A Pastoral Letter Concerning the Coronavirus:
With the World Health Organization officially declaring COVID-19 (coronavirus) a pandemic and with multiple institutions and corporations all over the country taking significant measures to stop the spread of this illness, I want to pastorally address this moment.
On one hand, we must acknowledge this is real and concerning. On the other hand, an alarmist meltdown is unnecessary or unwarranted; also, panic does not serve us or our communities well – we need not hoard or stockpile.
Indeed, we must act in ways recommended by the health community to avoid accelerating the spread of this disease and thereby overwhelming the health system that can otherwise treat it. On the other hand, we will within reason continue our ministries so as to ground ourselves in the practicing of our faith together and being community for one another and our neighbor – again, all within reason.
To reiterate, we will continue to live into our general activities and schedule here at St. Paul’s, but with practical monitoring of the situation.
As our SWMN Bishop wrote: “At this point the virus is not in our area, as far as we know. The dilemma is how far we should move into social distancing in this time,” and he encouraged us to “listen and learn” from our local, state, and national medical professionals. With that, we will take our cue from said professionals and our denominational (ELCA) authorities and respond accordingly. This may or may not involve halting our regular worship and activities at some point to do our part in slowing the spread of coronavirus. At this point, that is NOT the recommendation.
To be sure, one basic measure that we have been given is to suspend the practice of “Sharing the Peace” during worship, as well as the receiving line at the end of worship. I want to also note how diligent our deacons already are with sanitation and safe handling in preparing and distributing Holy Communion. In terms of general participation in the life of the church for all of you, it has also been recommended to encourage you to “do what [you] are comfortable with in this time, like [you do] when the weather is challenging in winter.”
From a theological perspective, our Bishop also reminds us that the church has been in times like this before and there are practical and loving things we are still called to do even if this gets more widespread:
“We can love our neighbors by offering them support. Even if people are sick, we can communicate digitally, bring them food and other things they might need by leaving them outside their home. We can communicate with our neighbors and keep in touch if they are sick or struggling.” Bishop Jon concludes poignantly: “During this season, I pray that we will not scapegoat one another…or hurt people…We need to be careful about blaming people or focusing only on ourselves. The Christian faith talks at length about the importance of caring for and welcoming strangers. All of that teaching becomes very concrete in this moment. Our faith also calls us to love one another. In this season that love will take the concrete form of us all working to seek to prevent the spreading of this illness. When we work together, we can do things that none of us can do alone. And we won’t get it all perfectly right, but we will know we did the best we could to love our neighbors.”
So, dear sisters and brothers, continue in prayer – prayer for the medical community, the scientific community, the government, and those directly affected by the virus. Continue to monitor the situation, and we will try to communicate as effectively and efficiently as possible with any updates or recommendations.