March 13, 2020

Dear Siblings in Christ,

As the potential health risks posed by the COVID-19 virus are becoming more apparent by the hour, medical, public health and governmental officials are advising extreme caution in order to slow down the spread of coronavirus and keep as many people as possible healthy and safe.

Following the advice of experts, and in an abundance of caution, our synod is recommending that congregations suspend worship and other public activities for two weeks, effective immediately.

Suspending worship and public activities may seem like a dramatic step, but it may be the best option given what we know about the COVID-19 virus – and especially what we do not yet know. By virtue of their age and underlying health conditions, many of our parishioners and rostered ministers fall in the category most vulnerable to infection and its severe consequences. We do not know how many lives we may save by suspending worship, but even one life would be worth the measure.

We recommend that churches suspend worship and public activities for two weeks, but the decision to do so must be made by each congregation’s council and rostered leadership. We advise that leaders discuss the issue as soon as possible and make the best decision for the congregants and communities.

 

Guidance for congregations that suspend worship and other activities

·     In the absence of live worship, explore how digital technology may assist in live streaming services, or a pastoral message, or otherwise connecting with parishioners. The ELCA has a guide available here.

·     If you have no capability for live streaming, you might recommend your parishioners find congregations that DO have live streamed services.

·     Maintain both pastoral and congregational communication through Facebook pages, social media, email and telephone.

·     Encourage congregants to maintain financial support of the congregation by mailing in their contributions or using online giving.

·     For committee meetings and other small-group gatherings, consider Zoom, Skype or other digital meeting tools.

 

Guidance for congregations that will conduct worship and other activities

Please be careful, thoughtful and prudent. Visit our synod’s Coronavirus Resource Page that contains links to learn best practices for keeping people safe. The ELCA has a similar Resource Page. They might include:

·     No physical touching, for instance, in passing of the peace.

·     Temporarily suspending Eucharist.

·     Keeping a supply of tissues and sanitizer on hand (if available).

·     Encouraging congregants spread out, keeping the recommended six feet from other families.

·     Diligently cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched, such as doorknobs and handles.

·     Omitting “finger foods” from fellowship hour (or canceling fellowship altogether)

In all things, we advise leaders to pray for their people, stay in contact through telephone and electronic media, remain informed through authoritative outlets (such as governmental and public health agencies), and to make the best decisions for their congregations and communities.

As your bishop, I will continue to pray for our leaders, our congregations and our people. And as you will, my staff and I will monitor developments in the public health field. Please look for additional advisories and messages from my office in the next two weeks.

The virus will eventually run its course, but while it is a problem, we need to be careful, thoughtful, and prayerful in caring for the people to whom God has called us to serve. And we always draw comfort from the words of Jesus, “Remember, I with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).

Blessings,
James S. Dunlop, Bishop