A pastoral instruction on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and its global spread 
To the pastors, deacons, and people of the Southwest California Synod:
Grace and peace in Christ, who guides us in the wilderness! 

Beloved, just as our Lord Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you,” I believe it is important for us take this injunction seriously even in times of crisis or emergency. Right now we see concern in Los Angeles and the United States generally about the “Coronavirus” that seems to have begun in China some weeks ago and is now spreading around the world. I wish to share with you some thoughts I have about this emerging, possible health emergency, and how I believe we as Christians should react. Mostly we should use common sense; but there are also ways our faith can help shape our response.  

My first recommendation is this:  Remain calm and encourage others to be calm . The spread of new flu-like viruses of varying virulence is an annual event, and often has a global impact. We can rely on public health agencies to keep us informed on the disease’s progress and give us basic precautionary information. Visit reliable websites like  http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus   and  CDC.gov/coronavirus  for updated information. And be calm: there is every likelihood that this will be no more severe than the seasonal flu. Constant repetition of media reports and news of illness throughout the world can make the situation seem much worse than it actually is. Our duty to our families and neighbors is to take the virus seriously, but to not allow ourselves to react in panic and alarm. Others may depend on your own calmness; practice it.

Second, I recommend:  Treat this like any flu epidemic.  Be vigilant in washing your hands often and thoroughly, and/or use hand sanitizer. Try not to touch your face, be cautious about touching surfaces in public places; cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow, and avoid unnecessary handshaking and hugging. Be more aware than usual of things you touch and handle. Thorough hand washing with soap on a regular basis is much to be recommended.

Third:  Continue to observe a holy Lent.  Go to church; pray and fast and give to those in need. Aside from handwashing and avoiding unnecessary physical contact with others, our public lives and churchgoing need not change significantly. Simply remember that in a public place, together with numbers of other people and touching many things that others have touched, it is important to be careful. Our pastors will take basic precautions in their congregations and will let you know of any heightened local concerns. You may be advised to refrain from handshaking or hugs during the passing of the peace; know that Christian love can also be communicated with a word or a non-contact gesture.

Fourth:  Avail yourselves of the means of grace.  There is no need at present to refrain from participating in Holy Communion. Our pastors, communion assistants, and altar guilds will take all reasonable precautions. Everyone should wash their hands or use sanitizer before communing or handling the communion elements. If partaking of the Holy Communion from a common cup concerns you, receive only the bread—our Lutheran faith in the presence of the body and blood of Christ in both the bread and wine of the Eucharist teaches us that each element is complete and sufficient in itself to communicate to us God’s grace and healing in the sacrament. If you wish not to receive the wine, simply pause or bow to hear the words “The Blood of Christ, shed for you,” and reverently move on. Even under normal circumstances sipping from a chalice of silver, with the use of a clean purificator by the assistant afterwards, is probably more sanitary than intinction. Let your pastoral leaders guide you; they are concerned for your welfare both in body and soul.

And last, as first:  Be not afraid.  Even if the virus should become widespread in our communities, it is not likely to be significantly more dangerous than other bad strains of flu we have faced before. But let it be part of your Lenten discipline, for your neighbor’s sake, to be careful and aware in public places, especially when you touch anything many people have touched, not to take (or give) unnecessary risk. And monitor your own health; if you develop any flu-like symptoms, seek medical help, let others know, and stay home.

Centuries ago in 1527, facing a virulent plague far more deadly than the one that challenges us right now, Martin Luther told his people that even when in danger themselves, their first duty is the love of neighbor to which Jesus calls us all. It is foolish, he taught, not to take common-sense precautions; it is equally foolish to allow exaggerated fears to separate us from those we might be able to help, or to cause us to be concerned only for ourselves. In this Lenten season we are already called to a deeper consciousness of our own fragility and mortality and our need for God and one another—let us pray and trust that God will bring us and all our people safely and in comfort to their Easter hope.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Bishop Guy Erwin
Bishop Guy Erwin
Southwest California Synod of the ELCA| (818) 507-9591| news@socalsynod.org| www.socalsynod.org