Be Well. Be Safe. Be Patient.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” — Romans 12:12

From Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

I greet you with gratitude in my heart! Over these last several weeks, I have given thanks again and again for your faithfulness, your perseverance, and your creativity in this unimaginable time. You have met this moment with wisdom and an inspiring can-do attitude.

Our community has been held together beautifully as the Spirit has woven our connections tighter and stronger, day by day. For many congregations, it has already been five weeks since we have last been together for in-person worship. We are grateful for new ways of worshipping virtually, for Zoom coffee hours, for chats on the phone, and times of connecting in prayer. But we miss each other, and long for the familiarity of our sanctuaries and family and friends.

This time is so hard for all of us. Lives have been lost. Jobs have been cut. Our businesses and communities are suffering. As the weeks lengthen, our impatience understandably grows and we’re tempted to ask if it isn’t yet time to gather again in person.

Today I urge patience and ask us to persist in our physical distancing and widespread precautions.

Each week, religious leaders in Minnesota convene with officials from the Minnesota Department of Health. In this week’s call, I listened yet again as the devastating statistics were shared: 2,567 positive cases in Minnesota. 160 deaths. 230 currently in the hospital. Over 130 in ICU. 78 of our 87 counties with infections.

And then there was this stunning statement: health officials believe that the actual number of persons infected with COVID-19 in Minnesota may be as much as 100 times more than the 2,567 cases we know about. Why? There are so many across the state who have not been able to get tested and remain at home battling whatever symptoms they have. Our numbers in Minnesota are still climbing, the communal spread is growing. As sobering as it is, we must acknowledge: this crisis is far from over.

As President Trump and some governors begin to talk about “re-opening” our economy and phasing in a return to our previous “normal,” it’s natural for us to hope we might soon be able to resume normal routines in our home, work, and church lives. I want to caution you to resist such quick assumptions. Minnesota’s current stay-at-home order is scheduled to end May 3, but even if it is lifted, it will not immediately be time for our churches to fling wide our doors.

Until the numbers of cases actually decline in Minnesota over a sustained period, physical distancing will still be required. Our congregational families include many persons at high risk of this insidious virus. Our spaces or numbers are likely not conducive to social distancing requirements. And while our church communities and spiritual practices are certainly “essential” in our lives, they are not likely to be identified as “essential” as the first priorities for re-opening are set.

There are many lessons we are learning from this bitter pandemic experience. Certainly one of them is this: practicing our faith and being the Church does not require stepping into our church buildings. We can express our love of neighbor and love of God by doing all it takes to safeguard the health of our communities. The Body of Christ can be strong in connection and vital in spirit even when we are scattered. God finds us wherever and however we gather, and sits with us in our sorrow and loneliness. And hope can endure the darkest night, because our Easter faith promises us that new life will eventually dawn.

Paul offers excellent advice for this moment in his letter to the Romans: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” The day will come when we can reunite face-to-face in all the ways we treasure most, and it will indeed be a day for rejoicing! We hope and trust in that. In the meantime, let us be patient, and let us persevere in prayer for so many who are hurting and sacrificing in these days.

My prayers of petition and gratitude for each of you continue. Be well. Be safe. Be patient.

With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
(sharip@uccmn.org)