God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change… Psalm 46:1-2a
Dear members and friends of the Pacifica Synod,
The earth seems to have changed a lot in the past week. On Wednesday and Thursday, I met in person with pastors and deacons from San Diego county, and we discussed what we would do about the coronavirus. I had planned on Wednesday afternoon to write a pastoral letter, encouraging people to follow CDC guidelines but otherwise go about business as usual. But hearing the news on Wednesday, receiving the California governor’s recommendation that groups of 250 or over not meet, and learning more from public health officials about their recommendation for what they called “social distancing,” I changed my tune. Bishop Erwin of the Southwest California Synod, our neighbor to the north, and I wrote a joint letter with recommendations for our congregations, which we sent by email Thursday evening. Our synod also has a webpage devoted to COVID-19 information and resources. By Friday, yesterday, I began hearing that many of you are planning to cancel public worship, while others are live-streaming services and encouraging those who are medically vulnerable to stay home, and still others are closing preschools in order to stem the spread of the virus.
I also heard about virtual Bible studies, confirmation classes, and fellowship events so that congregations can continue to gather people in community while safeguarding the health of their neighbors. I am in awe of your creativity and your commitment to your congregations. If you are a Pacifica congregation and are live streaming your services, or providing other in-home worship, Bible study, or fellowship opportunities, please comment on this post and let the rest of us know what you are doing. Feel free to provide links to resources. It is good to hear and learn from each other what is being done in the synod to help sustain faith and community while we need to be apart physically. If you wish to live-stream your service, our synod webpage has resources that provide instructions on how that can be done.
I would encourage you not to forget those who would be most hurt by social distancing. I think of school children who are dependent on meals served at schools, people of all ages who rely on the church for a sense of community, the economically disadvantaged who live paycheck to paycheck. Please find out what social services in your communities are doing to aid people in need and see how your congregation can support others. Also, please discourage your people from hoarding needed goods, such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other necessities. Instead, let us encourage one another to share what we have, remembering to keep our distance (thus leaving necessities at the door of someone who is ill or medically fragile, so we do not inadvertently spread the virus). I am convinced that Jesus, who generously gave even life itself for our sake, will live in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, helping us to give generously to others in need.
I keep you all in prayer, praying weekly for each congregation, and today I prayed for each congregation a second time, as you adjust to a new abnormal (at least I hope and pray it is abnormal, and lasts only a short time). I know you will do what Christian congregations are called to do. I know you will preach the gospel, proclaiming God’s presence, love, and grace, in a world filled with fear. I know you will love one another, encouraging each other in the faith and in doing good works even while keeping your distance. And I know you will love your neighbor, seeking ways to help mitigate the effects of this “social distancing” for the most vulnerable in our midst. For God is at work in, with, and among you. Have hope and faith in God and keep your eyes open for ways God sustains you in the days and weeks ahead. I look forward to hearing your stories of God’s sustaining care for you and your congregations.
May God be with you.
Bishop Andy Taylor
March 14, 2020