COVID – 19 – Pastoral Briefing – 11-March-2020

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This is a time for both a pastoral response and proactive pastoral presence. Fears and anxiety are being driven by the sheer volume of media attention plus confusion created by conflicting or nebulus statements by government spokespersons, medical authorities (medical science) and media commentators. In some parts of the world, people are buying up supplies in order to self-isolate for a period of time. Stores are running short of hand sanitizer, disinfectant and even toilet paper. Supply shortages are even being felt in areas with no known cases of COVID-19. This indicates the level of concern felt in the general population.

We asked Point Elders to check in with Pastors and Network Coordinators and Network Leaders to check in with Lay Delegates. We are in community together. Below are some factors to consider when engaging in conversation with your leadership.

Some Information Updates as of 3-11-2020 2pm EDT (UTC-4)

  • Be sure to check with your local government and health departments for the latest information and recommendations
  • The World Health Organization has formally declared COVID-19 a “pandemic”
  • The virus continues to spread across Italy, Spain, France and Germany whereas the numbers seem to be slowing in East Asia – the number of cases in Italy now surpasses those in Iran and South Korea
  • Cases in the UK have had the largest spike this week
  • St. Peter’s Basilica has been closed to the public and there will be no public mass at the Vatican – The Pope is live streaming and televising mass.
  • Kentucky (USA) Governor Andy Beshear is urging churches across the state to cancel church services!

The United Nations estimates that 20% of students across the world are out of school because of the virus – schools, colleges and universities across the globe have closed, with some moving to online classes, in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 – UNESCO says 15 countries have ordered school closures

The Implications of the Current Situation

In some parts of the world, your church may be facing the decision to cancel worship services this weekend or very soon. It all depends on the spread of the virus in your area and on local government and health organization recommendations. The implications are pastoral, financial and personal.

There are questions/issues listed below to consider and discuss with your administrative Board. The items listed here are not to raise anxiety rather to help us ask the pertinent questions, listen and respond to the concerns of our people. We want to address the current situations, prepare for potential impact and support you as you lead, manage, and care for the people and ministries of the church. In the meantime, there are precautions and adjustments each church can make. Many of you are already doing many of these. (See Church Preparations and Precautions below)

  • The impact of COVID-19 is different in different regions of the world. How prevalent is it in your area? Is there something else going on that is equally impacting your congregation? Examples: Dengue Fever in Mexico, Brazil and other places; Trinity MCC in Gainesville, Florida had a break-in last week; parts of Australia are still recovering from the fires. Perhaps there is a compounded impact on the leadership or membership.
  • Social-distancing is one of the precautions being recommended. People are being told to avoid large crowds. Advice recommends that people over 65, especially people with any pre-existing health conditions (HIV, COPD, heart conditions, diabetes, etc.), practice self-isolation and social-distancing going out only as necessary for food and medical appointments. How might this impact church attendance? Has it already impacted church attendance?
  • How is this impacting members who already feel isolated and look forward to church connections? Has the pastoral care workload increased as people deal with anxiety, fear, isolation, or depression? Is it time to make plans for increased pastoral care?
  • Are you concerned that church attendance might drop and that finances will also drop? Does your church have any reserve funds? Might the Pastor’s salary be impacted in the short-term or only if there is a long-term challenge? How might your Board prepare for a financial short-fall?
  • Do you have congregants who work in food service, sport, tourism or entertainment industries who might lose work and income if people are isolating? How might this impact demands on church food ministries or benevolence programs? How might your church prepare to offer support or assistance to members who lose their income?
  • If worship services are cancelled either by the government or by local decision, how might you prepare to provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care? Perhaps it is time to develop an emergency pastoral care plan.
  • Remember self-care! Take time to pray, meditate and listen. Be aware of your sleep requirements and eating patterns. Take care of yourself so you can provide care for others.

    Church Preparations and Precautions

    Communication

  • LET YOUR CONGREGATION KNOW what precautions your church is taking! This is a time for increased communication. Information is power.
  • Help reduce fear and anxiety with reliable, local information. Share links to local health organizations so people do not rely on media or hype.
  • Encourage people who are in high risk groups or who are ill to stay home.
  • Use email, social media and phone calls to stay in touch and help break the psycho-social-spiritual impact of isolation.

    Hand Sanitizer

  • Have Hand Sanitizer visibly available throughout your facility.
  • Post notices about hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer
  • Sunshine Cathedral MCC (Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA) has their ushers put the hand sanitizer right in the hands of people arriving for worship!
  • Can’t find hand sanitizer in the stores? Make your own! MCC/UCC in the Valley, North Hollywood, California, USA is making their own and placing labels on small bottles to give to worship attendees and their friends. The labels say “We care about your physical health as well as your spiritual health!” plus the contact information for the church. (Recipes for homemade hand sanitizer are available online.)
  • Use disinfectant wipes or sprays to wipe down all door knobs, handles, toilet handles, chair backs, hymnals, and so on.

    Passing of the Peace

  • Use the “Namaste” posture of hands together in prayer and a slight bow to greet each other
  • Another option is to place one hand over your heart and greet with a head bow
  • Use the two-finger peace sign!
  • Address the “culture of hugging.” Ask before you hug! Remind people of the recommendations to not hug although it is their choice. For some people, this will be a huge loss. For some, this is the only time of the week they get physical touch. For those who choose to hug, encourage them to turn their heads away.

    Communion

  • Have those who prepare communion wash hands plus use hand sanitizer or wear gloves
  • Have celebrants and servers wear gloves and/or use hand sanitizer right before serving.
  • Perhaps have a conversation with your church about the options of not serving communion, serving only the host, or using pre-packaged communion sets.
  • Refrain from placing the host in mouths. Place the host in hands.

    Physical Space/Virtual Space

  • If you have chairs rather than pews, spread your chairs out to create more space between individuals
  • If you still have Sunday worship gatherings, perhaps restrict other meetings for now or have the other meetings virtually.
  • Use this as an opportunity to develop a virtual ministry. Have training sessions via virtual meeting software or create messaging groups (Consider Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, WhatsApp or other tools.)

    Pastoral

  • Encourage people to phone, email, text with one another for support and to dispel the feelings of isolation
  • Involve more people in your pastoral plans and outreach. Develop new ways to be in community and to share prayer concerns, answered prayers and needs.
  • Perhaps start a closed Facebook group for sharing or a WhatsApp prayer/sharing group. Good Hope MCC in Capetown, South Africa has been using a WhatsApp prayer group

    for several years!

  • Identify low risk individuals who might be able to pick up and deliver groceries or medicines to high risk individuals who are in isolation.
  • Talk with others. Make the necessary decisions. Move forward with ministry even if it looks and feels different. The “not-knowing” time of change is the most difficult and it adds to group anxiety.
  • Emphasize what we can do in these times and circumstances more than what we cannot do.
  • Use this time to reflect theologically on core questions of who we are and what we do. What is church? What does church look like? What is communion? How do we create and nurture community especially in times like this?

    Connection

  • Stay connected with your personal support people and spiritual practices.
  • Connect to our history. Remember, we have come through many health crises including HIV. We are strong, resilient, spiritual activists and pastors.
  • Let us (MCC) know how you are doing and if you or your church need support. Be in touch with your Point Elder, Network Leaders, and/or denominational staff. We are in this together!

    A Resource prepared for the Churches and Leaders of Metropolitan Community Churches. March 11, 2020.