|Abundance of Caution: What Should We Do about Church Services this Sunday?
Jesus said that he came to bring life and life abundantly. That means the promise of spiritual life and everlasting life but also physical life. We as God's people must be in partnership with God's healing and preventative care ministry during this Corvid-19 pandemic.
I am writing to follow up from yesterday's pastoral letter. People have asked if we are to cancel church on Sunday or even in the weeks to come. In consultation with the EPA Cabinet I am asking our churches to do the following:
---Churches with 250 people in one room at a time should cancel church services. All activities (dinners, plays, school events, sports events) that are held at the church in large numbers should be canceled. You should consider canceling all small meetings and use electronic means instead if possible.
---To all the churches I give full authority to pastors, in consultation with their lay leadership, to cancel services this week and in the weeks to come, as they feel it is appropriate. We do this with weather emergencies, and health risks require the same careful consideration. We reside in different areas of the state, and the spread of the virus is clustered in some parts but not everywhere at this time. Churches located where the outbreak is most prevalent should cancel services and activities. Churches with a large percentage of vulnerable adults (the elderly, those with chronic health concerns, etc.) should cancel services as well.
---Offer live-streaming video of your services (if the technology is available), so that people can participate in worship from the safety of their homes. It is a good idea to begin to offer this every Sunday, no matter the emergency. Enabling electronic giving from home is also encouraged.
---Those churches continuing to hold services should be careful to observe safe distances between people. Folks should not sit close together in the pews. (Yes, the front pews can be used.) Handshakes and hugs should be replaced with handwaves and other non-touching forms of greeting.
---Surfaces in the church should be wiped down with a disinfectant after every activity, especially in rest rooms, kitchens and high traffic areas. Potluck, buffet-style fellowship meals should be avoided so that multiple hands are not touching food and serving utensils. Protective gloves should be used in all food preparation. In the sharing of Holy Communion, use of a common cup of grape juice should be avoided.
---Personal hygiene is of the utmost importance. These measures include vigilant handwashing, covering one's mouth with an elbow when coughing, and seeing a doctor if needed.
---People who have recently traveled in affected areas, or are feeling sick, or suspect they have been in contact with someone who has the virus should not come to church and should voluntarily stay away from all people.
---There will be no committee meetings at the EPA Conference Center for now. Conference-wide events in March are being canceled. We will determine the future calendar events in the weeks to come as we monitor the spread of the virus. There is no word about General Conference at this time.
This is a fluid situation so it is vitally important that leaders stay in touch with the latest news concerning the outbreak. Late-breaking directives from state and local officials supersede any of the directives in this letter. It is a time to be informed but not to panic. It is a time to pray and not lose heart. It is a time to give financially to those whose livelihoods are compromised by the many cancellations It is also a time to call and check on our home-bound folks. There is ministry to be done in all situations, and the church should especially be "the Body of Christ" at this critical time.
Observe an abundance of caution, and we will position ourselves for the best outcomes possible in the weeks to come. I am offering my prayers for all of you as you navigate this unique time in which we live.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson