A Letter to the Governor from the Conference

Governor Tim Walz
State of Minnesota
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
St. Paul, MN 55155

May 22, 2020

Dear Governor Walz:

Greetings to you from the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ! I am the judicatory leader of 126 congregations and approximately 26,000 members across the State of Minnesota. Our churches extend from Austin in the south to the Rainy River region along the Canadian border. We are a progressive, main-line Protestant denomination.

I write first to offer my thanks for your solid and gracious leadership during this momentous time of the COVID-19 pandemic. I often reflect on the deeply challenging & consequential role you have in this time. The moral calculus you are required to make day after day, while juggling an enormous amount of political and economic pressure from multiple directions, is unfathomable. I hold you in my prayers.

I was among the faith leaders on a Zoom call with you on May 5, and have participated in weekly calls hosted by the Minnesota Council of Churches for judicatory-level faith leaders with Department of Health officials and others from your administration. Many of us as faith leaders had hoped to collaborate with the state to draft a set of guidelines for faith communities in regards to re-opening houses of worship. We hoped to lift a unified voice as the inter-faith community in doing so.

Quite obviously, that unity of thought and purpose among all faith leaders did not emerge. I have been gravely disappointed with the decisions of our Catholic and Missouri Synod partners in recent days, and with the tension that seems to be deepening between some elements of the wider faith community and the State. In my own view, there have been no infringements on our first amendment rights as churches. I respect and am deeply grateful for the work you and your administration have done to safeguard our public health. I am particularly thankful for your decision most recently to take a slow, measured approach to re-opening all aspects of our society, including houses of worship. I am hopeful you will continue to resist the pressure from faith leaders who are choosing to defy your executive orders.

My own counsel to our United Church of Christ congregations across the State has been very clear: we should not rush to resume in-person worship or other activities and we should assume the need to continue virtual worship for at least another two months. Many of our congregants are in high-risk categories. Our gatherings are not highly predictable settings, many of our normal practices would be considered high-risk behaviors at present, our facilities often would not easily accommodate social distancing and appropriate traffic flow, and our worship alone is often 60 minutes in length.

Moreover, our pastors and congregations have continued to worship, pray, study, and serve in amazing and inspiring new ways throughout this pandemic. We have been fully the Church, steadfastly accomplishing our vital mission, and we can continue to be the Church virtually until such time as it is truly safe for our clergy and congregants to convene more normally again. In addition, as a denomination that strives to seek justice and share extravagant love with the most vulnerable among us, we are especially cognizant of the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on our minority communities in Minnesota. United Church of Christ congregations show no propensity to defy your executive orders. We intend to practice love of God and love of neighbor by continuing to do what we must to protect the health and life of our communities and State.

The wider inter-faith community across Minnesota numbers at least 2 million people. The decisions we collectively make throughout this pandemic matter deeply and will have wide-spread consequence, for better or for worse, in our communities. Please know that I stand with you in support of the work you and your team are doing to help us make wise decisions. Should you desire to establish an interfaith advisory council, as some other states have recently done, I am also ready to offer my time and voice to that effort.

Thank you for your leadership, and for the empathy, humanity, and wisdom you have exhibited in these worst of times. I will continue to hold you in prayer.

Sincerely,

Reverend Shari Prestemon
Conference Minister
Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ
sharip@uccmn.org
228-547-2405 (cell)

Cc: Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, Commissioner John Harrington