June 18, 2020
Good morning! Today’s e-News comes with a warning. This article contains a West Virginia story. There - that’s your warning. Actually, it’s not a good story, but a story which I hope you will understand in my sharing.
I graduated high school in Lewisburg, W.V. (I know, odd, isn’t it?). So yesterday, when I began to read a news story from Lewisburg, W.V., it struck my heart especially hard because not only did I know the church which part of the story was about, I know people who attend that church. I read with interest how eight churches in rural West Virginia had begun worshiping together again after the initial sweep of the COVID-19 Pandemic worked its way through the state. I learned how there had been a recent viral outbreak whose cases were traced back to each of those churches. I knew two of the churches in Greenbrier County when I lived there.
The pastor of one church had written a Facebook post clearly heart-broken. He said, “We greatly encouraged anyone who was feeling ill to remain home. Attending church was on a voluntary basis. We exemplified social distancing within the church walls.”
“We made aware and made use of hand-sanitizing stations and antibacterial sprays,” the statement continued. “We do not understand the source of the outbreak. To the best of our ability, we followed the guidelines that were given to us.”
My heart broke for this pastor. I can only imagine how that felt. That church, along with the other churches affected have all suspended in-person worship services. I cannot imagine feeling like an action you have taken causes someone pain or suffering or worse. Every day, we see more and more cases in the Susquehanna Valley and every day, I am asked “when are we opening?” I know, I too would love for us to open our doors, I miss everyone terribly. Some have asked well, what if people start going to churches that are open? Well, they may just do that. However, we have to use the best information we have from the best medical experts we have to offer and suggest what’s best for us.
We have a team working on these suggestions. They then offer these recommendations to the Consistory for consideration. The Consistory then makes the final determination. As your pastor, I don’t want to be in a place where the pastor from West Virginia is now. I don’t want us to have to close because gathering has made others ill or worse.
Currently, one church who opened in our county has closed. Another church has had a parishioner die as a result of COVID-19. One church had to close, quarantine staff and disinfect the church prior to any opening because of someone coming in the church who tested positive the following day. And another local church had two members in Intensive Care Unit for over a month each because of the virus and are on a long road to recovery.
I hear and know these stories to be true and I can’t ignore them. As your pastor who cares greatly about his church community, I cannot recommend opening until we learn more about how the virus is transmitted and how we can prevent the spread of it. I have heard, “When we get to summer, the virus will go away.” The cases in our county continue to rise. We have been told the virus impacts only those compromised and only the elderly. We are discovering not only is that not true - that it only affects the elderly - recent deaths are being attributed to younger people in their teens and just about every one of us meets the compromised criteria (i.e., asthma, high blood pressure, immunity issues, etc.). These affect
a large portion of our congregation, across all age groups.
We are considering ways in which we may safely gather outdoors, at different times other than Sunday mornings. We’ve made plans to gather on the last Sunday of June, July, August and September for an intergenerational Vacation Bible School. We have plans for a July 12 family hike and an August 17 family movie. Additionally, we are researching plans for other outdoor events, such as a vesper service.
Keep your church and your church family in your prayers, stay safe, wear your mask, wash your hands regularly, socially distance, and know we are here for one another should you need anything.
So, for now, I ask you to continue to be prayerful in consideration of your time, your talents and your financial support of Saint Paul’s. Continue to be patient, continue to reach out to one another, continue to seek ways to connect, send a card, make a phone call, drop off a meal, help a neighbor, call the church and see if there is someone you may connect with that has a need. And please be patient with us as we all seek to figure out what is best for us as a faith community.