Beloved members and friends of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ. I am your Conference Minister, the Reverend Brigit Stevens.

We are two-thirds of the way through Summer which means that planning is in full force for the Fall. And the Covid-19 virus has not gone away, we do not have a vaccine, we don’t have a clear treatment for it, and it remains a very serious health concern around the world. Over 700,000 people around the globe have died from this brand-new-to-humans virus, in less than nine months. If we rang a bell for one second for each victim of Covid-19 starting today, we would be ringing that bell for over 8 days straight.

I’m afraid that these numbers are so big that our brains can’t process the enormity of the toll of this virus. And, it is true, that different regions of the world, even different counties within each state, are having different rates of exposure, infection, and death. So, it is fair that even within just our three conferences, some feel like the virus is very close, or very far, or quite out of hand, or quite controlled. Context and location do matter.

Which is why it is a blessing that our polity, the way we govern ourselves, in the United Church of Christ, gives the responsibility and authority to each local congregation to set their own policies and practices regarding how they function.

It’s also though, a great burden for our polity to function this way. Because it means that in our three conferences, we have over 300 congregations whose governing boards and committees are tasked with the very hard work of discerning what to do for your particular church right now. And there is no outside authority who tells you what you have to do. For better or worse, the decisions belong to each congregation.

And yet, we’re all in this together. Our polity is covenantal. That means, we’re committed to one another. We share and we care. While I can’t make decisions for you, I can tell you what I believe is best and encourage you to pray, to consult, and to discern what it is best.

I still strongly urge you to consider every creative possibility you can dream up or find from social media, your neighbor’s church down the street, or a few rabbit holes on the internet, to keep connected to one another without being together in person. Staying home and away from others is the safest way for all of us right now. Attending worship services still remains one of the riskiest exposure activities, ranked just behind going to bars, large music concerts, sports stadiums, and gyms.

However, if you make the choice to get together, please convene a committee or task force to think about and plan how you will keep people at least six feet apart, wearing masks, washing hands, not singing, and not touching each other while together. BEFORE getting together next, decide how you will communicate the new rules to everyone who comes in, how you will enforce them, and who will enforce them. Please do not set your pastor up to be your bouncer.

AND, now this is specific for your church’s governing board, be a good employer. Please remember that your pastor is also your employee. Be thoughtful and kind and speak with your employees and volunteers directly about their needs during this time. Make choices to protect them and their families.

It may be helpful for you to know that the national offices of the United Church of Christ have made the decision to protect their employees by continuing with their protocol of not traveling for work and all employees who are able to, are working from home, through the end of the year. They will revisit this decision again closer to January. The Tri-Conference Board of Directors has also directed me and our staff to follow suit. For their discernment and leadership, I am very grateful. Be good employers to your employees.

Most of all be kind to one another.

These days are hard. They are also beautiful. Know that the Love of God, the Grace of Jesus Christ and the Community of the Holy Spirit are with you and within you. For always.

Rev. Brigit Stevens