Dear friends in Christ:
We are slowly beginning to realize that we are experiencing something unlike anything we have seen in recent years. The spread of the novel Coronavirus, now labeled as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, has caused many to reevaluate our thoughts and actions. A week ago, I was thinking that we just needed to wash our hands and avoid panic. Today, I believe we need a much stronger response. It is likely that information will continue to change in the coming days and weeks, and I encourage all of us to stay informed as best we can. The Center for Disease Control is a helpful and reliable source of information, and this article on faith-based community organizations contains some good overall guidance.
In general, I would remind us that our central call in scripture is to love our neighbors. In light of this growing epidemic:
- We need to strongly consider suspending business as usual. In addition to changing how we share the peace or celebrate communion, pastoral visits to homes and hospitals may soon become unadvised; gatherings for worship, education, and fellowship may need to be suspended for a time; mission trips may need to be rescheduled.
- We need to explore how and when to embrace the practice of social distancing. History has taught us that the best way to respond to outbreaks like this is to be proactive, not reactive. Avoiding mass gatherings and unnecessary travel will not eliminate the spread of the coronavirus, but it may help slow its spread to a more manageable rate.
- Particular care and attention should be paid to those most vulnerable among us. Even if we believe we are young and healthy enough to survive the virus should we become infected, we need to consider those with whom we are in contact, recognizing that we may transmit it to someone who is not able to respond as we are.
- We will need to be creative with our use of the technology available to stay connected. Setting up phone trees to check on our neighbors and devising online worship, study, and conversation resources can help to stay connected to one another and to our God in the midst of uncertainty and fear. I invite you to share resources and ideas in the “Together in Mission: Year-round Resourcing” Facebook group.
While I agree that now is not a time for panic, I encourage our congregations and leaders to engage in clear, thoughtful, and proactive responses that protect those most vulnerable among us and promote the well-being of all.
Bishop Paul D. Erickson