Response to coronavirus: All public events canceled

POSTED MARCH 13. WE WILL UPDATE HERE IF CONDITIONS CHANGE.

A LETTER TO THE HOLY TRINITY CONGREGATION, AND OUR VISITORS AND FRIENDS, ON SUSPENDING ALL PUBLIC ACTIVITIES FOR TWO WEEKS

March 13, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are living in very uncertain times, with things changing regarding COVID-19 every minute, every hour.

Because we at Holy Trinity wish to be proactive, rather than reactive, the leadership and staff have been monitoring the situation in Pennsylvania and nearby Ohio, trying to discern what is best for our congregation in terms of worship and service.

Tonight, we made the decision to cancel our primary weekend worship services, our entire Lent calendar of daily worship, our Wednesday meal and Bible study, choir practices, all other scheduled events and all committee meetings. The only meeting still on the schedule is a congregational council meeting, so that leaders can take further steps in managing Holy Trinity’s response. We are also allowing outside support groups to continue using our building if they agree to certain protocols.

This cancellation of the schedule will be in effect for two weeks.

Beginning on Sunday morning, we will offer “virtual worship” at 9:30 a.m. on our Facebook page. We are hoping it will also be accessible from our website, www.holytrinitygreenvillepa.com. For those who cannot gather in front of a computer or iPad or phone, we ask that you spend that time Sunday morning still gathering with us in your homes, in prayer for the world, for the nation, for those who have contracted this virus, for those who are separated from their faith communities, for all those grappling with the consequences of this threat.

For those able to gather with us virtually, I am, honestly, not sure exactly what this will mean. This is a new to us, and it will likely be an evolving process. But to begin with, it means that we will be leading a worship service live on Facebook with a distant congregation — you. We hope to have music, the Word, and prayers. 

We will be reevaluating this decision until it is safe to gather again.

Worship is a vital part of who we are as people of faith, and we need it now, more than ever. But, as the text for this Sunday reminds us, we don’t worship God in just one place. In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus says to the woman “Believe me, the hour is coming where you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21, 24) We will come to understand this text more in the days ahead as we gather on Sunday to worship God AS Holy Trinity even though we will not be AT Holy Trinity. We trust that God will be with us as we worship where we are with our hearts and minds.

Beyond virtual worship, we will be figuring how we will continue to attend to some of our other ministries, namely, our commitment to continue providing food to the Good Shepherd Center, as well as the special Easter items that the Center asked us to provide.

We will be exploring the ways in which we can also minister to our community and its needs in this time in faithful ways that also ensure our health and safety. 

We will also be looking for ways to care for and support each other during a time when there may well be a great deal of social isolation. Our social ministry committee has already been talking about this task. If you know of anyone who needs help with pharmacy and grocery pick-ups, please call the church office. We hope to have volunteers helping with this task.

I wish I could give you clear answers to the many questions you might have, in keeping with the Catechism, “What does this mean?” Honestly, I am not sure. But I do believe that we are doing the faithful thing for the whole community by modeling the kind of behavior we need as we respond to this pandemic. This may be more extreme than what other churches are doing, but the leaders of the church believe we need a prophetic response. We need to model behavior that prioritizes the well-being of all.

During this time of crisis, we are hoping that the members of the congregation will continue your faithful stewardship, as the work of Holy Trinity is changing, but not ceasing and we need your support. Although we won’t be passing the plate, we are exploring opportunities for online giving on our website, and there is also the US Mail.

Our office will remain open unless circumstances change.

The Bible tells us repeatedly, “Do not fear,” and that is a message to which we can cling today and always. We are not doing this to be fearful, but rather faithful to what science and public health professionals tell us about the importance of trying to keep people from spreading the virus during this phase of mitigation. The God who has told us not to fear is the same God who will be present with us in the days and weeks ahead. We are unsure of what the future holds, but we know who holds the future, and from that we are able to find comfort and strength.

