Pastoral Letter about Coronavirus (COVID-19) [Updated - 3/13/20]

Posted 1 week ago
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COVID-19(Letter sent on Friday, March 13th)

My Friends,

It is incredible how quickly we learn about COVID-19 and its impact on the state, country and globe. I write to update you today to share changes in our life together moving forward.  

     For the sake of clarity, I want to share with you the changes first, and then after I will provide an explanation. In short, the goal of the forthcoming changes are to do all in our power to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community, primarily by practicing social distancing.

Changes:

  • As of now, all non-vital services at St. Peter’s will be suspended

    • All team/committee meetings will take place virtually over Zoom

    • All book groups will take place over Zoom

    • Stations of the Cross will not take place on Fridays until further notice

  • We will gather for worship this Sunday at 8am & 10am

    • This Service will look just like last week with Eucharist in one kind.

      1. The Choir will sit in the pews and provide the anthem from the back of the church

      2. There will be no Sunday School

    • There will be no coffee hour or Episcopal 101 after church

  • As you may have already read in the letter from Bishop Rob which went out Friday afternoon, the Diocese will be suspending in person worship services after this week until Palm Sunday (April 5th)

  • Moving forward, we will explore the use of technology such as YouTube and Facebook to “Live Stream” prayer opportunities, including Morning Prayer at 8a and 10a in the following weeks

  • This Sunday, we ask that any who may need assistance in accessing online content like YouTube, Facebook, Zoom, or our website, to please bring your cell phone, laptop, or tablet to church.  We will have people at each service to help you access our content on your computer.

  • The church office will be closed to the public.

    •  Karen West and I will determine how to best utilize her role in the upcoming weeks but I will not be asking her to come into the office unless necessary

  • Although many of the state’s elder care facilities are closed, I will continue to provide pastoral care over the phone and in person, although for the sake of those I visit, I will keep a distance.

Rationale:

     At this point in time, the clear consensus over the best thing we can do as a community is to help slow the rate of transmission in New Hampshire. This practice is commonly referred to as “flattening the curve” - an attempt to alleviate the medical systems so they do not become overloaded. 

     Besides washing our hands and staying home when we’re sick, the best thing we can do to assist in “flattening the curve” is to practice social distancing. This is the practice of keeping at least 4 feet between you and another person. The attempt to practice social distancing is why you’re seeing so many proactive cancellations of various gathering events - including ours.

     There are many articles out there that explain this better than I can. Here’s one.

Moving Forward:

     For the next few weeks the life of St. Peter’s is going to look different but it does not change the important role our Church plays in the lives of her members. I personally will still be making visits and calling those who need to hear the voice of someone who cares for them. I imagine many of us are feeling anxious in these times, and I hope that I (or someone in this community) can be someone you call to simply share how you’re feeling.

    These truly are strange and concerning times, unlike many have ever lived through. We walk this journey together allowing grace in our moments of fear and love in our moments of need. 

    Finally, I continue to pray for you and this community. I know this virus impacts many of you in deeply personal ways. Some of you cannot see your loved ones, some are apart from family, some are without employment. Even though the virus prohibits us from gathering - you are not alone. God and your church family are with you.

 

See you in Church on Sunday,
Fr. Colin

 

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(Letter sent on Saturday, March 7th)

Dear Friends,

Although many heard me speak on the subject of COVID-19 at church on last Sunday, I want to take a moment and write to you all as an update and to talk about it further…

First I want to start with some things that we know…

  1. God’s Church has been through worse: This is not the first, nor will it be the last, world health crisis or disruption God’s church has seen. It will continue no matter what temporary changes or evolutions manifest through this current situation.

  2. There is still so much we do not know: Currently in the US there is a shortage of COVID-19 tests which mean we lack sufficient data to understand it’s impact in the US and New Hampshire. Furthermore, we are yet a long way from any sort of Vaccine.

  3. COVID-19 is not the Flu: While the symptoms of COVOID-19 look similar to the flu, it is not the flu. Every year in the Fall, all of us have access to the Flu vaccine and it is in good faith that people coming to church have had their flu vaccine - or at the least the most at risk have at it. This means that if you have the flu, the vaccine helps to mitigate the effects. As COVID-19 continues to spread, imagine a church in which no one has had the flu vaccine. It’s in this reality we live.

  4. We must be smart: With the lack of testing, and information, the best thing we can do at this point is to be responsible and intelligent in our actions. We fact check our stories. We call our neighbors. We pray when we start to feel anxious. We do not allow our fear to dictate our actions, but we also know that the health and well being of our congregation matters more than tradition and liturgy.

As the Rector, through the Bishop and the Prayer Book, I have been given full authority over the liturgy and practices at St. Peter’s. This means I take full responsibility for your wellness, and if someone happened to get ill because of my lack of action, this would be something that would greatly weigh on me.

Through prayer, conversation, and common sense, until we see a significant change to the current situation surrounding COVID-19, I want to share with you these changes to life at St. Peter’s on Sundays.

  1. It goes without saying but if you feel sick, in any way, please stay home. If you desire the Eucharist, contact me and I will come by your house during the week. Furthermore, starting this Sunday, a renewed focus of the recording and distribution of the Sermon will commence and I have asked a few members of the congregation to make sure this happens.

  2. We will no longer place water in the back of the church in the baptismal font.

  3. At the Peace, I encourage you to greet one another with a bow, a wave, or some other alternative to shaking hands. Furthermore, I will refrain from shaking hands after the service.

  4. Our Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) will use hand sanitizer before the distribution of the Eucharist.

  5. For the time being we will offer the Eucharist in “one kind” - only distributing the bread. In our Episcopal eucharistic theology, this communion in “one kind” is still considered “full communion”. I wish to state that while this may sound extreme, we do so valuing the health of those in our parish over the traditions of our church.

Finally, let me answer the question that is sure to arise: “How long will we take these precautions?”

There will come a time, which I hope and pray is in the near future, when it will be clear that the concern around the spread of COVID-19 is behind us. This may be as we gain more understanding of the virus, through the production and distribution of treatment, through the distribution of a vaccine, or a variety of other unknown possibilities. While we may not know what the relief will look like, I know it will be clear when we see it.

Furthermore, nothing we do week to week is set in stone. If we find something else works better, or something we have decided to do is not working, we can change our response and direction. No matter our approach, I will continue to keep you informed as we move along.

In conclusion, let me reiterate the most important points of this email…

  1. Any change we make on Sundays comes through prayer and conversation

  2. We value safety over tradition

  3. Stay home if you’re sick

  4. Refrain from touch at the peace

  5. For the time being, we will only distribute the Eucharist in “one kind” (the bread) and acknowledge this is still full communion

  6. We will continue to address these changes in the weeks and months to come.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to share them with me as you know I want to hear them.

See you Sunday,
Fr. Colin