by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister
Our conference is approaching a community of 10,000 people stretching from along the Ottauquechee River in Vermont, to the most diverse neighborhood of New York City, to some of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, to the biggest cities of California, and to the warmth of both Floridian coasts. Many of our locations were among the first to report incidents of the COVID-19 virus.
I’ve been watching carefully to determine if we should be doing anything differently and trying to pay attention to what might be best practices for us. I’m recognizing that religious communities can be sites of super-infection, as has been true in South Korea and New Rochelle, NY, as well as possibly in Washington, DC. We need to be aware and thoughtful.
I want to invite us, in the presence of Jesus, to “watch and pray” as leaders in this time. And to not fall asleep.
The best research that I’ve seen suggests that cancelling events and working from home helps to flatten the spread of the virus. This makes sense to me. While, at this point, we won’t recommend any cancellation of congregational worship gatherings, we will cancel or postpone some Conference gatherings, particularly those with larger sizes.
The most vulnerable to the COVID virus seem to be those above the age of 70. We will do well to thoughtfully practice worship together with those who might feel more vulnerable, even giving those persons “permission” to skip church services and to watch online. If we haven’t yet figured out how to do that, it’s a good time to learn how to livestream via Facebook or other platforms to make sure that those who are home can still feel connected to the community.
I’ve often thought of cancelling events as somehow lacking the resilience to keep moving without fear. But this virus is different from other events. Some of us don’t have the privileges of health care coverage or jobs that can be done from home, and without sick time, every hour of missed work makes life more difficult to manage.
We might cancel events with consideration of those in our community who might be more vulnerable, recognizing, as Paul said, that “those who might be more vulnerable need more special care and attention.” A “get out of church free” pass might be what faithful senior members might need to comfortably stay home. A special check-in by phone from the pastor or other congregational leaders might then be a helpful follow up.
I’m choosing to avoid shaking hands unless you extend your hand to me. I may try fist bumps more often than a dap or embrace. I’ll greet you by name and look you in the eye when we meet. I might even put my hand on my heart.
In the meantime, I’m still going to the gym. I’m going grocery shopping and eating out for tacos and pho. I plan to still keep one-to-one and small group meetings. I expect to keep regular preaching engagements and meetings across our Conference, wherever that might be at this point. While most of our Conference staff can easily work disbursed, we have begun having conversations about what might happen if the offices need to close. We will be accessible as staff as much as usual, although some staff may choose more than normal social-distancing.
We may cancel. And we may not. Perfect love casts out all fear, but love for our neighbors may require us to reconsider our schedules and practices for a while. And to trust God, even if our plans change, to continue to work within us and around us in this time of anxiety. We are people of faith. We consider our acts of love in this season as contributions toward the common good. In the meantime, we watch, we pray. And stay alert without giving into fear.
In support of our communities, Everence has developed an informational sheet (in English and Spanish) to help churches and other groups respond to and manage issues related to the coronavirus epidemic in their communities. Feel free to share this resource with your leadership team, conference leaders, etc.
Note: Everence is postponing its upcoming Stewardship Leaders Celebrations in the midst of the global spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). They apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but the health and well-being of our members, congregations and communities is our primary concern.