A Letter From Bishop Laurie (May 8th)

A Note from Bishop Laurie

May 8, 2020

Dear Ones,

How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137) asked the people exiled in Babylon. The practices and comfort of what they had known through worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem where not available to them in that foreign land. In that time of exile, they were challenged by prophets and re-formed as God’s people. When they returned to Jerusalem, the temple they longed to gather in had to be rebuilt.   Are we not in a similar time? We will be in this pandemic for at least another year if not longer. Pandemics usually have 2-3 waves; it is predicted that we will see another wave of infection this fall. Oregonians have done a good job of flattening the curve of infection, but we are still amid a global pandemic. We will likely see restrictions on daily life lifted then re-imposed.

This is a long email. Please read carefully and retain this email for future reference. The State of Oregon and your local municipality have the responsibility to protect public health. The guidelines of the CDC, the state and your local municipality should be strictly followed. When we all follow these guidelines, we all benefit. This is our labor of love. We are not going back to “normal” any time soon. We are, unfortunately, not in a blizzard, from which we will emerge soon and relatively unchanged, but in an ice age which will invite us to adapt in significant and meaningful ways.Yesterday, Governor Brown released her Reopening Oregon PlanReopening will happen by region/county. 

Until your county has been approved to begin Phase 1, the stay at home order remains in effect. Even if your county is one of the few to reopen this month, all Oregon Synod congregations should still adhere to not meeting at least until June 1, for most congregations it will be longer.Here is a summary of the Governor’s key points:

As we prepare for gathering in limited numbers as a congregation, please use the attached Oregon Synod COVID-19 Reopening Planning Guide and follow these recommendations: 

Continue to abstain from holding ALL events in your church building until at least June (including services and small group gatherings). Instead, use the month of May to plan. Use the attached Reopening Planning Guide with your pastor, lay leaders, or entire congregation. 

No large gatherings will be allowed until a treatment for COVID-19 is found. That will take some time. Oregon’s governor has canceled all large sports, theater and worship gatherings through September, at least. Stay up to date with information from the CDC, OHA and your bishop’s office.

Connect with your insurance provider to understand their recommendations for your intended use of your buildings. We know now of multiple congregations outside of the synod who have been dropped by their insurance for meeting against orders/in this time.

Plan to continue offering worship, prayer and small group gatherings online and through phone, email and mail for the foreseeable future. Feedback here in the bishop’s office on your faithfulness and creativity has been unbelievable! This is a time to expand the connectedness of the congregation through phone conversations, prayer partners, Zoom studies, Zoom coffee hours, etc. It is rare that everyone in a congregation is online. We are called to be creative and serve all, of course!

The CDC is recommending that those over 65 and those who have underlying health conditions continue to stay home and stay safe. Though painful, even after limits on small groups are lifted by region and groups of 25 are allowed to meet here in Oregon, those over 65, obese or otherwise dealing with illness should stay home. 

This begs the question: should we be meeting in-person when members of our congregations are unable to attend without risking their health?If you choose to open your building as restrictions loosen, you should appoint a team who will be responsible for interpreting CDC, state and local guidelines for the use and maintenance of the building and those who gather in it. Have a person keep track of who is in and out of the building in case someone does develop COVID-19 and others need to be informed of that exposure. 

Action plans for sanitizing every space (and handle, knob, railings, etc.) after each use of your building should be developed and followed. Ensure your janitor or volunteers have the needed supplies to thoroughly sanitize everything a person has touched or breathed on. Follow the CDC guidelines. 

For services: 
1.Have a plan in place to ensure attendance will be within allowed limits
2.People should enter and exit the building at different times and by different doorways
3.Worship leaders should not greet people at the door
4.Hand sanitizer or hand washing stands should be at the door
5.Bulletins should be placed in the rows prior to worship and anything else normally in the row removed (hymnals, bibles, etc.).
5.Use projection or have everything in a single bulletin that is discarded after one use
6.Provide disposable masks for those who’ve forgotten or be ready to ask that person to leave (a masked usher should be appointed to watch over this)

Nursery care, potlucks and coffee hour shall not be offered while we are required to be masked and practice physical distancing.

Singing is not advised at this time: a singer can spray up to twenty-seven feet. Consider using instrumental music, humming, or a soloist standing far from those gathered. 

Signage, Facebook, websites should offer consistent information for those interested in worship, interested in hands-on service, what groups a person can join, financial support, prayer support. 

Give serious consideration to the viral load you are exposing your pastor, worship leaders and janitor to by having multiple services (with cleaning between services). Your pastor and worship leaders do not have to agree to accept that risk. 

Remember that while all things may be lawful for you, not all things are beneficial. Nor do all things build up the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23–Paul says this twice so it must be important.) We also remember that the neighbor always comes first and that what we do to the least of these who are members of our family [in Christ], we do to Christ. (Mt 25:40) 

Our labor of love continues.  May all that we say and do reflect the light and love of Jesus Christ. 

Bishop Laurie Larson Caesar

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