It is a dark Monday today in that we have passed the 100,000-death milestone in the U.S. of COVID-19 deaths, and over 363,000 deaths worldwide.  Today is also a designated “National Day of Mourning and Lament” suggested by Sojourner’s Magazine and endorsed by a number of U.S. city Mayors.  I ask you to pause this day and pray for all those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19, and pray for strength and courage for their surviving families and loved ones.

This is a sobering reminder that even as excitement builds over the reopening of parts of our state, including churches, the Corona virus is still active in our midst and it makes no discriminating difference who it infects.  All of us are still at risk!

As we have released guidelines for our United Methodist Churches to reopen their buildings, I want to emphasize the need to go slowly in this process.  No one can open their church buildings without following each of the guidelines we have prescribed: developing a detailed plan of action, having that plan approved by your appointed pastor and Administrative Council or equivalent, and then submitting the plan for approval by your District Superintendent on behalf of the annual conference.  This includes rental groups and pre-schools.  If you are going through an appointment change, we also want the incoming pastor to be a part of the planning and decision-making.

Some churches are anxious to open your buildings right away, but I caution against this and would recommend that you wait until the end of June before doing so.  I am allowing local church pastors and churches to make this decision, but I strongly recommend that you wait until you are fully prepared for all the contingencies.  Here are some of my reasons:

First, with all the restrictions we are under by state, county, city, and health agencies like the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our worships will not be the same as before.  There will be no hugging or personal contact, no singing, no responsive reading, no food or social hour, and people will have to wear masks and keep at least six feet apart.  All of the things that make up the intimacy of our worship and fellowship are prohibited.  It will only be a shell of what we know as our Christian worship experience.  Would we not be better off using the virtual platform that we have come to know for a time longer and be completely safe?

Second, no amount of prevention can ensure that a COVID-19 infection will not take place.  Because of the nature of our older sanctuaries, they are one of the worse places to inhibit the virus, and only one person who is infected has the potential to spread it to many who they may come into contact with.  We have witnessed too many cases in which one infected person with no outward symptoms (asymptomatic) spreads the virus in all the social gatherings he or she attends.

Finally, because the legal issues are so new, we still do not know the full extent of our legal liability as a church and annual conference when it comes to those who may be infected at one of our services.  We are working hard with our insurance agents, but even they do not know the full extent of our coverage when it comes to this issue.  We will continue to update you as we work with our insurance carrier.

So, my personal recommendation is to use this time to get your buildings and worships ready without physically reopening.  It is not a time to be idle, but also not a time to take unnecessary risks.  I pray that you will consider these issues and deeply think through your next steps.

For inspiration this week:

“We have a chance to do something extraordinary. As we head out of this pandemic, we can change the world. Create a world of love. A world where we are kind to each other. A world where we are kind no matter what class, race, sexual orientation, what religion or lack of or what job we have. A world we don’t judge those at the food bank because that may be us if things were just slightly different. Let love and kindness be our roadmap.” ― Johnny Corn
Be the Hope,

Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop