May 28, 2020
Beloved Pastors, Lay Ministers and Lay Members of the Churches of the California-Nevada Conference,
I pray you are safe and well. Your conference and district staff members join me in sending you our support and love. We are here for you.
As you are aware, the states of California and Nevada have moved to allowing the re-opening of worship gatherings. Because of conversations of religious leaders with state government that I have been a participant in, I knew that this was coming. I have shared all information with our Extended Cabinet and our Conference Lay Leader, who for some time have been working on protocols for this day. Our Extended Cabinet and Conference Lay Leader meet every Monday serving as our Conference response team to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After continued work with conference staff and leadership including conversation with pastors and lay leaders, and much prayer, I am asking that the church buildings, the conference center, and district offices of the California-Nevada Conference remain closed through the end of June 2020. I hope that the following report helps you understand and support my decision.
Our Extended Cabinet along with other conference staff members have been very diligent in collecting the best practices of our connectional UMC in this pandemic. We have also been engaged in deep conversation about the implications of re-opening our church buildings.
I am so very grateful for all that the pastors and lay leaders of our local churches are doing in response to COVID-19. I give God thanks for every single one of you! May God continue to strengthen you and bless you. In your experiences in this time of pandemic many of you have raised some very serious concerns. We share these concerns with you.
- In the words of John Wesley, how do we do no harm and do all the good we can in this moment of pandemic illness and death?
- What are the necessary things we must do to prepare for re-opening our in-person worship services?
- What would cause us to be re-closed after re-opening?
- How can we be sure that we are following government orders?
These are but some of the very important and practical questions that have arisen. As our conference staff has worked on protocols – the necessary things that must be done before re-opening our churches – they have an evolving document for us that is already over 30 pages. The length of our draft protocols is a sign of the seriousness with which we are required to prepare for moving to in-person worship. There are, however, some equally important concerns that we must consider as the Church.
Many of our pastors whose church worship has gone virtual, report that they are being joined by members who had not been participating in the life of the church for some time, and by new persons. As we consider re-opening our churches, how will our local churches stay connected to these persons? How will our local churches continue to connect and minister to persons who may not yet feel safe to join in-person worship services?
What are the things that our local churches were doing before the pandemic that in retrospect were not necessary and perhaps were even draining the church of time and energy that could have been used for more relevant mission and ministry?
As we come closer to the day of returning to our church buildings, is our return focused just on ourselves or are we truly opening up our churches, our hearts and the fullness of our discipleship to planting ourselves anew in a world in need of continued transformation and a word of mercy and hope?
The protocols we are preparing are to assist our churches meet federal and state guidelines while also requesting that each local church be responsible for assuring that they are meeting county and local health orders. The implementation and sustaining of necessary protocols for safely returning to in-person worship, is a complex process that requires the training of pastors and lay leaders.
As these protocols are drafted it has been in the awareness that the indicators of the presence of the Corona virus have risen in areas in the region of our Conference that have been re-opened to even minimal degrees. Some counties have seen such a rise in COVID-19 infections that they have ordered a strict continuation of shelter-in place. While some of our more rural communities have thankfully not seen any cases of the virus.
In this complex situation I would restate that I am asking that our California-Nevada Conference church buildings, conference center and district offices remain closed through the end of the month of June 2020. This time will allow our conference staff to complete our protocols for this next phase, test them and provide training for pastors and lay leaders. A small number of churches who demonstrate the greatest readiness for re-starting in person worship in their church buildings will be invited to assist us in testing the protocols for church re-openings. A summary overview of the protocols in development are shared with you in this issue of the Instant Connection.
I pray that in this next month you will continue to do your very best work. Consider the learnings you have gained from this time of shelter-in-place. I also invite you to join me in a season of prayer whose focus is asking God how we are to serve as disciples of Jesus Christ in a world that will never be the same.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño