|An Update from Bishop Laurie|
Dear friends in Christ,
As June approaches, it is time for us to check-in about in-person gatherings. The messages coming from our elected leaders can be contradictory and confusing.
Governor Brown has allowed 31 of the 33 Oregon counties (not the Portland-metro area) to begin phase 1, which allows for groups of up to 25 people to gather with social distancing.
President Trump has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and has called on governors across the country to allow these places of worship to reopen.
Public health experts warn us that the nature of the virus has not changed; it is still highly contagious and our communities are still vulnerable. More troubling news comes from those churches that have already attempted to reopen.
At least 107 people became infected after attending or coming into contact with someone who attended a service at a German baptist church, despite church officials insisting that social distancing and hygiene guidelines were upheld during the service.A Baptist church in Georgia stopped in-person services two weeks after reopening as several families came down with coronavirus. Again, the church states that all modes of social distancing were practiced and followed by the families attending.A Catholic church in Texas also closed after it was discovered multiple members had contracted the novel coronavirus and one leader had died. Again, the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines prescribed by State health officials. Here in Oregon, we are blessed with the opportunity to learn from these churches experience and protect our ministers, lay leaders, members and communities from risk.
In-person, indoor gatherings of people from different households are high risk and they are a risk we do not have to take. We know we are essential, but it is not essential to gather in person at this time. Our priority is protecting the well-being, health and safety of ALL members of the Oregon Synod: congregants and staff. Therefore, we advise that church buildings remain closed to all but essential staff for as long as in-person, indoor gatherings remain high risk. Thank you all for taking care of each other during these troubling times. Let us continue to pray for those who are sick, those who have died, and for the good health and welfare of all members of our communities.
A Note from Bishop Laurie
May 8, 2020
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 Plan. Reopening 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.
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
A Letter From Bishop Laurie Beloved of God,Last Sunday’s gospel reading had us walking with the two on the road to Emmaus. As we continue in our current shutdown, it looks like our sojourn walking with them has been extended.
Though this was not what they’d planned, they don’t give up.
Though they don’t understand where this will lead them, they remain open.
Though they could be paralyzed by grief or fear, they seek the wellness of the other.
Though they were grieving and confused, they listened for hope, for wisdom, for faith and slowly, eventually, they did see the Savior, in the breaking of the bread.
In the wake of the crucifixion – an anxious, confused, faithful, grieving, time – they walk, breathe, listen, include. And so do we.
Part of my new normal during the shutdown has been attending regular virtual meetings with a small group of other faith leaders in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown, and the expert advisors she is relying on to navigate us through this pandemic. They want us to know, we who lead churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, that our faith life together is an important piece of the ongoing planning for Oregon’s public health and wellness. As talk of reopening dominates news headlines, and states go their different ways, the message from local scientists and government leaders could not be clearer, here in Oregon we are taking the medical data and CDC recommendations seriously, and the reopening will happen in phases that are more restrictive than those laid out by the federal government.
What does this mean for churches?
What these proposed phases, and meetings with the governor make clear, is that the likelihood we will meet in sanctuaries across the state anytime soon is low. Schools, sporting events and church gatherings, where hundreds or even dozens meet together, will remain closed for the foreseeable future. For those over 60, the request to stay home and stay safe will likely last much, much longer.
I write this with a heavy heart. This is NOT the news I’d been hoping for. I too, ache for churches to reopen with grand celebratory sermons, plaintive prayer, warm hugs, and festive worship. But, I want us to be realistic so we can plan well, as we begin to think in months rather than weeks. Like your governor and her team, the health of Oregonians remains my central concern. Until there is either herd immunity or a vaccine, we’re looking at a summer of advance and retreat as we dance with the realities of the coronavirus in our midst.
As Dr. Fauci has said:
So, we take a breath. Offer a prayer. Call a friend. Go on a walk. Eat well. Go back to the essentials. As we journey together along the road of this pandemic, we are reminded, yet again, that we are not in control. And yet, we know we are not alone.I look forward to a day when we WILL gather again in the flesh. When we can look back together on this corona-time, and discuss how we have been changed, opened up, and made wiser and surer of God’s resurrection power. How Christ fed us even when we were unable to see the Holy right in front of us. How Spirit used our weakness for good. How church, community, and even communion have changed us and cracked open our capacity to connect with a wider world.
Until then, let’s remember that we are God’s beloved, we are together, and we are called to courage and compassion in and with Christ.
Many of you may recall that Pastor Suellen began a pilot program for a cohort of Synodically Authorized Lay-Ministers (SALM or SAMs) for the Mt. Hood Cluster in the Oregon Synod.
These SAMs will bridge the gap for Gethsemane over the next several weeks until we acquire an interim pastor.
We will have the opportunity to grant these lay-ministers valuable experience ministering to a well established congregation, and we will still receive messages and sermons each Sunday.
Please reach Jasmine or Anna in the office or by email if you have any questions or concerns about the SAM program.