March  13, 2020
From Pastor Mike:  Handling the Coronavirus at Church
Stories about the Coronavirus pandemic is now saturating TV, newspapers, and internet. And we have seen that the reaction of people across the country ranges from one extreme to another.  On one hand, we witness the panic:  the hoarding of toilet paper, a massive plunge in the stock market, etc.  And on the other hand we see people closing their minds:  blindly denying medical science, the math of exponential growth, and the history of influenza.  The people at First United Methodist Church, however, are sensible and compassionate. 
At FUMC, we are a community of individuals who care for one another in the spirit of Jesus, the great healer.  It is our custom to pray for the sick and care for those who are weak.  We believe in healing and prayer.  Our people have long offered a helping hand to those in need.  And as United Methodists, we have a long tradition of advocating healthy habits.  
I am writing this letter in my capacity as the chief shepherd of this congregation to let you know what the plan is...for now.  If new information comes our way, and we need to change the plan, I will let you know that also.  
Please join me in following the three simple rules of Methodism:

1)  Do no harm
2)  Do all the good you can
3)  Stay in love with God.
I'll address each of these in reverse order.  
We will continue to hold Sunday morning worship services unless county or state protocols suggest we do otherwise.
We will continue to offer a full range of pastoral services to the people of our church and community:  prayer, hospital visits, nursing home services, home visits as requested, counseling services, funerals, and weddings.  In addition, this is a great time to increase our efforts to be in touch with one another by phone.  With many public closures, this will be a time of high stress and loneliness for many people.  We can step into that breach and check on one another.  And if we know of someone who is sick or at risk and should not be out, we can help out by running errands for them and getting groceries and other supplies.  This is a time for people to show strength and compassion.  With all our elderly members, we have lots of opportunities to do good.
If you are sick, stay home:  do not come to the church!  Jesus calls upon us to love our neighbors, not infect them simply because our piety is inflexible or our pride is stubborn.  
If you are a person with high risk for infection, please stay home until this has passed. To put oneself at unnecessary risk is to also risk infecting health care workers down the road, taking up a hospital bed that someone else may need, or depleting your own ability to care for others who need you. 
While we are in the church, respect one another's personal space.  When I have had cold or flu bugs in the past, I have avoided shaking hands with people.  No church ever fell apart because people suspended hand-shaking for a season.  I have not been sick lately, but I know that there is always a risk that by shaking hands with everyone, I'll pass a virus on from one person to another, if not the coronavirus, then the ordinary flu which is very prevalent these days.  For the next few weeks, please find appropriate ways to greet one another at church that do not involve direct contact or close encounters.
When you are at the church, please wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.  We'll keep the bathrooms stocked.
In conclusion, this is a time for all of us to be good Methodists:  Do no harm, do all the good we can, and stay in love with God.  If anyone has practical suggestions for other reasonable ways we can fulfill these three simple rules, feel free to speak up!  This is a time for creativity, as well as responsibility and compassion.
All of you are in my prayers as we go through this time of uncertainty and anxiety.  As a country and as a church, this is a great time to keep our heads cool, increase our prayers, and find new ways to care for each other.
Mike Smith
Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Mattoon