A Pastoral Letter from
Bishop Patricia A. Davenport
About Coronavirus
March 11, 2020

Greetings, Beloved!

From Genesis through Revelation, Holy Scripture echoes a common theme: “Do not be afraid.”

The Holy One knows that there are times that trigger our fear and anxiety. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 – how it spreads, how we should respond, how to protect ourselves and our neighbors – has ripple effects of fear.

As Christians, we know that God is with us in the midst of the questions and fears generated by this new disease. While it is easy to be overwhelmed by the information (and mis information) flowing around us, we can rely on God's promises to be a calm and hopeful presence to those who are anxious, afraid, and sick.

We lift in prayer our neighbors who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 : those over 60 years old, those who have compromised immune systems, people with underlying chronic health conditions, and women who are pregnant. We pray for those who have taken ill, and for those who are placed at risk because of poverty and stressed rural and urban healthcare systems. And we pray for the health and safety of the medical personnel, first responders, and health officials who are our first line of defense against this virus.

Many of you are asking, “What should we do?”

As a foundation, base your plans and prayers on official and trusted sources , like the PA Department of Health and the CDC , and local updates from The Inquirer . Trust official information and directions from the CDC and your county health department. We have posted some official links at https://ministrylink.org/coronavirus/ .

Everyone should follow basic hygiene precautions , at church and at home. Wash your hands frequently and well, cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow, stop touching your face, and avoid touching surfaces touched by many people. Churches should step up cleaning of common services with approved disinfectants before events.  

Above all, stay home if you are sick -- from work, school, and/or worship. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone with coronavirus, health officials recommend you self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

Health officials are NOT recommending canceling gatherings (at this time), although some schools have closed after potential exposure of students or staff. Philadelphia officials suggest that the elderly and at-risk stay away from events with 5,000 or more attendees, which should not affect most churches. This situation is rapidly changing, so check frequently with CDC, PA Department of Health, and your local health department for current information.

Church leaders and councils will want to prayerfully consider the will of the congregation, the guidance of public health officials, and what else is going on in the community when deciding to close programs in the church building or cancel worship.

Congregations will want to look into developing contingency plans for continuing operations (see this helpful checklist from Lutheran Disaster Response ). The ELCA has released guidance for worship leaders . Bishop Shelley Bryant Wee of the Northwest Washington Synod, which has been hard hit by this epidemic, offers some practices based on the experience there.

Some will find this level of planning, and change, overwhelming. Yet God’s people have been adapting to difficult situations since Biblical times . Through this emergency, I believe that the Spirit is working to teach us alternatives and strategies that will serve us well after this situation passes.

God bless you as you minister in your congregations and communities during this time of uncertainty.
The Rev. Patricia A. Davenport
Bishop
Southeastern PA Synod, ELCA | ministrylink.org