Prepare, Take Care, and Pray
A Pastoral Letter from
Bishop Patricia A. Davenport
March 13, 2020

Dear Beloved

Do not be afraid! The public health situation with coronavirus and COVID-19 in Southeastern Pennsylvania is serious, but not a cause for panic. We are bombarded with anxiety from schools closing, new cases reported, financial worry, and concern for our families. God is with us, and throughout this crisis we are called to proclaim God’s love and care for all of our neighbors. Public health officials urge us to #FlattenTheCurve, slowing spread of the virus so that our health and emergency systems are not overwhelmed.

In the Synod office we have received a number of questions: Should we gather or cancel? Should we offer or alter communion practices? What about passing the peace? Coffee hour? Other meetings?

At this point, on Friday the 13 th , we are well advised to prepare and take care, with a focus on not making spread of the virus worse. Of course, the diversity of our congregations and communities makes it impossible to offer “one-size-fits-all” guidance. As the Body of Christ, we will stay connected as we long to be together again as we have been used to.

When it comes to cancelling gatherings and events, I recommend that you consider the latest guidance from Gov. Wolf and your county health department. Within that framework, pastors and lay leaders need to make decisions based on their knowledge of their congregation and community. As you make decisions for yourselves and your congregations, here are a few things to consider.

Make the decision that is right for your context. These are questions to which there are no wrong answers, only prayerful ones. Consider this Sunday a teaching time, and learn from what you do (and what your congregation tells you) and adapt accordingly in the future.

If you hold worship, have tissues, hand sanitizer, handwashing stations and masks available (if you can find them). Disinfect doorknobs, pew tops, railings, faucets and other high-touch areas before worship. If you can, encourage people to leave six feet of separation between people or family groups.

We experience spiritual communion in the act of gathering together, whether in person or via Internet. God will be present among you if you choose not to gather physically, or if you modify or omit Holy Communion, passing the peace, coffee hour and other ways people are in close proximity. It is valid Communion if you distribute and receive only one element. You might share wine and grape juice from a pouring chalice or pre-filled glasses and avoid the handling of bread. God’s peace can be passed by bowing or waving from a distance.

Be sensitive to the groups that are most vulnerable to this disease. Stay home if you are sick, even if you are the pastor. If your congregation does gather, some older or compromised persons might choose not to attend. A live stream may help keep people who self-isolate themselves.

Should your congregation decide not to worship together, consider ways you can stay in touch with one another. You could send devotions and children’s activities by email, have a Zoom Bible study. Share prayer concerns via email or a conference call. We should all – pastors especially – proactively stay in touch with our homebound members and those who are choosing to self-isolate or are in quarantine. This ministry of presence is so important in a time as fraught with uncertainty and fear as this one. Our communications team is able to help you make sense of technological issues. Contact Pastor Bob Fisher at rfisher@sepa.org .

I pray that you stay healthy, stay alert to the rapidly changing situation, stay open to the leading of the Spirit in the midst of crisis, and stay connected to your family and church community. This situation will pass, and I believe we are being taught humility and flexibility that will serve us well in our future together as the church. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” -- Colossians 4:2

In Christ,
The Rev. Patricia A. Davenport
Bishop
Southeastern PA Synod, ELCA | ministrylink.org