“God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16; translation: The Message).
Friends, I greet you in Christ’s love, holding each of you in my thoughts and prayers as we face the uncertain times in which we find ourselves. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he reminded those facing stress and persecution to “take our lead from Christ” such that “his very breath and blood flow through us.” That is our challenge in fearful times – not to act out of panic and fear but out of truth and love, the very essence of Christ.
In the words of the poet James Russell Lowell, “new occasions teach new duties.” I write this to talk about our church’s duty to care for the public health and the health of our church members. I will be referencing several temporary changes to our church’s routine in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Please know that as things change, we may have other new duties and changes required of us. In all things, may we seek to be true to our First Congo identity as mission-minded Christians deeply committed to our community’s health and well-being.
Carolyn Frederick, myself, and some seventy representatives of area faith communities had an excellent gathering Tuesday noon and heard a very informative presentation by the Appleton Health Department. A couple of important take-aways:
- In many ways, this is the first worldwide pandemic since 1918. The speed at which Covid-19 is spreading is what makes this different from the more recent epidemics like H1N1 and SARS.
- Public health responses are geared to the stage at which the pandemic progresses. Here in Wisconsin and in Appleton, we are at the stage of people-to-people spread of the virus. The appropriate response is to increase personal respiratory hygiene (hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting frequently used hard surfaces, covering coughs or sneezes, avoiding close contact with sick people, etc.). If someone is infected, they should be quarantined. If the virus showed community spread, then appropriate steps would include public events and gatherings cancelled. With widespread community spread, public places would be closed and travel would be restricted or suspended.
- The mortality rate of the coronavirus is quite low (0.2%) for anyone under 40. It rises to 0.4% for those 40-49 and then begins to increase more sharply: 1.3% for 50-59, 5.6% for 60-69, 8% for 70-79, and 14.8% for those 80 and over. Of course, added factors such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease increase the risk of mortality.
This leads us to having particular concern for the health of our older members. Taking our cue from the CDC and the Appleton Health Department, it’s important for us as a church to increase our level of hygiene to safeguard our membership. During this time of we will be taking the following temporary steps:
- We will no longer have a person-to-person greeting at the beginning of our worship service. Instead, we will be singing a gathering song as a way for us to Share the Peace with one another.
- At the conclusion of the service, our Pastors will not go to the rear of the sanctuary to form a greeting line. Instead, they will remain at the front of the sanctuary and those who wish to greet the Pastors or have a particular pastoral need will be encouraged to come forward to do so.
- Communion will be by prepackaged elements. Instead of passing the plate, we will be encouraging folks to either take the prepackaged communion kit as they enter the sanctuary or to come up and take it as communion begins.
- Instead of passing the offering plate, we will have offering stations both in the back supervised by the ushers and in the front where the offering can be placed either as people enter or during the offertory.
- We will not pass a baptismal blanket through the congregation but will bless it as part of the baptismal liturgy and have the pastor present it to the family.
- We will schedule baptisms, commissionings, and other special liturgical events for the second service on Sunday mornings to spread out the attendance. This should allow the opportunity for those who wish to both attend worship but also physically isolate themselves from other worshipers (for high risk folks, the CDC recommends a six-foot distance).
If and when the coronavirus comes to our community and begins to show not just person-to-person but community spread, and particularly if that becomes widespread, the Appleton Health Department would then take the appropriate action of ordering large gatherings to cease, even calling for a temporary halt to our worship services. We would honor that request from the Health Department to safeguard our community’s and our congregants’ health.
We are blessed to have the resources to provide live-stream video of our worship services. Those who have already decided to isolate themselves from the worship services can access our worship through the website. In the event of all public gatherings being temporarily banned, our church’s worship life could continue on-line.
Please know that we as a staff are in deep discussion about other steps we could take to ensure that our congregation would be cared for and our mission to the community continue, particularly during such a difficult time. Of particular concern to us is how we would maintain the network of care that happens on Sunday mornings without those weekly gatherings. In addition, we are concerned that many individuals may be asked to self-quarantine for a period of two weeks. While that may not be a particular hardship for some, for those living paycheck-to-paycheck, that may seem impossible. How can we as a church provide support and advocacy for those people?
Thank you for your kind attention to this length communication. And thank you for your continuing support of our church as we seek to uphold and support our families and our communities in this challenging time.
Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Dr. Stephen Savides, Senior Pastor