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Church is not canceled!

But in-person worship is. As leaders of our respective Christian denominations, we have all had to instruct our congregations to cease in person worship and meetings.

And yet, church is not canceled. How is that so?

Church is not a building, and church is not just worship. Church is the gathering of faithful people through prayer, through love and through caring for the vulnerable. Church is taking on new forms in light of COVID-19. Many congregations are worshiping via livestream or by other electronic means. They are using old-fashioned phone calls to talk to members; meetings and Bible study are taking place over Zoom. Food pantries are distributing food as cars drive by, homeless dinner programs are offering meals to go and the prayers of the faithful ascend to a loving God whose arms bind us together even when we cannot be face to face. Since we cannot be with one another, let us nonetheless be for each other.

These are faithful decisions, made out of our understanding of the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. In this present moment, among other things, loving our neighbor means not being physically present with our neighbors, to protect them and us from potential infection.

It is more challenging to be church in a time such as this. Our pastors and leaders are having to develop new skills, and our members are having to extend more effort to stay connected. There are financial implications of not gathering in person, and as long as this continues it will grow ever harder to continue our basic outreach ministries caring to the poor, the sick, migrants and the elderly.

The word “quarantine” comes from quaresima, the Italian word for Lent. Ships were “quarantined” for 40 days in port before they were able to dock and unload people and supplies. So of all seasons of the year to be experiencing quarantines, this present season of Lent is very appropriate. Just as Lent ends with Easter, so this season of quarantine will end with renewed faith in our Risen Lord — though it will likely not happen by April 12. Over the next few weeks, as the situation develops, we will discern what the right way to observe calendar Easter is and what the right way to observe our eventual return to in-person congregational life, proclaiming “Alleluia” with shouts of joy. That day will be an Easter Day indeed, celebrating the restoration of new life, having passed through the valley of the shadow of death.

We, the leaders of our respective Christian denominations, hold you in prayer just as we ask you to hold us in prayer in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Rev. Jay R. Hartley

Regional Minister and President

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arizona

The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer

Bishop, Grand Canyon Synod

Evangelical Church in America

Robert T. Hoshibata

Resident Bishop

The Desert Southwest Conference

The United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons, Conference Minister

Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Brad Munroe

Presbytery Pastor for the Presbyteries of Grand Canyon and de Cristo

Presbyterian Church USA

The Right Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall

Sixth Bishop of Arizona

The Episcopal Church