Do not hesitate to reach out for support during this time, or to share with us ideas about how we can support one another. In the days ahead I will continue to update you on what we are doing and how we are being church together, even if we aren’t physically in the same space,

May you know God’s peace in turbulent times.

Pastor Brenda

—————————————

POSTED MARCH 10. Our staff and the executive committee for our congregational council have talked about coronavirus and how it might affect us at Holy Trinity. Here are the key points to remember.

1. There is no need to panic, because panic is counterproductive. It narrows our view and keeps us from thinking clearly about things.

2. The facts are that coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is being called, is spread like the cold and influenza, by tiny droplets in the air from person to person, or by touching surfaces on which the virus has landed and then touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth.

3. Coronavirus is generally mild, but in about 14 percent of cases it can become severe. Mortality rate is a little over 2 percent for the general population, and higher in the elderly.

4. The greatest risk for COVID-19 is in people older than 50 years of age who have preexisting medical conditions. We do not have any “herd” immunity to this virus, and currently there is no vaccine and no medicine specific to treat it, although both are being developed.

5. There are not very many cases in the US, and most of them are recovering. Several have died. Most of their cases can be traced back to contact with someone having it, but in some cases, we do not know how they got the virus. In Europe, this kind of community spread of the virus is becoming common. We are likely to see more cases in the U.S. and it is possible that day-to-day life may be affected.

6. We have many members of the congregation who have, who are and who will be visiting other areas of the country and the world, and who might come into contact with someone who has been in contact with the virus. We also have many members of our congregation who have had recent medical procedures or have procedures scheduled, who are receiving medical treatment that compromises their immune systems, or who are otherwise in groups that are most at risk of becoming dangerously ill if they contract the virus. We are therefore erring on the side of caution in taking steps for the sake of safety of all of our members and visitors.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following:

1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

3. Stay home when you are sick.

4. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw out the tissue.

5. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects using a regular household cleaner.

6. Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms to help prevent spread disease to others. They are also needed for healthcare workers and people caring for others who have been diagnosed with the illness. People who are well do not need a face mask.

7. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer can be used if soap and water are not available.

8. It is logical to keep a 2-week supply of nonperishable food, fever reducing medicine, and prescription medicine at home in case you become ill and are unable to get out.

9. There are travel restrictions and recommendations on the CDC website for those planning to go outside the country.

Steps we are taking at Holy Trinity:

1. In order to keep each other safe, please be aware of each other’s comings and goings, particularly in the case of people living alone.

2. When entering and leaving the church, do greet the pastor and one another with a smile and wave, but we will not be shaking hands at this time.

3. At the sign of peace, bow, smile, wave, make a peace sign with your hands, say a word of peace to your neighbors, but we will not be shaking hands or bumping fists.

4. At Holy Communion, we will use disposable cups for wine at every liturgy. Cups will be disposed of in a trash can as you exit the chancel area.

5. Extra steps have been taken by the Altar Guild to limit the amount of contact with hosts and wine before you receive them.

6. At the Saturday night liturgy, we will also receive wine in glasses, rather than by intinction placed on your tongue. This is the most extreme change in our normal practices.

7. At the time of the offering, the pastor will wash her hands with soap and water immediately before presiding at the table.

8. Extra steps are being taken before weekend liturgies to wipe down all handrails at steps, the altar rail, and other frequently-handled surfaces, including various door handles and restroom surfaces.

9. Hand sanitizer is being added at the steps leading to the chancel on both the pulpit and lecturn sides so that it can be used, if you wish, before and after receiving communion.

10. We know that many people dip their hands in the font and bless themselves upon entering the church or after receiving communion. We will continue to have water in the font, and leave it to your judgment and knowledge of your medical risks whether you will continue this practice at this time.

11. If you are not feeling well, stay home; if you have cough and fever, or difficulty breathing, please seek medical help.

We are hoping these steps will be of short duration. If the coronavirus spread reaches our area or reaches a crisis level nationally, we will consider other steps.