A Word from Bishop Graves: COVID protocols

March 16, 2021

Friends of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, 
One year ago the world began to shut down due to COVID-19. It is an emotional whirlwind to think back on how little we knew about the virus and the implications it would have on our world. Over 500,000 lives have been lost. Can you imagine digesting that staggering statistic one year ago? To think we would surpass the death toll from multiple wars is incomprehensible. 
While it took time, most states eventually agreed that certain precautions such as mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and limiting building occupancy would help slow the spread of this deadly virus. We saw the benefits of these efforts. Now that the vaccine is becoming available to more Americans, there is hope. That is the one word I continue to hear that resonates with me. 
Individual states are beginning to relax their restrictions. While this will be beneficial to some, there is great worry for what this means for our case numbers and the desperate need to contain this virus. I share in these concerns. Many of our Alabama-West Florida churches have taken excellent care to ensure that their COVID protocols do everything possible to protect those on church campuses. However, there will be an inordinate amount of pressure on our clergy to relax guidelines and follow the lead of their respective state. 
It simply does not matter where you live, COVID continues to be a very real threat to our communities. We are all experiencing COVID fatigue. Yet we are called as children of God to, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39). This pandemic is not about our personal preference or comfort, it is about placing others’ needs above our desires.
I am respectfully asking our churches to continue to hold their COVID protocols in place to allow more residents in our communities to be vaccinated. I have received positive feedback from clergy that implementing a COVID task force in their local church was one of the most helpful decisions in navigating this pandemic. Now is the time to reconvene that task force to discuss how you will move forward and communicate an updated plan to your congregation. Hopefully this team has medical professionals that can guide your church through the coming weeks and months. 
We are leaning on the glimmer of hope we see but we need to be a witness to our neighbor to be able to persevere to the other side of COVID-19. God is with us on our Lenten journey. We will soon celebrate a risen savior and sing, “Fought the fight the battle won.” Let us fight for one another a moment longer to overcome this battle. 
In Christ, 
Bishop David W. Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference