Pastoral Letter from the Christian Denomination Leaders in Light of COVID-19

 

Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

The Arizona judicatory leaders of the Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Church in America, The United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), and The Episcopal Church teleconferenced together and engaged in lively dialogue about the COVID-19 pandemic. We have jointly released the following statement that I would like to share with you. Here is our pastoral statement:

Church is not cancelled!!!

But in-person worship is. As leaders of our respective Christian denominations, we have all had to instruct our congregations to cease in person worship and meetings.

And yet, church is not cancelled. How is that so?

Church is not a building, and church is not just worship. Church is the gathering of faithful people through prayer, through love, and through caring for the vulnerable. Church is taking on new forms in light of COVID-19. Many congregations are worshiping via live-stream, or by other electronic means. They are using old fashioned phone calls to talk to members, meetings and Bible study are taking place over Zoom. Food pantries are distributing food as cars drive by, homeless dinner programs are offering meals to go, and the prayers of the faithful ascend to a loving God whose arms bind us together even when we cannot be face to face. Since we cannot be WITH one another, let us nonetheless be FOR each other.

These are faithful decisions, made out of our understanding of the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. In this present moment, among other things, loving our neighbor means not being physically present with our neighbors, to protect them and us from potential infection.

It is more challenging to be church in a time such as this. Our pastors and leaders are having to develop new skills, and our members are having to extend more effort to stay connected. There are financial implications of not gathering in person, and as long as this continues it will grow ever harder to continue our basic outreach ministries caring to the poor, the sick, migrants, and the elderly.

The word “quarantine” comes from quaresima, the Italian word for Lent. Ships were “quarantined” for 40 days in port before they were able to dock and unload people and supplies. So of all seasons of the year to be experiencing quarantines, this present season of Lent is very appropriate. Just as Lent ends with Easter, so this season of quarantine will end with renewed faith in our Risen Lord—though it will likely not happen by April 12, 2020. Over the next few weeks, as the situation develops, we will discern what the right way to observe calendar Easter is; and what the right way to observe our eventual return to in-person congregational life, proclaiming “Alleluia” with shouts of joy. That day will be an Easter Day indeed, celebrating the restoration of new life, having passed through the valley of the shadow of death.

We, the leaders of our respective Christian denominations, hold you in prayer just as we ask you to hold us in prayer in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Rev. Jay R. Hartley
Regional Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arizona

The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer
Bishop, Grand Canyon Synod
Evangelical Church in America

The Rev. Dr. Robert T. Hoshibata
Resident Bishop
The Desert Southwest Conference
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons, Conference Minister
Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Brad Munroe
Presbytery Pastor for the Presbyteries of Grand Canyon and de Cristo
Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)

The Right Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall
Sixth Bishop of Arizona
The Episcopal Church