Well, it’s here. For years we have been warned that someday there would be a pandemic, a viral infection that would cover the globe, and challenge us with an illness for which, initially at least, we are not prepared to fight. Moreover, such an illness would cause our lives to be upended, and bring great disruptions to our routines, our plans and expectations, and our pocketbook. We were told it would happen, we just didn’t know when. Now we know. It’s now!
So what do we do in this moment of crisis? Schools have closed, sports is pretty much done for the foreseeable future, and toilet paper is in short supply. These are different times!
As these days unfold, a few things to remember and to do:
Wash your hands – and do it well!
Get the flu shot if you haven’t already. Won’t protect you from Covid-19, but it will keep you from developing something that will compromise your health, and it just might reduce the strain on the health care system.
Cough or sneeze into your elbow – but don’t make your elbow a lethal weapon by doing an “elbow bump.”
But also…don’t live in a vacuum. Ok, so you can’t be social the way you’ve been – find new ways to be social – and be intentional about it!
And while you’re at it, figure out ways to work together with others – especially those who are vulnerable and have some needs. Know an elderly neighbor who might not have gotten to the store? Watch this video – www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/03/13/woman-helps-elderly-couple-grocery-shop-nr-keilar-vpx.cnn – and then imagine how you might be a help to someone you know.
Finally, take care of yourself. Get sleep, eat right, get some exercise, and live on the facts, not the hype or the fear.
But what about Our Savior’s? We are making some changes too, important, and in some ways, exciting changes. You can check them out on our web page (www.oursaviorswestsalem.org/covid-19-response), but in a nutshell, after this weekend we are suspending gatherings that involve groups of people. That means no worship or Sunday School after March 15. We will worship this Sunday, to have a chance to connect one last time, and them ask God’s blessings as we depart for…who knows how long!
Other ministries are also taking a break – confirmation, choir, Bible study. All taking a pause to keep people safe. Maybe consider these a bit of a “Lenten fast.”
At the same time, however, there will be some ministries that we will put in place during the time apart. We will post on the web site a video devotion each weekend, and Pastor Jean and I are in the process of developing a prayer ministry – each day at 11:45 AM someone will be in the sanctuary, praying – and at that moment, we invite you join us, and to know that you are not, at the very moment, praying alone. We might even ring the bell to announce the beginning of “prayer time.” We are also thinking about some form of worship together, where we could gather in the sanctuary, but spread out, giving the space we need, yet still being together. That one is still in development – watch the web page I noted above – we’ll keep that page up to date.
And then there is some conversation about lunch for kids. Since school will be out, will our kids have a meal? We do the summer lunch program, what about lunch now? We’re exploring that, so watch the web page for information on that ministry opportunity too.
What this means is that while we are being forced to suspend some things that are so central to who we are, there are other opportunities presenting themselves. And maybe that makes this a bit of a “cloud with a silver lining.” Maybe it helps us remember who we are. We are not a “worship organization,” or a “Sunday School club.” We worship (that is very important), and we nurture faith (that’s important too).
Most of all, however, we are the Body of Christ, disciples of Jesus, called to make a difference in the world. And we do that in whatever way we can, in whatever world we find ourselves. And right now that world is turned upside down. It desperately needs hope. And we have it – in Jesus!
Two final notes…a colleague observed that “while we are distant from each other, God is not distant from us.” Good words, to which I would add, “And the God who is not distant embraces us and brings us who are distant, together in the Body of Christ.”
Finally, I share with you below a message from the presiding Bishop of the ELCA. Bishop Eaton also has a video message (www.elca.org/publichealth). Read the message, watch the video, and know that the people of God are alive and well – thanks to a good and gracious God!
ELCA presiding bishop addresses concerns about COVID-19
In 1527 the plague returned to Wittenberg, Germany. Two hundred years earlier the plague had swept across Europe killing up to 40% of the population. Understandably, people were anxious and wondered what a safe and faithful response might be. In answer to this, Martin Luther wrote “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.” In it, he emphasized the duty to care for the neighbor, the responsibility of government to protect and provide services to its citizens, a caution about recklessness, and the importance of science, medicine and common sense.
To provide care for the neighbor, Luther recommended that pastors, those in public office, doctors and public servants should remain in the city. Luther himself remained in Wittenberg to care for his people. He recommended that public hospitals be built to accommodate those with the plague. He condemned those who took unnecessary risks that put themselves and others in danger of contagion. Luther also encouraged the use of reason and medicine, writing, “God has created medicines and has provided us with intelligence to guard and take care of the body. … Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence” (“Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,” 1527).
We are living in the time of the coronavirus. We are also living in the time of social media and constant, relentless news coverage. Many of our people have the same concerns as those in Luther’s day. Many of our people are anxious. Luther’s counsel, based on Scripture, is still sound. Respect the disease. Do not take unnecessary risks. Provide for the spiritual and physical needs of the neighbor. Make use of medical aid. Care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.
The churchwide organization recommends the following for churchwide staff: Wash your hands, stay home when you are sick, wear a mask if you have symptoms, consult your medical provider. Bishops and pastors will provide guidelines for worship and church gatherings.
Luther also reminded his people and us that we should trust God’s faithfulness and promises, particularly the promise eternal life. Paul writes: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America