God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. –Psalm 46:1-3
Yesterday the CDC offered the following guidance for large events and mass gatherings:
Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.
Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.
Across the country and here in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, officials are discouraging and banning large group gatherings in order to slow the spread of the virus, shutting down schools and encouraging people to stay at home. Here in Tulsa, a staff member of a local church was diagnosed with COVID-19, resulting in the self-quarantine of the congregation’s whole staff, members being exposed to the disease and the church being closed this week.
While the decision to continue or suspend gathering for worship and other events in your congregation remains a local one, I share this with you so you understand why I believe it is critically important for you to strongly consider suspending worship and canceling or postponing other gatherings in your congregations at this time. I do not make this recommendation lightly. I understand the impact suspending worship will have on our congregations and our ministries. However, I am also aware of the potential impact not making this decision could have on our vulnerable brothers, sisters and siblings in Christ, not only in our congregations but in the lives of the neighbors beyond our doors we are called to love as ourselves. As citizens, we need to do our part in slowing the spread of this virus, or, in places where it has not yet spread, reducing the chances that it will.
Your synod staff and leadership are committed to working together with you to find ways to keep people connected, provide spiritual and other care, and respond to the needs of our communities. As I said in my last letter to you, we are collecting and sharing on our website information about congregations who are live streaming and posting online worship opportunities and resources. If you are doing anything to connect people through social media or other electronic means, please share what you a doing with our communications coordinator, Krista Feierabend, at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the days ahead, we will be offering opportunities and developing resources through the synod office as well, and we will let you know what is available and when.
We also need to share ideas with one another about how to help those who do not use social media, email or the Internet to stay connected. Please share strategies and ideas for ways to do phone contacts, pray for one another, worship at home, devotional materials, and just stay in touch. Finally, please also share ideas for reaching out and caring for neighbors who are not a part of our congregations – especially those who will be severely impacted by the isolation and lack of economic resources that will likely result as more and more things are shut down or curtailed.
Ideas can be found by clicking on the Coronavirus button on the synod website.
Even before yesterday’s CDC announcement, our synod staff, executive committee, deans and other leaders were already discussing moving this year’s Synod Assembly to the fall. In keeping with the CDC recommendations, we will, in fact, be postponing our annual gathering. We are looking at the possibility of gathering in August. The blessing of gathering at the Lutheran Ministry Center in Tulsa instead of at a hotel, is that there are no contracts to work around to change dates. The blessing of having groups sponsor and serve our meals is that no catering or other agreements have to be dealt with. We’ll let you know when the new dates are set.
We have also decided to postpone the Anti-Racism training event for rostered and other leaders scheduled for March 26 at Prince of Peace in Tulsa. Again, we’ll let you know when it is rescheduled.
I remember reading somewhere that two of the primary reasons the early church grew was because they proclaimed the Good News that because Jesus was alive death had lost its sting, and because of the way Christians cared for those who were sick when others turned away in fear. Perhaps these strange and difficult days will help us to focus once again on our core message and to bear witness to the God who is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in this time of trouble.
Rev. Michael K. Girlinghouse, Bishop
PS: As always, please feel free to call or text with questions or concerns. And please, keep praying for us all!