105||121|
|Faith community outbreaks||18||20|
• If 100 people come to in-person worship, statistically at least six are going to be infectious right now. The advice given by a state epidemiologist: Meet virtually instead of in-person.
• The current rate of community spread is 37.6 percent. (A rate of 20 percent or more signifies caution. A rate of 30 percent or more is considered high-risk.)
• Someone asked the question: Where are we in terms of red light, yellow light, green light in terms of how we should act? The response from a state epidemiologist: Dark orange.
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.
For all these reasons, we are turning the dial on our phased re-gathering plan back to orange. Doing no harm, acting for the common good, and protecting the most vulnerable among us is how we love our neighbor. What this means: I’m asking you to limit your in-person gatherings to 10 people or fewer while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Group 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 this pandemic.
Yes, the orange phase is more restrictive than what the governor’s office currently allows. I understand the challenge this places on our churches, but given all the data before us, I believe this is the most prudent course of action. At a very minimum, I request you adhere to the governor’s guidelines and closely watch the data in your community. If your school district is not holding in-person classes, then the church probably should not be having in-person worship either (this link always has the latest county-by-county 14-day case numbers, along with associated recommendations for school districts; it’s a good tool for us to use to help guide our decision-making). We trust you to make decisions, in consultation with local officials, that will protect the vulnerable, our neighbors, and each other and still provide meaningful spiritual leadership to your community. Thank you for the creative, adaptive spirit you bring to our common work of healing a broken world in these critical days.
Remember, the church is not closed! We will continue to be creative in how we minister in these unprecedented times (we've compiled some Advent and Christmas ideas and resources here), and together we can make it through this pandemic. Our actions now will save lives. And isn’t that the business we are ultimately in? Salvation—life for all people!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church