then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4
Dear members and friends of the Pacifica and Southwest California Synods,
The apostle Paul reminds us in this passage from Philippians that we are to seek not our own interests, but to do that which will help others. These days, looking to the interests of others means doing all we can to safeguard the health of our neighbors during the current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. In our letter last Thursday, we encouraged you to cancel all mid-week gatherings, but gave no recommendation on the question of cancelling Sunday worship, leaving that decision to pastors and church councils. In light of today's call by the President and the Virus Task Force to cancel all gatherings of more than 10 persons for the next 15 days,
we have decided to strongly urge our congregations to suspend all in-person worship gatherings through Palm Sunday, April 5, at least, and perhaps beyond. We know this will disrupt congregational life, and deprive our people of the comfort of gathering with others to hear the gospel and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, but we believe this action is in the best interest of protecting the public health, and thus of serving the neighbor.
We also strongly urge congregations to encourage those who use their buildings for worship, community gatherings, AA groups, etc., to meet virtually rather than on church property for the time being. We further urge office staff to consider if they can do their work at home. Someone would need to come by the church building to pick up and respond to the mail, but we would recommend staff meetings be held virtually. Additionally,
congregations would be best served by discouraging their members from coming by the building unless invited. We intend to model this at our two synod offices as well. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is a part of President Trump's task force on the virus and serves as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says that what seems like an over-reaction is actually the right reaction to the severity of the situation. If the disease spreads at a fast rate, it would overwhelm our hospital system, and we would not have the respirators needed to save lives. At a time like this, it is best, in our opinion, to err on the side of caution.
We encourage congregations to continue to gather the faithful virtually even while we must be physically apart. Some of our congregations have put together phone trees to contact members on a weekly basis while Sunday worship is not a possibility. Others are live-streaming services that are attended by only the pastor, a camera operator, and, at times, a few musicians. Still others are providing online devotionals, interactive Bible studies using technology such as GoToMeeting or Zoom, and pre-recorded videos for use by those who stay at home. We are awed by the creativity and vision of our pastors. If you have a resource that you would like to share with our synods, please leave a comment on our Facebook pages or reply to our Synod blogs to let us and the rest of the Synod know what you are doing.
We know that this is a stressful time for all. We encourage Conference pastors and deacons to meet weekly via Zoom and are willing to have our staff members set up times for that to take place. We also encourage you to think about the implications for your congregation of a possible future intensification of the quarantine: a "shelter in place" directive. This would necessitate even virtual worship be led from homes.
We also encourage those who are able to continue to make their faithful, generous offerings to their congregations.
We know that many will be unable to do this, especially if they lose their jobs or work hourly in an industry that has been hard-hit by this situation. Congregations often survive month-to-month, and pastors, deacons, and other staff have bills to pay, as does the church. We will come out on the other side of this and will need those staff members to continue to provide ministry both during after this period of separation. By the way, the Employment Development Department has provisions that may provide Disaster Unemployment Assistance during disasters even for those who do not qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance benefits. You may access information about this
Finally, remember that you do not go through this alone. God is with you and will help you to make the right decisions as you "look to the interests" of your neighbors. We know you will find ways to share the gospel, pray for one another, protect the health of all, and see God at work in these very difficult times. God be with you and guide you as you make these decisions.
Yours in Christ,