“Jesus was always mindful of the least and the most vulnerable among us. In fact, the very heart of his healing ministry was calling us to care for those on the edges. In this season, I believe the best way for us to be the church and follow Jesus’ example is by diligently doing everything in our power to care for one another and limit the spread of coronavirus.”
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Resident Bishop, Dakotas-Minnesota Area
As the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic (recently declared a national emergency) makes its way around the world, churches can play a key role in preventing the spread of the illness. Minnesota Conference leaders are closely monitoring the situation and recommended guidelines from health agencies, so this page will be regularly updated with new information and resources as the COVID-19 outbreak and response continues to unfold in Minnesota.
The latest updates (as of March 15):
- Bishop Ough is asking all United Methodist congregations in the Minnesota Conference to suspend in-person worship through the end of March. He also urges the postponement or cancellation of all non-essential, in-person small group meetings or gatherings in our church buildings during this timeframe and urges all pastors to exercise thoughtful discretion with regard to conducting funerals or other religious rites and pastoral visitations. Read his March 16 message
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new recommendation: For the next eight weeks, all gatherings of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed.
- Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a nearly two-week closure of all K-12 schools in the state, to begin no later than Wednesday, March 18.
Please note that as of Monday, March 16, all Minnesota Conference staff who are able to work from home will be doing so until further notice, and the few who cannot will have staggered schedules. If you have a question for the Minnesota Conference, email email@example.com and we will answer it as quickly as possible.
Minnesota mitigation strategies:
On March 13, Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm led a press conference in which they declared a peacetime state of emergency and and announced new statewide mitigation strategies to slow COVID-19 in Minnesota (these are in place until further notice):
- cancel or postpone gatherings with 250 or more people
- cancel or postpone gatherings of less than 250 people that are held in venues that cannot accommodate social distancing of at least six feet per person
- limit attendance at gatherings at which the majority of participants are at higher risk for severe illness to 10 people or fewer
- people and families at higher-risk should stay at home and avoid gatherings or other situations of potential exposure, including travel
- employers should make telework arrangements for workers whose duties can be done remotely
- employers should stagger work schedules and limit non-essential work travel
- health care facilities and assisted living facilities should more strictly limit visitors
- faith-based organizations should follow guidance for gatherings listed above and consider offering video or audio events
While we implore you to diligently follow these recommendations, we also realize that you know your community best, so please do whatever you feel is prudent and necessary beyond them to keep people safe in your ministry setting. If you are able to follow all of the mitigation strategies above and thus choose to continue to worship: Set up offering stations rather than passing the offering plate. Encourage people to greet each other without shaking hands or touching one another; elbow touches, crossing arms over your heart, a little bow, or a wave are all good alternatives. Use individual cups during communion and gloves, tongs, or baskets to distribute bread.
Minnesota Conference response:
A few ways in which the Minnesota Conference is responding to COVID-19:
- We are forming a COVID-19 response team that will meet frequently each week to share and process new information so that we can pass along helpful information and recommendations to you.
- We will follow health agencies’ guidelines as we evaluate whether to hold or cancel scheduled conference events, including the All-Clergy Gathering and our 2020 Annual Conference. If we need to cancel these gatherings, we will give as much notice as possible and let you know at least a month ahead of time for your own planning purposes.
- The Minnesota Council of Churches is working to arrange a conversation between judicatory leaders and the Minnesota Department of Health for sometime next week. We will participate in that conversation and let you know what we learn from it.