Dear NC Synod members,
As you know, the past 48 hours have been a whirlwind. COVID-19 is officially a worldwide pandemic. Cancelling March Madness and banning all travel from Europe underscore the secular seriousness. To be clear, this is no longer merely a “fear.” It is a reality that is already here and multiplying at light speed.
How do Christian communities respond most faithfully? The governor said no gatherings of more than 100, including worship. My Methodist bishop colleague in Eastern NC requests that congregations not gather, including worship, for at least two weeks. The Virginia Synod, ELCA, strongly suggested the same today. Some of our congregations have already canceled in-person gatherings for the short term. Several synod events scheduled for this weekend, including an ordination, have been postponed.
Unlike with some of our ecumenical partners, in the ELCA neither the synod nor the churchwide expression can dictate what you do. Congregations must make their own best decisions in their contexts. But the ONLY way to even slightly flatten the curve of infection and save as many lives as possible is through social distancing. I suggest, for the sake of the most vulnerable among us and with cumulative public health advice:
- No in-person congregational gatherings at least through March, including worship.
- Congregations, if possible, use live-streaming, FaceTime, etc. for worship & meetings.
- That people 65 & over not go out in public, including worship, for the time being.
- That folks make every effort to give online or mail in contributions to your congregations so that bills and salaries and local helping ministries are supported.
- That if worship is held there be no physical touching of any kind. Sick folks stay home.
- Remember that as the economy sinks, the first and worst affected will be the poor, food insecure, etc. Check with your local food pantry for how to help/best practices.
Yes, I understand that the above measures seem rather severe. I do not recommend them in panic or reactively but as a measured consideration of the alternatives. Yes, our resources are and will be severely impacted. But if one person lives because a congregation takes these measures, wasn’t it worth it? Blessings to all who navigate these uncertain and frightening times, especially those with the virus, anxious about it, caring for someone with it, or grieving someone lost to this illness. We trust always that God, in Christ, holds these times and holds each of us.
Your partner in ministry,
Bishop Tim Smith
Bishop Tim Smith
Coronavirus COVID-19 resources
- NC Dept. of Health & Human Services: COVID-19 Community Events/Groups Info
- ELCA Worship in Times of Public Health Concerns (PDF)
- ELCA Prayers for Times of Public Health Concerns (PDF)
- ELCA Livestreaming for Congregations (PDF)
- Lutheran Disaster Response Congregational Planning Checklist
- 10 Guidelines for Pastoral Care During Coronavirus Outbreak (Christian Century article)
- Collected ELCA Resources including Bishop Eaton video