November 17, 2020
Elizabeth of Hungary, renewer of society, died 1231
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31

Dear Siblings in Christ,

On Monday, November 16, 2020, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine spoke about the increasing coronavirus case numbers, citing that “62 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have a percent positivity rate of 5%. The state’s overall rate is 9.6%.” Our own counties are seeing high escalations in daily positive cases, five to ten-fold increases. This data confirms that we are now in the worst of the pandemic to date. For us as the church gathering for worship and meetings, digital congregating remains our safest option.

I recognize many of our congregations who have resumed in-person worship have been, and continue to, follow state guidance for health and safety protocols. We also know of many congregations worshiping outdoors, which continues to be safer than indoor services. 

Wearing masks, effective building ventilation, and keeping people at safe distances when gathered all contribute to mitigation efforts. While Dr. Levine reported on Monday that there are no plans to enact new statewide restrictions, the 50% capacity restriction remains in effect, and teleworking is encouraged where possible. Physically gathered worship, even with the best protocols in place, continues to pose risks, as we may not be aware of any COVID-related spread or outbreaks in the community. Should your congregation choose to gather in person for any reason (worship, meetings, small groups, etc.), the following guidelines must be followed:

  • Ensure your COVID-19 team is meeting regularly to assess community members’ needs, particularly now with the current rise of outbreaks in our counties.
  • If you are worshiping inside a building, consider the size of your congregation, demographics, ventilation, and local trends that ensure safe practices.
  • Under no circumstances should there be corporate singing or anyone in the building without a mask. In addition to worship, this restriction includes all meetings, small groups, and any in-person gathering of two or more people. 
  • If a congregation has been exposed to COVID-19 during worship or any physical gatherings (indoor or outdoor), the congregation should not worship in-person until CDC cleaning and disinfection protocols are completed (access CDC guidelines here). The CDC recommends waiting at least 24 hours before beginning disinfection and should not gather for at least two weeks once disinfection protocol is complete.

Our synod staff members will continue to only attend worship services in full compliance with these guidelines. Additionally, we recommend supply pastors only serve congregations following these guidelines. Accordingly, our office will coordinate supply pastor coverage for congregations in transition only if these protocols are in effect.

As of today, I am asking our staff to no longer attend in-person meetings and will be present through digital means only. We do not want to put people at risk as we move through the synod.
Please know that if the infections continue to rise at this alarming rate, we will revisit these guidelines and issue more stringent recommendations. Thanksgiving will be a critical test for us as a society.

Our focus is always on our faith in Jesus Christ. Saved by his loving grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. Right now, the most loving thing we can do is wear a mask and follow guidelines to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

We continue to cling to the hope we have in the promises of Christ. As we prepare for the season of Advent, may we dwell in the longing of waiting with hope and anticipation for the one who makes all things new, whose birth we will once again celebrate in the Christmas season. 

Yours in Christ,
†James S. Dunlop, bishop
Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA 
Bishop Dunlop offers the same guidance as provided in the letter above in this video.

Please note the same information and guidance are provided in the letter and YouTube video. Please share whichever format(s) is most helpful. We continue to be thankful for your faithful cooperation in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
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 Harrisburg, PA 17109