Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s Time. That phrase is the one being communicated from virtually all presbyteries to our congregations on this Monday, March 16, 2020.
It’s Time to Cancel Worship and Postpone All Non-Critical Activities in Your Church Buildings.
The CDC today issued guidance that all individuals and organizations should reschedule events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. Further, Gatherings of any size should be reconsidered unless organizers can protect vulnerable people, ensure proper hand hygiene and social distancing. Vulnerable people are defined as those over age 65 and anyone with an underlying health condition.
Therefore, the Presbytery of Donegal Leader Team and the Connecting Our Ministries Commission (COM) today met via a zoom videoconference call and adopted this directive:
That the Leader Team and COM mandate the all congregations cease in person worship through March 31, 2020 and postpone activities until after that time. The presbytery is prepared to assume original jurisdiction in order to enforce this directive. Funerals and other critical activities are to be navigated on a case by case basis. COM and the Leader Team will assess and issue further guidance before March 31, 2020.
We must face the possibility that in-person worship may not be able to proceed for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter Sunday, unless the CDC is able to relax guidelines before then.
It’s Time to Develop Ways to Be Creative and Hopeful to Maintain Connections in Your Congregation
Pastors and sessions in our presbytery are experimenting with all kinds of ways to maintain connection. Some are learning how to “live-stream” worship – now conducted on Sunday morning from an empty sanctuary except for ministry staff and perhaps a musician. Some are pre-recording a sermon, or thoughts upon Scripture and posting them to Facebook to watch “on demand.” Some are relying upon “low-tech” ways to post written reflections to Facebook/website/send out through email. Others are adding in weekly phone conference call check-ins with the congregation or developing care phone chains. Some members with the gift of compassion are sending cards regularly to vulnerable members. In addition to caring for those who are more senior and isolated, don’t forget college students and families who now have to manage care and explaining this new world to their kids. As suggestions come to us on new forms of ministry, we will be posting them on our COVID-19 Response webpage. It is being updated daily. Erin and Michael will be providing weekly zoom times for ministers and church leaders on Mondays and Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. over the coming weeks. A separate email will be sent for these arrangements.
It’s Time to Respond to the Needs in Our Communities
With an anticipated 8-Week shutdown, there are needs everywhere! Check your local newspapers and agencies for opportunities to partner and volunteer. Congregations with food ministries are developing ways for the safe distribution of food. This is a vast opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in a traumatized world.
We alert you that the nation’s blood supply is at a critical level, and the American Red Cross is calling upon all who can donate blood to do so in the coming week while blood drives can still proceed. Up-to-Date information on Blood Drive locations and times can be found on their website www.redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-733-2767.
It’s Time to Be Proactive in Stewardship
There are stewardship resources on the webpage. We suggest using the Presbyterian Foundation’s resources to develop online giving if not already doing so. www.presbyterianfoundation.org/onlinegiving/
You can help your members and your congregation by reminding them to be continue faithful support of the congregation’s ministries.
We know that some of our congregations depend upon weekly offerings for current cashflow. At the LT/COM Meeting the process was begun to provide short-term loans for congregations without other funds to make payroll or provide for other critical expenses. This will be in place in a few days through the work of the Administration Committee. Please contact Erin Cox-Holmes or Michael Wilson if you anticipate a critical financial shortfall.
It’s Time to Move Your Essential Meetings and Functions to Video or Audio Conference Calls
We have two audio-conference call lines that can be used by congregations, and a Zoom Video license available. We can help with the tech assistance to figure out the “how” and can help with the “polity” to make sure you don’t get into a process tangle. (Or how to get out of one!)
It’s Time to Connect with God, Nature, Each Other and the Blessings that Sustain
Friends, we are in this for the long-haul. Life will not be same. Not for a long time, and not in the same way. We are going to find “new normals.” We (Erin and Michael) are noticing how much of a grief process this is. Kubler-Ross was right. We start with denial. (It’s not that bad.) Then on to bargaining. (We’ll just wash our hands more.) To Anger. (You can’t make us not go to church or a restaurant.) To Depression. (I give up. Who cares?) And, finally, to generativity and acceptance. . . . And, we’ve all had to do all of this in the space of a few days.
When it seemed that it would be a couple of weeks and we’d be past the worst, it was easy to keep spirits up. Now you are leading and responding with courage, resilience, compassion, fortitude. And you will continue to do those things. But don’t be surprised when the little poignancies suddenly surge up and very real anxieties overwhelm. When the unexpected tears well up, welcome them. They’re a gift.
Be gentle with yourself, with others, and continue the practices that sustain your soul. Wintherthur Gardens in Delaware has opened their vast estate to the public, free of charge to walk the grounds. As of this moment, they’re still open. Erin and Kent went a couple of days ago. We discovered there is still sunshine. We looked at the purple carpet of spring-determined flowers overlaid by the cruciform shadows of trees. We remembered that Jesus said not to be surprised at tribulations, and that God’s presence is as sure as the budding trees.
We commend to you the simple joys. A from-scratch soup. A book you’ve been saving. The Great British Baking Show. A walk in the fresh air. Time to catch up on the phone with those you’ve lost touch with. Time for exercise. The Lenten ceasing of life’s busy-ness. The Love of God.
Be in touch in with your Executive Presbyter and Stated Clerk in any way that suits (phone, text, email) and let us know how you are and how we may be your partners as we navigate this uncharted sea.
Even since we completed a draft of this letter new restrictions have been put in place for Pennsylvania stores. With you, we recognize that this is a rapidly changing situation. We will continue to communicate and urge you to do so with your congregations.
For Such a Time as This, Remember that You are Called and the Good Shepherd is by your side.
Blessings to Each of You and Yours,
Rev. Dr. Erin Cox-Holmes Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson
Executive Presbyter Stated Clerk