July 3, 2020
Updated Guidelines for In Person Gatherings
Dear Members and Friends of our Sierra Pacific Synod,

Blessings as we celebrate the Fourth of July, remembering that while the blessings of liberty are being celebrated, there are many who have yet to fully realize the safety, freedom and justice that was the hope of this country’s founding.  

During this time of Pandemic, I have received a number of inquiries about guidelines for worship and other activities in our congregations. I ask that we continue to be guided by three principles when it comes to questions of “re-opening:”  

1.      Care for the most vulnerable among us – people in groups which the CDC has listed as being more susceptible to infection. This includes those who would be asked to lead services – pastors, musicians, worship assistants, etc. Churches have been shown to be places where transmission of COVID-19 from person to person has happened.

2.      State and local guidelines – in the past few days, new guidelines and orders have been issued by the States of California and Nevada that are restricting activities which had previously been allowed. The numbers of people who are testing positive each day are rising at an alarming rate and many health experts are predicting the rates will rise even higher in the next few months.

3.      Our trust and belief that our gracious God is present in on-line worship – I continue to be thankful for the creativity and intentionality our congregations are demonstrating in the online worship services which are being offered. Thank you for this faithful witness that is connecting with people in our communities with whom we had not connected before!

As mentioned above, new state guidelines in California (there are similar guidelines in Nevada as well) now include: 

1.     The discontinuing of singing ( in rehearsals, services, etc. ), chanting and other practices and performance where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets.

2.     Places of worship should continue to provide services through alternative methods such as via internet and/or recorded streaming, telephone, etc.

3.     Required use of masks/face coverings for both members of the public and workplace settings where there is a high risk of exposure and at all times when in crowded areas.

I invite you to carefully consider the following as pastors and leaders of our congregations wondering about when and how we might re-open for in-person worship:

Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of the ELCA and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that he does not believe the coronavirus pandemic in the United States will ease over the summer or in the fall. Dr. Osterholm countered that he believes a second or third wave of coronavirus is unlikely because the first wave has yet to slow down. "I'm actually of the mind right now — I think this is more like a forest fire. I don't think that this is going to slow down," he said. "Wherever there's wood to burn, this fire is going to burn, and right now we have a lot of susceptible people.” Dr. Osterholm added that he does not think the influenza model of multiple waves applies to the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. "Right now, I don't see this slowing down through the summer or into the fall. I don't think we're going to see one, two and three waves. I think we're just going to see one very, very difficult forest fire of cases."*

The image of a forest fire should not be lost on us. We have endured multiple years of fires that have devastated many communities throughout our synod’s territory. The statements above are a stark and cautionary warning for us not to assume we can take risks where COVID-19 is concerned. Therefore, it is my strong recommendation, given the recent rise in infection rates in both California and Nevada and the solemn warnings of state and county officials and scientists like Dr. Osterholm, that  we should be prepared not to return to in-person worship before the end of September.   

Thank you for considering this recommendation, and for the continuing work you are doing to care for the most vulnerable among us. Your steadfast and faithful service and leadership in this time have been an example to the communities we serve. I wish you God’s blessings, peace and hope as we continue to move forward in ministry together.

Bp. Mark

*AXIOS – June 21, 2020 -- Health
The Sierra Pacific Synod
9985 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95827-6628
 916-756-1665 · 800-275-3522 · 888-789-6434 (fax)
500 Airport Blvd #442, Burlingame, CA 94010
 650-590-0980 · 800-275-3522 · 888-789-6434 (fax)