Bishop "strongly recommends" no in-person worship before June 1


April 27, 2020

Dear Friends,

In light of the expectation that positive cases of COVID-19 will peak in Iowa in the next few weeks, I am strongly encouraging all United Methodist churches in Iowa to refrain from in-person worship until June 1, when I will reassess. I am going beyond the Governor’s recommendations despite my previously stated intention of following Governor Reynolds' guidelines around worship. 

My reasoning is that our first priority as disciples of Jesus Christ is to protect those who are most vulnerable, which includes the elderly, the very young, and those with underlying health conditions. Even though we all want to return to our churches and be a part of the body of Christ in person, I believe that it is more important to assure the safety of our communities from further infections.

John Wesley’s Three General Rules included: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. In the midst of our own personal desires to get back to normal, our faith requires us to seek the good of all. By practicing good judgment and common sense and out of a concern for the welfare of our neighbor, we must continue to stay the course by being diligent around social distancing and refraining from being in large groups. At the same time, there are ample opportunities to safely engage in mission and outreach in our communities. 

In the Wednesday April 29 edition of the Weekly 360°, you will find a process for staged re-opening of local churches entitled, “Incremental Reentry Process for the Iowa Annual Conference.” I urge the clergy and lay leadership of every local church to read through it as you ready your congregation. 

This morning, Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation, easing some restrictions that have been in place around the state. The full proclamation can be found here. Here are the highlights:
  • Beginning this Friday, May 1, some businesses in 77 counties will be permitted to reopen at 50% capacity, including restaurants, fitness centers, libraries, racetracks, retail stores, and malls (food courts and common seating areas must remain closed). The other 22 counties will continue their current restrictions.
  • Social, community, recreational, and leisure sporting events can open, with a limit of ten people.
  • Other businesses will remain closed until May 15.
  • Spiritual and religious gatherings will be permitted as long as they practice social distancing guidelines. 

You can find the list of the counties that will be allowed to ease prior restrictions here. Because the Iowa Annual Conference Center is in Polk County, which is not included in the eased restrictions, we will remain closed until June 1, with staff continuing to work from home.

During the past five weeks, I have participated in a number of online worship services and have been truly blessed by your creativity, your deep desire to share Christ’s love in new ways, and your warm invitation to be a part of a faith community. Statistics are already showing strong indications of a resurgence in participation in worship and small groups. 

These are not easy times. Yet the body of Christ remains strong and faithful and is making a huge difference in our state and around the world. I will keep you informed in the days ahead. May God bless you and keep you.

Bishop Laurie