El Camino Real District Pastors and Lay Leaders,
Greetings! I pray that you have been safe and that you are taking all measures of precaution as the coronavirus continues to spread in our midst.
In Santa Clara County, the latest (March 12th, 2020) number of infected cases stands 49 with one case of death. In half of these infected cases, the patient had not traveled outside of the United States, but was infected during everyday activities.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), vulnerability to the virus correlates with one’s age, the older you are the higher vulnerability. One’s health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, immunosuppression, high blood pressure, and cancer also increases one’s vulnerability. I heard from one Santa Clara County Health Department employee that for those 80 years of age and older, the mortality rate is as high as 15%, compared to the general mortality rate of 0.1% for the flu.
The Extended Cabinet of Cal-Nevada Annual Conference encourages all vulnerable persons to not attend in-person worship. This is a painful request to make, but the risk is much too great. I trust that pastors and other leaders will provide all they can to care for those who are not able to attend services physically.
In this time of pandemic when people are becoming more and more isolated and living in fear, we as spiritual leaders are called to care for the spiritual well-being of the church members and constituents. I would expand this statement by saying that there may be those in the community outside of your church walls who are also vulnerable and in need of spiritual care. How do we provide spiritual care at this time? I rely on you to share your best practices as we discern together our path forward.
By tomorrow, you will receive a letter from Bishop Carcaño, which will introduce an online worship service led by the worship team of Los Altos United Methodist Church. The service will be available on the conference website starting this Sunday (3/15) for all who are unable to attend in-person worship. The services will continue to be available every Sunday for at least the next three Sundays and then it will be re-evaluated.
The online worship through LAUMC is not meant to replace other churches developing their own online worship, but only those without online capability or in need of some time to develop one. Please keep in mind that we are in an experimental stage of providing a conference-wide online worship service. We would welcome your feedback greatly for improvements.
If your congregation is considering canceling in-person worship services, please contact me. Also, for those churches that are continuing to hold in-person worship service, I recommend an article found in Hacking Christianity for suggestions of do's and don’t's. Here is the link. As I write this letter, an Executive Order just signed by Governor Gavin Newsom today includes an ordinance of keeping six feet of space between each person in large gatherings.
Finally, if you are a pastor and are concerned about your own vulnerability to this illness, please contact me. I will work with you and your SPRC to determine ways for you to continue in ministry that minimize your risk.
Let us be in dialogue and discern together how best we can care for our communities. I am going to end with a verse from Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
D.S. Shinya Goto