As clergy members in Pierce County, we come together to offer our thanks and gratitude to the members of the Pierce and St. Croix County Health departments who are working tirelessly on our behalf to ensure that we have accurate, science-based facts to inform our thoughts and actions. We extend our gratitude, as well, to our local health care workers who are making daily sacrifices for the health and well-being of others.

We have made great strides in our community to alleviate the spread of the coronavirus and mitigate its deadly effects. Thank you to those within and throughout our community for helping to keep us safe.

As days and weeks pass, there is increasing talk of churches reopening and resuming “business as usual.” We write to express our deep concern about opening our doors prematurely and risking the health of our individual members – and by extension, the whole community.

As we prayerfully discern when and how to safely reopen, we will be guided by the best thinking of scientists, doctors, and health department professionals; and, by the theological conviction that our highest calling is to love one another. Jesus said, unequivocally, that people will know we are his disciples, “by the love you show to others” (John 13:35).

Jesus is clear that connection to, union with, love for God was not a private, self-beneficial, or self-centered thing – it was about a public love. You cannot have an eye toward God if you don’t also have an eye toward God’s creation.

COVID-19 is no respecter of boundaries, ideology, or religious affiliation. We believe, as a matter of faith, that we should not engage in ill-advised and dangerous behavior, expecting God to protect us in ways we have been unwilling to protect ourselves.

While we grieve over this prolonged absence from one another and understand the financial and emotional toll it is taking on, we will continue to err on the side of caution. During any reopening process, we will follow all the protocols recommended by public health officials. To do otherwise would be to unnecessarily expose ourselves and the people we love and serve to heightened levels of exposure and risk.

Through the diligent work of qualified people and through internal reserves of creativity, patience, resilience, and courage, God is equipping us with both the knowledge and the faith to navigate this treacherous terrain. And so, even when our churches are shut, we can say with confidence that the Body of Christ is never closed … as long as love is present.

With hope,

Rev. Amy E. DeLong, River Falls United Methodist Church

Rev. Gerald P. Harris, St. Bridget Catholic Church, River Falls

Rev. Annie Ladnier, Hope Lutheran Church, River Falls

Pastor Dean Lundgren, Svea Lutheran Church, Hager City

Pastor Steve Meyer, Joy Lutheran Church, Prescott

Rev. Chris Myers, United Church of Christ, River Falls

Pastor Jeff Smith, English Lutheran Church, Ellsworth

Rev. Adam W. Westrich, St. Paul's UCC, Ellsworth

Rev. David Wrightsman, Ezekiel Lutheran Church, River Falls