Missouri Conference COVID-19 Update
posted on November 18
Dear Missouri Conference Clergy and Laity,
As we live into our first General Rule of doing no harm, I strongly encourage that in-person worship services be suspended until further notice for congregations located in counties with a critical status related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I fully recognize that this means worshipping physically apart from one another during the Thanksgiving and Advent seasons, including Christmas Eve and other large group gatherings. I believe this is the most responsible action at this time to preserve the health and wellbeing of our laity, clergy and neighbors.
Sadly, there are very few counties in the state of Missouri that are not showing a significant increase in cases and positivity rates. Our smaller, local hospitals are stressed and causing even further strain on our larger hospitals as rural patients are directed to the major hospitals for critical care.
We encourage you to look at the positivity rate for the past seven days for your county (i.e., jurisdiction). When the COVID-19 percent-positive rate is high in your area, the chance that you will run into someone with the virus at the grocery store or at Sunday morning worship is much higher than if the rate is low in your area. Unfortunately, there is no uniform percent positive number at which things shut down or re-open. Many Missouri schools use a percent positive of 15-20% for decision-making. Missouri has a state-wide positivity rate of 24.4% at the time of this writing with many of our counties having a much, much higher rate.
Check out your county’s positivity rate by visiting: https://showmestrong.mo.gov/public-health-county/. Be sure to click on “positivity rate.” Missouri’s COVID-19 dashboard uses a red/orange/green system to flag if your county is in critical or dangerous status.
Most of Missouri is now in the critical and dangerous statuses for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization increases, and deaths. Our Church, too, has been touched by the virus. Many of our laity have contracted and succumbed to this disease. One active pastor and a young layperson on a church staff have died. We currently have clergy hospitalized due to the illness and each week more pastors or their families receive a positive diagnosis. We cannot afford to have more of our leaders get ill and possibly die.
If you must meet in-person for any type of gathering from public worship to staff meetings to small groups, I am requiring that all United Methodists on all United Methodist property do the following minimum procedures to ensure the safety of all people.
- Masks are to be worn by everyone apart from children 2 years and younger.
- Strict physical distancing of 6 feet between family units should be observed.
- Gathering spaces are not to exceed 25% occupancy.
- The gathering space must be sanitized between services held on the same day.
We are living in difficult and uncertain times. I am aware that our Thanksgiving tables will be filled with uncertainties and the absence of loved ones because of the pandemic. I am aware that this Advent and Christmas season will be difficult for individuals, families, and our communities. But we are a people of relentless hope in God in times of despair. Do not waver in your faith in the promise of Jesus.
Just because we cannot gather for worship within our church walls in this season like we have in the past, does not mean we cannot worship. Throughout the past nine months, you have demonstrated creativity and perseverance through meaningful online worship, joy-filled outdoor services, and innovative plans to help our people worship in their homes. Continue to listen to the Holy Spirit guiding you toward new ways of connecting with God and one another.
With more than 1,100 coronavirus-related deaths happening on average each day in our nation, I offer my prayers for those who have died, those who are sick, those who have recovered and the front-line workers seeking to heal those who are ill and suffering. Please join me in praying for those who are working to ensure an effective vaccine is widely available sometime in 2021.
Know that you are always in my thoughts and prayers during this Advent season of watching and waiting. Stay faithful. Listen to the experts. Do your best. We will get through this together.
Bishop Robert Farr
The Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church