Letter regarding church operations during COVID-19 outbreak:
St. James United Church of Christ
I can imagine many of you are, like me and our Church leadership, trying to make sense of everything that is happening quickly around us, and prayerfully discerning in real-time how to best care for this faith community. Gov. Wolf released a statement announcing extraordinary measures in Montgomery and now Berks County to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Many restrictions, including closing all school districts, child and adult day care centers, and visits to health and prison facilities take effect today, Friday, March 13, 2020, and remain in effect for the next fourteen (14) days. In consulting with the Montgomery County Department of Health regarding its guidance for worshipping communities, they advise and appreciate if churches cancel all activities for the next two weeks to aid in social distancing measures. We are beginning to learn about the importance of “social distancing” during a viral crisis. Closures and cancellations are not about mass hysteria or irrational panic – this is part of a proven public health strategy to slow the spread of a virus and prevent hospitals and other medical infrastructure from being overwhelmed. Equally important is the concern for the congregation’s safety, since the majority of our congregation fall into the significantly at risk population.
It is for this reason I send this email on behalf of your leadership at St. James United Church of Christ. We have prayerfully discerned to err on the side of careful precaution for all of the members of our faith community and surrounding community, and to comply with Governor Wolf’s announced restriction suggestions. In-person Sunday worship and all meetings in the church building are cancelled/postponed through March 27. As we head toward March 27, Consistory will be continually reassessing the situation for worship on Sunday, March 29. This means that:
*There is no worship at the church building on March 15th or March 22nd.
*No meetings or events will be held in the church building through
March 27, including Sunday School, fellowship meal, meetings, Lenten Studies, Choir practice, and any other scheduled events not mentioned here. We are strongly suggesting to all of our outside groups that use our space that they cancel/postpone their activities until at least after the 14-day closure.
Please know these aren’t decisions being made lightly, but as a desire to make sure we are doing our part to protect our faith community and those around it. I will also be communicating all of this on our church answering machine, on our sign, and on our website and Facebook page. I ask that if you know of anyone who might not receive the news in any of these outlets that you communicate directly with them so they are aware as well.
We are still the Church, and it is in times like this that we have the capacity to shine Christ’s light. I encourage you to share Christ’s light with one another. Consider who around you could use someone to check on them for extra groceries or supplies, or for a phone call if they live alone? These will be things on my heart and mind – may God give us the discernment and love to respond
faithfully to the needs around us.
And finally, I ask you please to do the following:
1. Follow the guidelines according to County websites.
Montgomery County: https://data-montcopa.opendata.arcgis.com/pages/covid-19
Berks County: https://www.co.berks.pa.us/Dept/DES/Pages/Corona-Virus.aspx
2. Pray. Please keep me and your Consistory members in prayer as we discern together how best to lead our church in this unknown wilderness. Pray for those who still need to show up to work, such as doctors, nurses, hospital and nursing home staff, sanitation workers and cooks. Pray for those who have been told: “Don’t come to work” and are not getting paid. Pray for the families who pray for their loved ones ill with COVID-19, and for anyone who may yet come down with the illness.
3. Talk (and listen) to your children and grandchildren. If you think grown-ups are freaking out, just imagine how hard it is for kids to process the realities of life during a pandemic. Check in with your kids and be calm and honest with them. Keep it simple and assure them that you and other adults are following plans for the sake of being careful, like wearing seat belts or learning fire safety. The particular circumstances of a pandemic feel strange and unusual, but it may help kids to understand that all of the closure and cancellations are part of a plan
for public safety and health. And remind them that God’s love and yours is one thing that never changes.
4. Have patience and grace with yourselves and with one another. This is all un-navigated territory and we are all trying to navigate it faithfully together, from the scientific community to government officials to our faith communities. We will walk with each other, and seek to faithfully discern together, knowing none of this is ours to carry alone, and trusting that we are being cared for and carried by
If you, or anyone you know, could use pastoral support, I am available. My cell number is 484-529-3856.
In closing, may I share with you the words of a Taize-inspired hymn. May this be our collective prayer today:
“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”
We will move through this together, may God’s peace be with you all.
Yours in Christ,
On behalf of the entire church family, we warmly welcome you to St. James! We hope you will come to visit soon.
St. James Church is proudly affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) an inclusive and ecumenical denomination where persons of all backgrounds are warmly received. St. James is not a place for “people with all the answers” but rather a community of seekers, sharing together the fascinating journey of life.
At St. James UCC you will find an inter-generational community, with programs and activities for all ages. The hospitality is warm and the people are friendly. At St. James, we believe that building community is far more important than religiosity. So, come be challenged and refreshed, and find a place where YOU can make a difference in the world. You’ll be glad that you did!
If you’re looking for the monthly calendar of events at St. James, you can get to it from the main menu at the top of the page under the label Calendar.