Now What? COVID19 Next Steps for Congregations
Dear brother and sister clergy,
Many of you are aware of the quote from the Talmud, adapted in the film Schindler’s List, "He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world."
A longer version is “Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.”
In Proverbs 24:11 is the exhortation, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.”
I, and your deans, have been struggling with the COVID19 threat as it increases around the country and specifically in our diocese. Who is likely to be affected by the virus? How can we help keep our people, and the people around them, as safe and healthy as possible? What does it mean to love our neighbor in the face of this outbreak? How can we save and not destroy?
Rather than start with do’s and don’ts, let me share some principles for decision-making first.
- The Lord reigns. We have the hope through Jesus, a hope that many around us do not have, namely that “He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth…”
- We can see this as primarily a threat to ourselves and our churches or as a God-given opportunity to communicate to one another and the world around us the overwhelming love of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35,37-39
- We are responsible for the most vulnerable among us, for we must “help the weak.“ 1 Thessalonians 5:14
- We need to not only be concerned for those who are vulnerable but also for those who might pass on the virus even though they do not feel any effects themselves at the time.
- We need to respect the governing authorities and their decisions (Romans 13:1-3).
Based on these principles, let me share the following recommendations. You need to apply them as fits your situation.
- Pray without ceasing.
- Be prepared to continually adapt to the situation. The way you operate this week may need to be changed next week. While the Lord does not change, be ready to continually review the path ahead. We in the diocese will be doing the same.
- Either distribute communion in one kind, namely bread, or shift to Morning Prayer. If you feel the need to distribute wine as well, please drop into the recipient’s hand a wafer that you have first dipped in the cup. Your chalice bearer can hold the cup. You should receive by intinction as well.
- Use Morning Prayer, if that is your choice, as a training opportunity to encourage people to say Morning Prayer at home, especially if they decide not to attend for a few weeks. Morning Prayer does not require passing the Peace or people coming forward.
- Practice hygiene at multiple levels, including having hand sanitizer available and wiping down surfaces with disinfectant. Do not shake hands. Place the offering plates in the back. Encourage online giving whether they can attend or not. Do not serve food in general. Keep your nurseries clean, or close them if for some reason you cannot. Consider having staff members telecommute.
- Encourage older people and those with weaker immune systems to stay home. Archbishop Beach has put anyone over 60 in that category. Likewise, ask people to consider if they could have had any contact with someone infected, and if so, not to attend. If you (or other clergy or staff) are sick, or vulnerable, stay home.
- Look for gospel and pastoral opportunities. Perhaps less vulnerable members could shop or pick up prescriptions for other members or neighbors. Share the gospel online. Encourage your leaders to be in phone touch with those who do not attend.
- You may need to decide to stop having services for a few weeks, especially if your congregation falls mostly in the vulnerable range. Likewise, follow the lead of your community officials. If your local schools or colleges close, let that be a signal for you to stop worshiping as well. One of the causes of the rapid spread of the virus in South Korea was traced directly to one woman in a church who infected 37 other people, and then they infected their city. Not a positive witness for the gospel.
- Make your people aware that there will be parishes in each deanery live-streaming worship services (Christ Church Vero Beach, ChristChurch Montgomery, Grace Anglican Church Fleming Island, and St. Peter’s Cathedral Tallahassee), or live stream yourself.
- Finally, communicate as clearly as possible. Point to Jesus and the hope we have in him.
Just for you to know, I am limiting my travel now as someone well into the older category. I have changed a ACNA Task Force meeting to online, and have canceled one parish visit so far.
Please call or text me if you have any questions. Be assured of my prayers.
In Jesus the Messiah,
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar