A Pastoral Letter in Response to the Novel Coronavirus

Dear SPC Community,

“In life and death we belong to God.”

Here at SPC we proclaim this good news every Sunday in worship. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we are asked to proclaim it every day in a new way.

As of the writing of this letter, the most consistent public health advice has been to respond to the novel coronavirus with “social distancing.” This advice poses a particular conundrum for communities of faith. While “social distancing” may be the best approach for our physical health in this season, it is the exact opposite approach we need to take for our spiritual and emotional well being. And, of course, our own community at SPC thrives on a vibrant, engaged, intimate social scene.

How, then, shall we respond?

Last night, your session struggled mightily with this question. The Ruling Elders - who have a breadth and depth of personal and professional experience - reflected prayerfully on the options before us. While we do not want to exacerbate the very real fear so many people are experiencing around this pandemic, we also want to be prepared. At the same time, we wrestle with limited data on which to make decisions.

In the end, the Spirit of God made plain to us the path we need to take, at least for now. Regretfully, we have decided to suspend all groups and activities meeting in the church building through the end of March, including Sunday worship. Doing so will allow us to protect the health of our members, minimize SPC’s role in any spread of the virus in the larger community, and gather more information to help us make longer term adjustments - if necessary - to our ministry. The office will be closed officially, although staff members may use their own discretion about coming into the building to conduct particular business.

There are two exceptions to this decision: The Session felt it imperative to our mission and ministry to continue offering hospitality to the overnight shelter tonight and to the recovery groups that meet in our building. Should the recovery groups wish to continue meeting, they will be asked to confine themselves to smaller spaces within our facility. A team of “deep cleaners” will be convened to follow CDC guidelines for cleanliness after each meeting.

The decision to suspend activities in the building does not mean, however, that we will not worship together! I am already beginning to work with the tech gurus in our congregation to find a way to offer some form of “livestream” worship each Sunday at 11am. I will also reach out to our Sunday Studio and Sunday Circle leaders to offer alternative forms of Christian Education for our children and youth. Ethel will discuss with the Adult Education Committee how/if to continue to the conversation we have begun in Sunday Seminar around Race, Privilege and Faith. By Saturday afternoon, we hope to have a “Home Worship Preparedness Kit” available by email, Facebook, and on the church website.

I have also been in communication with Deacon Co-Moderator, Debbie Romano, to implement communication and pastoral care strategies throughout the congregation. It is essential, in this time, for anyone who has a need to let us know. We want to make sure to remain as close as possible in this season, rather than drifting apart. If you do not hear from your Deacon Shepherd by Saturday afternoon, please contact the church office.

On that note, the Session feels strongly that, as challenging as this time may be, we have also been given an opportunity to think outside the box about how we do ministry “beyond the walls” of our building. What does it mean to “be church” if we are not gathering in public fellowship? How can we keep this abrupt suspension of face-to-face activities from leaving some of us especially isolated at a time of great uncertainty and fear? To that end, several of us have begun brainstorming various ways for the congregation to continue to live Radical Hospitality, Holistic Spirituality, and Engaged Compassion even with - especially with - this global pandemic upon us. Ethel Hornbeck is taking the lead on developing alternate strategies for spiritual formation. And, of course, we have much to learn from the young people in our midst about staying connected through technology.

We encourage every one among us to do just that: stay in touch with one another via phone, email, Facebook, and website. Many of our committees and ministry teams will continue to “meet” via various technologies. If you have questions or concerns or suggestions for improvement upon this decision, please contact the church office. IF YOU ARE HAVING A PASTORAL EMERGENCY OF ANY KIND, PLEASE CONTACT PASTOR GUSTI DIRECTLY.

The Session will continue to assess the situation and evaluate our response as a congregation. The Mission Committee will communicate with our mission partners to determine how we may best support them through this season. We pledge to offer regular updates and in particular to keep you informed of plans beyond the end of March as soon as we are able to make them.

In the meantime, I have every confidence that, as we draw closer together “In Spirit, if not in person," we will come to rejoice even more boldly that “nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Much love,
Pastor Gusti