More Unusual Times
As I write this letter, the United States is in the midst of increasing response to the novel corona virus causing COVID-19. As I wrote regarding the state of the nation and The United Methodist Church in light of a presidential impeachment and the pending General Conference, unusual times call for unusual responses. I still believe that Hamburg UMC, as a Christian community, is gifted by God with all we need to effectively make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, because the Holy Spirit is at work in and through the people of this congregation. I still believe, with all my being, that the Holy Spirit will provide each of us with insight and clarity about the will of God for our life together. However, I am convinced we need act, and act prudently, in light of that faith in God’s grace for us.
As of this morning, Friday 13 March 2020, the World Health Organization has advised that the COVID-19 meets the definition of a pandemic. As of today, many private colleges and universities, as well as the SUNY system have announced a shift from in-person to online instruction. Governor Cuomo has placed a restriction on all gatherings of over 500 persons in the state of New York, and the Erie County Department of Health has advised the following:
Strongly recommends cancelling all events with 250 or more attendance
People seriously consider avoiding events with over 50 in attendance especially if those events include people traveling from outside Erie County and that those over 60 or with chronic medical conditions not attend such events.
We cannot follow Jesus alone for very long, nor can we know the way of Jesus apart from the Body of Christ, the Church. We need each other, however, in a time when social distancing, limiting travel, and decreasing large group exposure might not just preserve health but save lives, we need to take practical steps to engage in a faithful, evidence based response to the current pandemic. As of today, Hamburg UMC will have worship on Sunday, March 15 as planned, but we will be doing the following:
We will be asking each family unit to leave at least 3-6 feet between them and others in the sanctuary when seated;
We will be STRONGLY discouraging hand shaking and other physical contact;
Those serving communion will be washing hands thoroughly to serve you. I have been asked about shifting to individual cups for receiving the juice—while I am sympathetic to the desire to avoid cross-contamination, there is no scientific evidence this will be beneficial (as fingers tend to touch more than just the cup each individual takes from the tray). We will be insuring bread will be broken in large pieces and chalices filled so that touching either the cup or the juice with fingers should be avoidable easily. I will be preaching on Communion Sunday, and one matter I will include is a discussion of the doctrine of concomitance which says if you receive in only one kind (either bread or cup) you have received the full grace of the sacrament—if you remain concerned with intinction, please feel free to bypass the cup;
We will be receiving the offering without passing plates, at the front of the church, as we often do in the summer;
As your pastor, I strongly urge you if you are concerned for your health or believe you are at particular risk to infection to stay home, and if possible, to watch the live-feed of worship: https://www.facebook.com/HamburgNYUMC/
I will be meeting with key leaders to discern how we might respond to COVID-19 following worship Sunday, and then with the Church Council Monday night—I will be requesting that a significant amount of time be focused on developing both missional and administrative responses to the pandemic and clarifying our collective plan.
I will be asking the Missions/Outreach Committee to help coordinate a plan for providing resources and assistance to families impacted by food insecurity in the case of multi-day and potentially long-term school cancellations, as well as other folks who might be impacted by resource scarcity.
Christians throughout history have been identified, often most clearly, in the midst of major epidemics by two interrelated qualities. First, as resurrection people, we need not fear death; second, as people who serve the Lord Jesus, who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and proclaimed good news to the poor, we strive to do the same and stay to meet those needs even when everyone else flees for fear of death themselves. We can pray, we can care for our neighbors and share resources, and as a congregation we can coordinate our resources to meet the particular needs of those in our community most likely to suffer from isolation and cancellation of everyday activities.
Jesus told his followers that because he was returning to his Father they would do the kinds of things he did during his ministry and even greater things than these (John 14:12). I believe this is the moment, not for panic, but for us to embrace the call to be Christians by embodying Christ for a world that needs the kinds of things he has always done (here I am thinking especially of Romans 12:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-17).
In the words of the old hymn, “Sent Forth By God’s Blessing,” UMH 664, “the service is ended, O now be extended…” We have worshipped God together and now we are called to live out what we have learned.
In Christ’s Service, with you,
Pastor David Nicol