The Church + the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Dear Colleagues in Ministry,
Like you, I have watched the growing anxiety as we learn more and more about the COVID-19 virus in the United States. Let us be in prayer for those affected by the virus, especially those who have died and their families, those caring for the affected, including those in the medical and scientific industry trying to diagnose and treat patients, as well as effectively prevent, detect and respond to this virus.
As your bishop, I want you to take every precaution to care for your congregation. Some of you, as leaders, are in high-risk populations for this virus. Do what you need to do to protect your health. Our retirees, many of whom are living in assisted living homes need to heed the advice of their doctors and the health department and stay home.
WORSHIP AND SOCIAL DISTANCING
Other annual conferences have decided to encourage their pastors to cancel worship for the time being. I believe this decision is a local church decision (much like snow days). Pastors, you should be in conversation with your leadership team and the trustees, together with your county health departments, to make the best possible decision for your community. We will support whatever decision you make. If the outbreak worsens in Missouri, I may ask all churches to cancel worship.
We have learned from the spread of the virus that if we delay responding the virus spreads exponentially and could overwhelm our hospitals and health care systems. Social distancing is the most effective way of slowing the spread of the virus. For this reason, we are making some adjustments to the way we engage one another at the Conference-level:
- We have cancelled some Conference events including the Journey4Justice planned for March 21-23 and two Festival of Sharing community events planned for this weekend in St. Louis and Tipton.
- We have cancelled international travel plans and are re-evaluating domestic travel for our Conference staff through mid-April.
- Through the end of the month, I have instructed our staff to move scheduled Conference meetings to video or phone conferences. If you have a meeting at the Conference Center through the end of the month, please connect with your host to see what arrangements have been made.
- We are practicing social distancing as encouraged by the CDC and will continue to adhere to the CDC and local governments guidelines around staying open.
SOCIAL DISTANCING VERSUS ISOLATION
One of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus is by practicing better hygiene controls (wash your hands often and for the proper time) and practice social distancing. Many of you are aware that some in our community are at risk for isolation and depression. How can you better engage older adults if they cannot engage in community as before? How will your church offer pastoral support to vulnerable people in our communities in creative ways that doesn’t put them at further risk or exposure? One of the realities this outbreak has exposed are the vulnerabilities in our communities. Because God is always present in a crisis, Christians have traditionally been some of the first to offer help and hope. As people of faith in the middle of an unfolding crisis, where is God calling us to serve in responsible and healthy ways?
SELF CARE FOR SPIRITUAL LEADERS
It’s normal to feel anxiety and stress in this season of exponential change. Taking care of yourself is essential when you care for others. The HealthFlex plan offered by Wespath Benefits and Investments includes an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for clergy, lay and their families. An EAP is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. Call 1-800-788-5614 anytime for confidential help.
Like you, I’ve not pastored through a pandemic before. I certainly don’t have all the answers. I would encourage you to get comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” Never forget, the role of “Savior” has already been filled. Stay faithful. Listen to the experts. Do your best. We will get through this together.
Bishop Robert Farr
P.S. Wash your hands!
P.P.S. See the following resources for additional help: