On behalf of the Appointed Cabinet and Senior Leadership of the annual conference, I am writing to express our deep concern about the surge of COVID-19 and Omicron cases that we are witnessing. The National Geographic has put this in stark terms:
“Year three of the pandemic began with COVID-19 cases soaring to an average of 610,000 per day for the past week. That’s more than twice the daily average for the 2021 winter surge. Compared to two weeks ago, hospitalizations are up 65 percent, while deaths, which typically lag hospitalizations by about two weeks, are up 2 percent. The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. now exceeds 832,000.” (National Geographic, Science Edition, January 7, 2022)
As an annual conference, we have always followed the latest recommendations from the State, County, and City. So far, they have not called for a significant shutdown of more extensive gatherings of people. We have worked hard with our local churches to reopen with major safety guidelines, and we continue to stress how important it is to follow these guidelines. We are not making a blanket ruling that all local churches need to stop their in-person worships and gatherings but allow the appointed clergy and Administrative Council to make that decision. We trust in your leadership explicitly, and you know your context far better than we do. We also stand by your leadership, and if you have to make a hard decision, we will support that decision unconditionally. If there are changes that our State, County, and City decide upon shortly, we will follow them accordingly. As always, your District Superintendent is available for counsel and direction.
The COVID-19 virus mutates to survive, and the Omicron variant is an excellent example of this survival strategy. It is not as life-threatening as the Delta variant; it is more transmissible and spreads to more people while allowing them to survive. It is anyone’s guess on how and when it will morph in the future, but as the experts are now saying, living with COVID-19 might be a long-term reality.
As your annual conference leadership, we care deeply for every one of you. For this reason, we ask that you get vaccinated to ensure your safety. The vast majority of deaths from COVID-19 are happening to the unvaccinated. The science behind this vaccine is proven. Personally, I have been triple vaccinated (two original Moderna vaccines and the booster), and it hasn’t negatively affected my health at all. What it has done is protect me from life-threatening repercussions if I become infected. This is not about political correctness – this is about saving lives. There is absolutely no rationale for a religious exemption in our United Methodist theology. Pragmatically, we want you to live through this health crisis, and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated as quickly as you can.
I continue to pray each day for our clergy and laity, as well as for the general public as we deal with our COVID-19 crisis. With faith in God, we will see our way through this. In the words of Joshua:
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop