Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What a time we live in! If it wasn’t enough to face the challenges before us, as individuals, a congregation, a community, nation and world, we find ourselves facing a situation none of us anticipated: the spread of a virus around the world in what many experts increasingly believe either is, or is on the way to being, a pandemic.
In the midst of the uncertainty around COVID-19 (coronavirus), it can be difficult to know what we should be doing, to find answers for our questions, and fear and anxiety (or, on the other hand, denial) can seem at times overwhelming.
The Bible includes calls to spiritual health as well as physical health. Indeed, in Leviticus 13, God provides instruction for what we would today call a quarantine. Throughout Old Testament law, we see God’s concern for the whole of human experience—spiritual commitments, relationships, physical health, everything. John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement, was also concerned not only with the spiritual, but also the physical. He offered dietary and exercise guidance to his followers, and understood some of the connection between our physical health and mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. We carry this legacy. Therefore, it is appropriate that as a faith community we would work together to care for the holistic well-being of our congregation and community.
In the light of the unfolding COVID-19 spread, I am writing to you to share reminders of the common sense measures officials are asking of us at this time, as well as our preparations and plans for our own congregation.
The good news (and yes, even in the midst of our uncertainty and anxiety, there is some very good news) is that basic practices have already been shown to slow and reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Experts are universally confident that some simple measures can drastically help keep both you and those around you healthy:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
In local communities where there have been confirmed cases, the local health department gives guidance to those who have been exposed about entering generally two weeks of self-quarantine. The purpose of such a quarantine is to prevent the possibility of the spread of the illness while waiting to see of the exposed person becomes ill.
In addition, as a preventative measure, the CDC is now encouraging older adults (defined as those over 60) as well as persons with compromised immune systems to consider avoiding public spaces, and especially large gatherings until we have greater clarity and better handle on the spread of the virus. It is important to know that there is currently no projected end to this period of social distancing. The link in the footnotes provides the current guidance from the CDC to prepare for such social distancing.
Presently at Calvary UMC, we plan to approach any changes to our schedule in ways similar to inclement weather—namely, we will follow the decision of Charles County Schools. If Charles County Schools close for quarantine purposes, all events at Calvary will be cancelled. Further, we will follow all relevant guidance from our local health department and officials. It may be possible that schools are open but we are asked to cancel worship services and other gatherings. Of course, we would do so.
When we anticipate bad weather, I also always remind you to make the best decision for yourself and your family. Sometimes we may hold worship if there is snow on the ground, but in such a case, I would always expect you would not venture out if you felt it was not safe to do so. Please do the same thing now and in the days ahead.
Given that the CDC is now encouraging persons over 60 to avoid large gatherings, I understand that even as we continue regular events at this time, some of our congregation may reduce their participation for now. We want to be sure to remain connected to our entire congregation, even those who may make such a decision.
Therefore, in the coming days, I will be sharing even more about how we will be using technology to remain connected. This will include Facebook Live videos (which we have used successfully for worship on snow days) as well as ZOOM, which is a video conferencing tool that allows participants to connect either on their computers or by calling in on their phones to connect to the audio. A number of churches use ZOOM regularly not only for meetings, but also for connecting for things like fellowship and prayer groups. If your group at Calvary would like to explore such a tool, I would be happy to help you consider your options.
We will also be encouraging you to consider using electronic giving to help support the ongoing financial needs of the congregation, even if you choose to stay home for a time.
If you have any questions about these measures or suggestions for how we can prepare for possible contingencies as a church family, please let me know. If you need assistance preparing for a period of social distancing, let us know how your church family can be of assistance.
I take confidence and peace knowing that God’s people have journeyed through such difficult seasons before, and that God has sustained them along the way. I give thanks that one of the ways God supports us in such seasons is through the care, love and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ. May you know you are loved and surrounded with support, and may you reach out in care and service to those around you.
Grace and Peace.