As the COVID-19 coronavirus situation around the country changes quickly, we continue to watch CDC and public health department notices and guidance for mitigating the spread of the disease. The Oklahoma Health Department is working on developing protocols for determining when and if public and other group gatherings should be cancelled or postponed. Arkansas reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 yesterday. Some churches in urban areas of Texas are suspending worship services. Colleges and Universities in all three states are closing, extending spring breaks and moving toward virtual classrooms. The NBA has suspended its season and other athletic events are being played without an audience.
Please monitor your local conditions to determine whether to cancel worship services. At the very least, discouraging vulnerable groups and those who are ill to stay home is important. Here in the Synod offices, we are evaluating whether to cancel upcoming events. We already do many things virtually through Zoom, and will expand our use of this technology in the days ahead.
One of the gifts of being “church together” and a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another. In Seattle, where they have been dealing with a serious outbreak of COVID-19 for a few weeks, congregations have already suspended Sunday worship gatherings. Their synod collected a list of good ideas from their Rostered Leaders for how to continue to provide ministry to their congregations during this time:
Livestream worship for those not in attendance if you are still gathering in person (how to here)
Livestream worship with only worship leaders in attendance if you are not gathering in person.
Pre-record worship and share it on social media, your website and email.
Lead Bible Study, confirmation classes, and/or conversations via Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Host a regular conference call (using Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.) to check in.
Consider setting a common prayer time, so folks know they are praying together even if they aren’t gathered in person.
Send out daily devotions via email or text.
Create and mail a daily devotional for those isolated.
Create a phone tree for checking in with parishioners who are isolated and/or not connected online.
Divide up your church membership contact list among other leaders and call everyone to check in.
Identify folks who need support re: grocery & supplies. Encourage sharing of supplies.
Send cards to those who are isolated.
Send notes of thanks and care to people, especially workers on the front lines and local care facilities like nursing homes and hospitals.
For our nursing home/care facilities: offer a daily prayer or devotional time over the intercom system.
If you are healthy, volunteer with programs that provide critical services and need extra help at this time (ie. feeding programs, shelters, etc.)
If you have further ideas, or examples of how you are dealing with this pandemic, please share them and we will pass them along to the rest of the synod.
I continue to pray for you all as you make decisions, and minister to your congregations and communities.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:38-39
Rev. Michael K. Girlinghouse, Bishop