As promised, I have been keeping an eye on the coronavirus situation. Yesterday, the World Health Organization officially labeled this a pandemic, which means it's spread to enough of the world that it's a global problem. Several countries in Europe have locked down - Ireland is the most recent - and the US has stopped all air travel between the US and Europe. This afternoon, Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania strongly urged cancelation of group gatherings over 250 people, and encouraged faith communities to proceed with caution for all gatherings.
As of right now, there are still no confirmed cases of it in our county, but other organizations are starting to limit group gatherings. Our church family includes a very vulnerable population of people. We have many people who fall into the high risk age category, as well as members with cardiovascular concerns. Therefore, I want to assure you, my beloved church family, that I am taking this seriously. If you are in one of those high risk categories, please exercise caution.
The ministerium has unanimously decided it's in the best interest of our congregants to cancel the remaining Sunday evening Lent dinners and prayer services. We do not do this lightly, but the risks involved with that number of people sharing a kitchen and food together in close proximity are too great to ignore.
I am keeping an eye on the situation and will let you know if we decide to cancel any other activities. As of right now, there are no other cancelations. We may choose to cancel mid-week activities like yoga, so please keep an eye on the church website and on your email for further updates.
Should group gathering restrictions/recommendations continue into April, we will be using an online meeting format for our book study. This will be accessible online or by calling in by phone. I understand that not everyone is tech savvy/has internet access, but this is a free way to try to maintain as much community as possible in case of quarantines/isolation policies, etc. I am happy to help people work through any technological difficulties they may have with this set up.
We are fast tracking getting live-streaming available for Sunday worship. We hope that it will be ready by this Sunday morning. For now, that will be as a back up so that those who choose to stay home can still have an option for participation. Again, I know that not everyone has access to or knows how to navigate YouTube or the church website, but a large portion of our folks do. If restrictions are put into place for group gatherings, Rebecca and I will still lead worship from the sanctuary with online streaming.
As of now, I do not plan to cancel in-person worship - including our Holy Week services - unless there is a serious escalation in the current situation. I trust that we are all adults who can decide to stay home if sick or compromised in some way. We will continue our no handshakes policy. Also, I'm not afraid to gently ask someone to go home and rest if they show up for church with a cough or fever. I will not play around when it comes to the health and safety of our church family.
I am putting together a pastoral care action team to assist if there are restrictions and/or an outbreak in our area. Rebecca and I plan to make phone calls and visits during any movement restrictions to check in on people we normally get to see weekly. We are looking into ways to make sure our more limited members have access to groceries, etc. If you are interested in helping grocery shop for someone, visit members, make calls, or other pastoral help, please let me know ASAP so I can have you on that list. Now, more than ever, we need to be checking in on one another and making sure everyone's needs are met. If you know of a friend or neighbor who needs help at this time, please let us know so we can reach out to them.
I will keep you all posted if anything changes and I plan on sending out at least weekly updates to help alleviate worry and operate with as much transparency as possible.
Thank you each for all you do!