Dear UPC friends and family,
Yesterday I wrote you to outline the additional procedures we were preparing for Sunday in relation to the spread of COVID-19. Today, with the announcement of positive cases in Austin, and with the closure of AISD and UT, your session and I have agreed that it is time for us to model a more drastic response to the growing pandemic, both for our own protection and for the safety of our neighborhood and community. With a heavy heart, we are therefore making the following plans.
UPC will not gather for in-person worship this coming Sunday, or the next (March 15 and 22).
Instead, you are invited to join us for virtual worship via telephone or video conference, using the “Zoom” platform, at 11:00 on Sunday. (Directions below). This worship will feel a little different, but it will nonetheless offer us a profound way of connecting in the midst of disconnection, and your pastors are already at work on crafting liturgy that will be meaningful, appropriate, and sacred.
In addition, the church office will be publicly closed, and all in-person gatherings of the church will be suspended, through March 24. This includes committees, classes, fellowship groups, choirs, outside groups, and everything else. Staff will work from home, continuing to plan for Sunday worship and continuing the other work of the church as we can. On March 24, we will reevaluate as to the necessity of continuing the suspension.
The hardest part of this is attending to the needs of the vulnerable populations who visit UPLift and Micah 6. Unfortunately, because of the danger involved in large gatherings, both for clients and volunteers, we are suspending UPLift operations for the same period, though pastors are committed to being present to provide emergency supplies to clients who arrive. Micah 6 will continue in limited operation, with measures in place to severely limit crowding.
None of these are easy decisions, nor easily made. To our knowledge, nobody in the UPC family has yet to have direct contact with the COVID-19 virus. However, I remember Jeremiah’s commands to a people going into exile, to pray for the welfare of the city in which they find themselves. It seems to me, and to the Session, that this is one of those moments where we put the needs of our community above our own, and we model what it is to be good neighbors in an urgent moment.
I want to reinforce what I wrote to you yesterday, which is that the work of the church continues even when we are not together the sanctuary. Call one another. Check in with one another. Gather with your UPC neighbor in time for worship Sunday. Everybody is a bit frazzled, and everybody needs to be reminded of the church family that cares for them. If you have a pastoral care concern or emergency, call the church: we will be monitoring the phones, and responding to the best of our ability.
None of us knows what the world will feel like on March 24. It may be that we will need to renew this protocol into the future. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is coming. If we are in our sanctuary together on April 12, it will be Easter. If we’re not, it will still be Easter. On the day we re-gather in that sanctuary, no matter whenever it will be, it will be Easter. Do not forget, as the shadow of Lent lengthens across the city: we are living in a world in which the power of death has already met its match, thanks be to God.
Yours in Christ,