March 12, 2020
Dear siblings in Christ’s liberating love,
God knows there is enough anxiety in the air in this intense and polarized election season when climate change is eroding our planet and our denials, and the church we love is aging, shrinking and increasingly misunderstood. We do not need the coronavirus in the mix, but in the mix it is. Social distancing and self quarantining appear to be critical ways of dealing with the spread of the disease. As we in the Oregon Synod strive to be faithful and courageous leaders, here are a few things we know:
The World Health Organization has just declared that the COVID-19 outbreak has gone from an epidemic to a pandemic. An epidemic is something that has gone beyond human control and a pandemic is something that is both out of control and now worldwide or covering huge geography. This means we are most likely yet at the beginning of its impact.
30 people in Washington State have died. Others in New York and New Jersey have died. Thousands have been diagnosed and many others remain undiagnosed.
The elderly and those with compromised health are the most at risk.
135 colleges and universities like Smith and Stanford are sending students home to study online for the foreseeable future.
Some synods are canceling all worship services. Others are suggesting no Lenten potlucks and no peace-passing, wine or juice, or open baptismal fonts at worship.
At least one synod is on the verge of canceling its April synod assembly. We are delaying our Assembly registration (scheduled to open this week) while we monitor the situation.
The CDC appears to be indicating that the best thing we can do is to slow the inevitable progression of the disease throughout the country. If we can slow or halt its progress, hospitals will be better able to serve the reduced numbers. If not, our health system may be overwhelmed and not able to care for the sick and affected.
Remember that the spread of the virus is most often exponential. The CDC reports that Italy, for example, had 62 identified cases of COVID-19 on the 22nd of February. It had 888 cases by the 29th of February, and 4,636 by the 6th of March.
I’ve been praying, thinking and studying, and reluctantly as your bishop, I strongly suggest:
- Canceling worship services for a season.
- Communicate well. Provide clear and consistent information about the disease from trusted sources. Explain that the health and wellness of the congregation and community is your utmost concern.
- Follow up with those who are ill or will be concerned, afraid, alone, or at risk.
- Create an old-fashioned phone tree to connect with members.
- Prepare an online at-home worship service for each worship service canceled. Perhaps use video! Scan the internet for good ideas.
- If you continue with worship, skip the wine, juice and the passing of the peace with touching. Instead, substitute bows, waves or other greetings in the name of Christ. Focus on hand washing. Provide hand sanitizer in all rows as it is available.
- Encourage those who are ill to stay at home and self-quarantine.
- Prepare for the worst and pray for the best.
- There are many, many good articles and resources.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
Whatever you decide, God bless you and keep you! I will be praying.