All of us have been following the news reports about the coronavirus (or COVID-19) and I imagine that many of us are feeling a mix of fear, confusion and uncertainty about what is going on and what an appropriate response might be.
As you know, we place a high view on the corporate gathering of the body of Christ, and only close our doors in rare, unfortunate, circumstances. We do not want to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), so that, as disciples of Jesus, we can be encouraged, exhorted, and equipped for the week ahead.
We are also wanting to honor the precautions the state is asking us to take - including Governor Cooper’s request that all public gatherings of more than 100 people be postponed. To that end, the session has decided that we will be cancelling our worship services for at least the next week, beginning this Sunday, March 15th. The doors of the church will be locked, please do not come to the church. Our hope is to be able to gather together again with everyone on our church campus as soon as possible. Determinations about future services will be made in due course and communicated expediently.
Our staff and leadership are working diligently to arrange for alternative options to worship as a community during this difficult and confusing time. Again, more details will be provided as soon as we have them, but we will be ‘gathering’ virtually in some way this Sunday morning. Those are the details that you need to know immediately. Below are some more ‘pastoral’ thoughts of mine along with thoughts and information compiled from our general assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency and a few other PC(USA) sources.
In times of uncertainty, and especially as exacerbated by quickly evolving circumstances and conflicting, inaccurate, or insufficient information, people typically fill the knowledge gaps according to their personality and experience. Thus, if one is predisposed to fear, the gap is filled with fear; to prejudice, with prejudice; to conspiracy, with conspiracy, to denial, with denial, to intellectualization, with intellectualization. We all need to be aware of this in ourselves and as we relate to others.
But we also must remember that we are people of faith, and so our response should also reflect our belief in a God who delivers his people, works all things out for good, and uses communities of people to accomplish these things.
We need to remember that we are bearing witness to our children and to the world as well as to one another by the way we respond to this and any anxious or fearful circumstance. The concerns around this coronavirus, and any disruption, open doors for ministry and mission. How we worship together, care for one another, and serve each other and the world must always take real and emerging circumstances into consideration. This is what it means to be incarnational. This conversation is healthy and can be productive for the church’s witness if we are open to the Spirit’s leading and careful in our deliberations.
We need to remember that anxiety, lack of sleep, and depression suppress our immune systems. Thus it is necessary to take care of ourselves physically and mentally. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, balance vigilance with amusement, and socialize. With precautions and discipline, all these are possible and they will keep our bodies strong against sickness of body and mind.
To all these ends, it is important that our first and final preparation is prayer. Let us set aside personalities and experiences and attend to God’s presence every time we begin and end our responses to this and every concerning situation. The more thoroughly we practice prayer at the beginning and end, the more quickly we will return to prayer in the middle.
Sharing God’s Love, ~Chip