Pastoral Message from Bishop Humphrey on COVID-19
12 March 2020

Dear siblings in Christ,

We are all pondering how to respond appropriately to the current COVID-19 health crisis affecting our planet. Let me start with the most pressing question: “What should we do about worship services and other meetings?” The short answer is this: Our best advice is to cancel worship and any other in-person meetings through Wednesday, April 1, as we await further information. 

Unlike some of our sibling denominations and church bodies, in the ELCA decisions about modifying congregational activities are made by pastors and congregational leaders, not by synod or Churchwide offices. We, therefore, offer our best advice and support your decisions. We understand that congregations have contracts with third-party organizations for the use of your facilities, and we encourage you to be in contact with those third-party organizations to determine the best way to proceed. 

There is a growing consensus among health organizations that our best chance to slow the spread of this virus and to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system is to immediately respond as calmly, but as aggressively, as possible to limit person-to-person direct contact. To help ease the transition, the Virginia Synod will provide each congregation with a two month subscription to use Zoom ( ) for digital meetings. Check for more information on Monday, March 16.

As the church, this is an opportunity for us to act as faithful, responsible witnesses in our communities. We act, not out of fear, but out of genuine care and concern for those most vulnerable in our midst – those of us who are older; those of us who have chronic health conditions; those of us who care for those impacted by this virus. We act unselfishly for the sake of others and our communities. While we act with full confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39), there may be times when we should be separated (at least physically) from one another.

We are grateful for the excellent leadership of our rostered ministers and congregational leaders who are working to support and care for their communities and to make decisions to keep their communities as safe as possible. 

We have assembled a wide array of resources, research and suggestions for you to consider as you prayerfully formulate your own strategic plans. These resources can help as you offer care and support in a time of crisis without increasing the risks to community health. Below you will find additional information regarding worship and church activities. We will continue to update these resources on our website .

One of our Synod’s core values is PEACE. This peace is both a blessing to us and a gift we get to share with the world in a time when, like the disciples of old, so many of us are anxious about the future. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 NRSV)

You have been and will continue to be in our prayers. As we like to say in the ELCA, “We Are Church Together!” We are certainly not alone, Jesus promises to be with us always!

Bishop Robert F. Humphrey
Synodical Bishop
Virginia Synod, ELCA
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