March 5, 2020
Dear friends in Christ,
As the news about the Coronavirus (Covid-19) increases, the ELCA churchwide office and related units are actively and intentionally assessing the situation, communicating with global partners, and sharing regular and relevant updates through all communication channels. 
Congregations and leaders are encouraged to be mindful of basic precautions, to be attentive to reliable news sources, and to be diligent in self-care. Specifically, I recommend to you these sources for reliable information related to this virus:
As the body of Christ, we are encouraged to gather with others, to extend tangible signs of Christ’s peace to others, to comfort those who need it and to participate in the physical signs of grace through the sacraments. As you do, though—be cautious, take care of yourself and one another, and be discerning. Here are some guidelines and suggestions:
  • Show care for yourself and others by staying home if you are not feeling well.
  • Respect those who may not want a handshake or hug. There are many other ways to extend signs of peace and greeting to one another: a wave, a sign of prayer (hands clasped together at chest), an elbow bump, or simply a word of peace with a head nod. Use this season to experiment and learn from others.
  • Ensure restrooms and kitchens are stocked with soap and paper towels. If feasible, install hand sanitizer dispensers in an easily visible and accessible location. Ensure hand-washing signs are visible in all restrooms and kitchens. Here’s an example from the CDC.
  • Communion assistants and others serving in worship can be extra diligent with cleaning and sanitizing. If feasible, ushers could have hand sanitizer available for parishioners prior to approaching the communion rail.  Remind each other than communion in one kind (one element only) is still full communion. More guidelines around worship are available from the ELCA worship team.
  • For a helpful explanation of guidelines and adaptations for congregational and worship life from the Wisconsin Council of Churches click here.
  • Review this resource: a congregational planning checklist from Lutheran Disaster Response.
I am working closely with Mr. Jim Habermehl, our synod’s Disaster Response Director, to monitor the impact of this health concern in our local context. As relevant information changes, our care and response plans will adjust accordingly.
While we hear stories of communities deeply impacted by this and other diseases and disasters, let us join in this prayer from the ELCA churchwide office:
Merciful God, we know that your heart overflows with compassion for your whole creation. Pour out your Spirit on all people living with this illness, or who are living with anxiety about this illness, for which there is not yet a cure. Be with those who tend to the needs of the sick. Strengthen us all in body and spirit, console us when anxious, comfort us in grief and hearten us in discouragement. Help to remind us that you claim us as your own, and are with us wherever we go. Through Christ, our healer and Lord. Amen.

Bishop Pedro M. Suárez
Florida-Bahamas Synod, ELCA