March 6, 2020 – Pastor James Harleman
Dear members and friends of Refuge,
I apologize in advance for a lengthy post (and some will say I bury the lede) but please take the time to read this in advance of this coming Sunday the 8th. Grace and peace.
Each week we gather to worship with song, scripture and fellowship. As members we covenant to faithfully and regularly attend, and much of that gathering is about how to fulfill our great commission and great commandments – the second of which is loving our neighbor. In light of all these components, what do we do in a season where gatherings are cautioned against, and health issues pervade local and global news? Concerns of COVID-19 must be considered and addressed by your church leaders.
Your elders have read and consulted many sources, and the first thing we would say is: this is a time for pause, not panic. As Christians we know where our safety and security is to be found. We are not to share the same anxieties and fears of the world around us. Even our next chapter in Acts talks of Stephen not as dying, but “falling asleep”. Our concerns for our future should not match some of what we see around us, and we should be marked not by hysteria but rather prayerful concern and consideration. That’s not suggesting there aren’t real and significant issues, but simply speaking to our response as people whose ultimate trust is in God. This may be a moment for people to see where our faith directly impacts our daily lives. It may be a very real gospel opportunity.
The next thing we would say is: scripture calls us to be wise. Many in our congregation have health conditions that put them at higher risk in relation to a virus like this. Indeed, as some sister churches have noted, “churches should communicate directly with vulnerable populations their support and encouragement to skip church if they are feeling sick or feeling vulnerable to getting sick. There should be no sense of shame if members decide to stay home.” This is not the time for people with weakened immune systems, respiratory issues or other health concerns to worry about their attendance record or that their leaders or others will judge them. This is a time for many to stay home, stay safe, and pray.
The next thing we would say is: scripture calls us to love our neighbors. Our core values include “transforming communities” and that doesn’t mean spreading a coronavirus! In this case, it means loving them enough to take extra care and err on the side of caution. So please, educate yourself and make educated decisions not just so YOU stay healthy, but so that like Jesus we are loving our communities, including the stranger and sojourners among us.
- A local church pastor compiled a great list of best practices that RCA churches have already reposted regarding gathering (should we, who should, who shouldn’t, how to, etc). You can find the original post here.
- The Snohomish County Health District posted about gatherings and that can be found by clicking here.
The last thing we would say is: we are not cancelling services this Sunday; we are simply not pressing, in any way, for anyone to go. For those of us willing and able, we will still gather and pray, sing and worship, and include a special time of prayer for our city, our state, China, Italy, those stuck on cruise ships and more. We will take extra precautions in the way we handle service. Those who attend can pray for those staying home, and those staying home can pray for those of us who gather. And all should be resolved and rest secure in their hearts before God in that decision without pressure or judgment.
For those who choose not to attend, we would simply and humbly ask:
– that you keep up with our journey through Acts. We may try to do a live stream via Facebook, but if that isn’t feasible we will post the sermon on our YouTube page ASAP. Just as many can work from home or even have classes online, we are blessed in this era with advantages previous generations didn’t have.
– that you don’t forget to give: some churches are cancelling services, and many will likely have light attendance in our area. But the work of the church – the bills, the missions support, etc. – doesn’t stop. You can GIVE online here.
– that you pray: we’re going through LENT together and distributed a day-by-day prayer list, but as the good book says: man makes his plans, and the Lord determines His steps. This virus may take precedence in our prayers this week and beyond, so pray for those who are sick, for those who have lost loved ones, and that efforts to minimize and halt the spread are successful.
For those who plan to attend, we would humbly ask:
follow the social distancing protocols suggested in the news and other sources, including:
- Stay home if you are sick. It is crucial that those who are ill with fever or symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath stay home and away from others.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after having physical contact with others.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, throw it away, and then wash your hands.
- We know you love each other, and so do you! So let’s leave hugs and handshakes for a time when there is less concern for spreading viruses.
- Also, we won’t “pass the plate” on Sunday, but we will have a stationary place for offerings to be given.
Again, as your pastor I want everyone to know: we care about you and that means no judgment should you stay home. Rest secure in a thoughtful decision for you and your household. At the same time, some of us will be there Sunday to pastor and care for those who do gather.
Blessings for all this Sunday,
– Pastor James