Greetings, beloved Arizona Disciples:
First of all, let me express my deep love for all of you and my wish that the peace and blessings of God’s infinite love comfort our spirits during this time of global anxiety.
Perhaps you, like me, have received an abundance of emails and news related to COVID-19. I have been monitoring the conversations and advice of my regional ministry colleagues across the country as well as the leaders in several denominations within Arizona.
As of Wednesday, most of them planned to hold worship this Sunday, though most planned to follow basic guidelines about not shaking hands, serving communion differently, and directing people to stay home if they felt sick.
On Thursday, as major sports leagues and colleges began to suspend their seasons and semesters, many church leaders began re-thinking the wisdom of gathering for worship. Many have cancelled, others are still debating, and some are still planning to have worship this Sunday. Many of us have received calls from family members around the country whose churches have cancelled and worry about the health of their parents or grandparents who attend some of our churches. No regional minister will say you HAVE to cancel, nor will any of them say you CAN’T cancel. As Disciples, every congregation will decide for itself.
That said, several regional ministers have encouraged their congregations to think seriously about suspending normal worship and activities for at least the next two weeks. Many realize that as they look into the future, if they regret the choice they made, they are more likely to feel regret for NOT having cancelled. Nobody wants to panic or over-react. But nobody wants to be exacerbate the spread of the virus by not taking prudent precautions.
I am sharing (see below) excerpts from three of my regional colleagues with advice they are giving their congregations, in case you find them helpful in reflecting on what decision to make. In addition, to the right, you will find links to a lot of information from various parts of the church, the CDC, and the Arizona Department of Health. Please note that there is an AZ Dept of Health Webinar this morning at 10:00 a.m. geared toward leaders of faith communities. Click here to join that webinar.
For those of you who will not be attending worship this Sunday, I invite you to join worship online – as we have one Disciples church which is a fully web-based church. The link to their worship service is www.disciplesnet.org
I am grateful for each of you, and I wish you the best as we all continue to adjust to changes and wonder how long this will all last. I invite you to stay in touch and look forward to seeing many of you via zoom at our regional admin council meeting tomorrow and our Pastor Rep sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
Peace and blessings,
Indiana Disciples encouraged to consider cancelling worship this week.
Many in our church have contacted me seeking my counsel on how their congregation should respond to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the recommendation that we should avoid large group gatherings. I met this morning with my counterparts in other faith traditions in Indiana and as a result of that conversation I want to recommend that our churches consider not holding their regular worship service this Sunday, and possibly future Sundays depending on the counsel of our state health department.
The cancellation of worship does not necessarily mean that all events in the congregation’s life should also be suspended. Food pantries that serve the poor may need to continue to provide support to our neighbors. Different decisions may need to be made regarding pre-schools and daycares hosted in our buildings, and other events that bring together smaller groups of persons. But our worship life may unknowingly put some or all us at increased risk.
In making this recommendation I am persuaded by the words of former Indiana Disciples minister David Shirey, who now serves as Senior Minister of Central Christian Church, Lexington, KY who writes regarding his congregation’s decision to temporarily suspend their services:
Our rationale for these decisions derives from principles grounded in our faith mandate to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Simply stated, “In this circumstance, what does love require?”
1. Love requires us to protect the vulnerable.
This virus puts the elderly and people with compromised health conditions at special risk. Like me, our congregation’s senior members are motivated by a fervent desire and unwavering commitment to worship God together. I and they will make every effort, regardless of the risk or cost, to be present for worship, feeling guilty if we do not make such an effort. Cancelling corporate worship this Sunday and offering a service available for home viewing safeguards our most vulnerable and relieves the deeply ingrained impetus to worship weekly.
2. Love calls for us to seek the common good.
By voluntarily taking a sacrificial action such as cancelling corporate worship, we love our neighbors by doing our part to take an action that we hope will slow down the spread of the virus, thereby preventing as-yet-healthy persons from contracting the virus or making it easier for infected persons who may not yet know of the infection to spread it unknowingly to others.
3. Love calls for us to act in solidarity with persons of good will.
Heeding the Kentucky Governor’s request and heeding the best wisdom of public health officials, we join a community-, state-, nation- and worldwide coalition of concerted caring whose cooperative efforts will the well-being of all people.
4. Love calls for actions that minimize regret.
If we were to proceed with events or activities that lead to the infection of persons or the unwitting spread of the virus, we would rue the decision to proceed with “business as usual” when we could have chosen otherwise. Though it is debatable whether faith communities cancelling their services this weekend will indeed make a difference for the good, we can proceed with this decision knowing we did not choose to disregard or ignore this call for vigilance and caution.
Instead of gathering for worship as normal consider bringing your community together “virtually” by using Facebook Live streaming, Zoom, YouTube, or freeconferencecall.com You might also point your members to the weekly worship service that is provided by DisciplesNet, our on-line congregation. Their website is www.disciplesnet.org
If you decide to continue with worship services, encourage the most at-risk people in your congregation to stay home. That includes people over 60, people with heart, kidney, or lung disease, and those with chronic respiratory conditions. And continue to practice the safe handling of communion and in your coming together minimize contacting and touching others.
You are encouraged to monitor the information about this virus at the Indiana State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we express our leadership in these extraordinary times. And we pray for the health and safety of all God’s children in every nation.
Each congregation has to make this decision on their own, but here are a few things to consider.
If you decide to continue with worship services, encourage the most at-risk people in your congregation to stay at home. That includes people over 60, people with heart, kidney, or lung disease, and those with chronic respiratory conditions. This alone may be enough to tip the scale toward cancelling your service.
Consider those in your congregation who, regardless of health conditions, feel like they have to be present if the church doors are open. Cancelling service this weekend may be the best way to offer them protection.
If you decide to continue with worship services, give extra care to how you prepare and serve communion. Sanitize all surfaces thoroughly, especially the surface of the communion table and the communion preparation area. Persons preparing communion should use nitrile or other gloves. Dispose of the gloves immediately after use.
Make sure you have hand sanitizer and wipes available.
I have received a few emails and phone calls asking about recommendations for worship services in light of the further spreading of the COVID-19:
Let me suggest this . . .
Mark 2:27 “Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”
Be willing to adapt as needed and allow your members to adapt as well. In general, what I am recommending is that we remember that the particular details and practices we use in worship (even communion for Disciples) are not what makes us the church or the Body of Christ. Do what it takes to keep your members safe through cleaning, alternative practices, online options, and if local authorities recommend it, be open to postponing or canceling services/activities in the short-term as needed.
Here again are some good resources provided by our General Church Ministries: https://disciples.org/dns/disciples-and-covid-19/