Ashes and Viruses (2-26-2020)

A Blessed Lent to each of you.
One of the texts for Ash Wednesday really stood out to me today:

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Joel 2:15-16

We want to get together when times are hard. I remember how people gathered after 9/11 or the 2004 Tsunami or any one of the too many gatherings after acts of mass violence that have taken place over the last few decades. I remember family gatherings at funerals or other moments of crisis. I remember friends’ gatherings after tragedies, failures, and personal pain. We need each other, we belong to each other, and we want to be together when things go wrong.

Yesterday, we heard more about the likelihood of the coronavirus (COVID-19) becoming a part of life in the United States. Dr. Nancy Messonnier (the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) said, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.” She and other officials spoke about how now is the time to prepare for “significant disruption” for up to several weeks that could include travel restrictions, school closures, working from home, business disruptions, etc.

Churches should prepare, too. It’s probable that COVID-19 will become part of our reality and we should begin planning right now. How can you best stay informed about the best, healthiest practices for your church? What can you do to increase your attention to not spreading disease, now? Hand sanitizer at the door? Extra cleanings of the facilities? If, at some point, your church needs to cancel gathering in person for worship or other functions, what might be some other ways to use the phone or video technology? If face to face visits with families become unsafe for a while, what other systems might need to be in place to care for one another and help one another? What sort of electronic giving options does your church have at its disposal for its members? What systems might be in place for you to support community organizations? What social justice concerns will be exacerbated by this crisis? How can we help and prepare for these realities? These are the kinds of things every church needs to be thinking about right now.

There is a chance we might not be able to gather in the way we’re used to but we can still be present for one another in ways that are about more than gathering in one physical space. In the coming weeks, it is probable that we are going to be challenged to be present for each other in ways we have not considered before. Conversations have already started in the conference about ways we might be able to collectively and institutionally be present for each other and help coordinate some of our responses. Pay attention to this email list for new information and as well as opportunities for us to talk to and share best practices with each other. On the denominational level, conversations have started with the CDC and FEMA to help guide, inform and coordinate our life and work together in the coming days on a national level. But, my siblings, please don’t wait to begin the conversations about how you might respond and prepare in your local church. 
These days ahead are going to be challenging but together, with God’s help, we will find our way through.

With hope,Mike