3-21-2020 COVID-19 PNC Update

Dear Siblings in Christ:

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly.

This update will be a longer than usual one. Please do read the whole thing. It has a lot in it you’ll want to know. 

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. We’ve moved from making plans in case something happened to social distancing to changing the way we do and think about, well, everything in a matter of days. Time itself feels all mixed up. We’ve had to work to adapt to a new reality at an amazing speed.

Every day, there is a deeper understanding of the situation we find ourselves in and one more frightening chart or graph is shown to express how dire everything is. We’ve all felt surges of worry, panic, anger, and grief. I have to remind myself that this is a normal reaction and response to all the information flooding over us. It’s not a failure to feel these things once in an awhile. It’s a normal response. It’s OK. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on and react to the biggest, most immediate threats.

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly.

Sometime this week, during a calmer moment, a phrase jumped out at me in one of the articles that accompanied one of these charts. It a very simple phrase but, without it, any of the projections or forecasts that come our way are wildly inaccurate. The phrase is this:

“If we do nothing…”

Now, I can’t help but to see it in one form or another almost everywhere there is a forecast or projection of the weeks to come. “If we do nothing…” If we do nothing, the most dire projections are true. If we do nothing, things will only get worse. Explicit in that phrase is the reality that we can change the course of most of the predictions and forecasts that are coming our way. They are a warning. They are not our destiny.

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly.

The ways you are adjusting your congregational life are steps that counter the most dire predicitions. Your actions help save lives and reduce suffering. Every church that has made the decision not to worship in person reduces the spread of COVID-19 and is saving lives and reducing suffering.  Every call you make to the members of your congregation who have wisely and generously chosen to self-isolate is supporting one more person who, by their actions, is lessening the load on an over-taxed medical system. Those who chose to stay home and those who support them are saving lives and reducing suffering. Every pastor who is helping lead worship differently, helping coordinate care for their members in new ways, planning for a new way of worshipping, and supporting those in their community is going over and above any expectations any local church may have ever had for them and doing it so amazingly well. My good colleagues, you are saving lives and reducing suffering. Every time you reach out to the families of your congregation with school-age children now at home and give them a word of encouragement, it helps them carry on for one more day. You are saving lives and reducing suffering. Every time you thank those workers who continue to provide vital services as well as advocate for the legal and financial remedies to support those who have been laid off, you are saving lives and reducing suffering. Every time you offer your buildings and space to those providing emergency services in your region, you are saving lives and reducing suffering.

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly.

On the conference level, we all know your work is vital and important and we’re partnering with you and leading with you through this time. Those whom you elected to committees and boards are all members of local churches and, in addition to being involved in that work, conference committees members are meeting and communicating much more often than usual in order to quickly support what needs to be supported and set aside some work and requirements for a later time. Your moderator, Wendy Blight, and your Vice-Moderator, Hillary Coleman, have helped guide the board and some of our committees through some of the most challenging conversations our conference has needed to have, ever. Each meeting is focusing on two things; how to do the work of immediate support, now, and how to plan for the recovery when the pandemic is over.

I couldn’t be more proud of our staff or more honored to work with them. Arlene Hobson (our Executive Administrator) has been helping us schedule a flurry of video calls, helping manage the cancelation of the annual meeting, and is reworking the website to better serve us through this moment. Andy Warren (our Accountant) has been revising our budget and budget projections almost hourly to help us stay on top of the changing financial landscape and has been setting up a way for those local congregations that don’t have an online giving option to give through our conference website. Rev. Courtney Stange-Tregear (our Minister for Church Vitality) has been reaching out to many of you to find out what you might need, is coordinating a series of conferences to give folks an opportunity to check-in with each other, and has been supporting churches thinking about ways they can be present with their communities. Mark Boyd (Managing Director of N-Sid-Sen) and Wade Zick (Managing Director of Pilgrim Firs) have both been faced with a flurry of cancellations from groups that they’ve handled compassionately and gracefully while, at the same time, doing everything they can to support those staff they supervise at our camps. 

Very soon after all this started, Mark and Wade both reached out to their counties to offer our facilities in any way that would be helpful. At this point, we know that N-Sid-Sen is going to be established as an election site that will help give people the social distancing needed.

Our staff at Pilgrim Firs are going something heroic. Within days of reaching out to offer their site, they were contacted by the county to be evaluated as an overflow site for local homeless shelters that could not provide adequate social distancing for those who were healthy or those who had cases of COVID-19 that didn’t require hospitalization. After several very quick days of conversation that evaluated the site for appropriate distancing for guests, the protection of our employees, and appropriate county health department staffing, the final agreements were signed, yesterday. Starting sometime next week, Pilgrim Firs will begin hosting families and individuals who, for a while, will have their home at our camp.  Last year, the board approved a new mission statement for Pilgrim Firs: “Pilgrim Firs provides a sacred oasis for creativity and community.” We really can’t thank Wade enough for helping us live into that mission in a courageous and loving way for this moment and time.

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly.

My siblings in Christ, we all need to support all this good work happening on all the levels of the church the best we can. These days are going to be hard but everything we can do and share helps save lives. This is the time not just to continue giving to your local church, but to increase your giving to help make up for those of us who this COVID-19 recession is hitting hardest.

This is a time to go to the conference website (www.pncucc.org), click on the DONATE button and give to the work of your conference and camps as we: 

  • Support and lead ministry in new ways 
  • Network on the regional and denominational level to get you the information and resources you need
  • And begin to plan for recovery in the future. 

Over the next several days, you are going to be receiving more information from both Pilgrim Firs and our Stewardship Committee sharing more details and asking for your help. You are going to be receiving more opportunities to give and invitations to participate in programming and conversations that will help us not just survive but thrive as we redefine what it means to be covenantal, together.

The work of all of us as a whole conference is doing some amazingly good things. We are saving lives and reducing suffering as we serve God and God’s people. May we continue to support and participate in that good work in every way we can.
With hope,


Rev. Mike Denton, Conference Minister of
The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ

You can give to the ministries of the Pacific Northwest Conference by going to www.pncucc.org and clicking on the “Donate” button.

Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev.