Coronavirus: A New Kind of Lenten Fast
The Lord said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.”
It seems an eternity ago that we sent an update to churches on living in the age of Coronavirus (it was Friday). If you missed it, you can read it HERE, as most of the information is still relevant.
But we receive news just about every hour, with increasingly more stringent guidelines. Apparently there will be even more guidelines issued today, but as of last night, the latest message came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which “recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.” Additional comments from health officials include recommendations that people of all ages avoid physical contact and cancel elective air travel as much as possible; the city of Los Angeles is ordering all restaurants be closed except for takeout or delivery, as well as bars, gyms, and theatres.
This all seems extreme, especially as Southern California has seen relatively few cases—69 as of yesterday, though every day the number of cases is increasing exponentially. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti addressed this well, though. He said that of the tests taken in LA, 75% of the public tests were negative, and 96% of those who got tests through private medical facilities were found to be negative—evidence of the “worried well” among us. But even so, the time to take action is now, even if it feels early. If we wait until there’s a problem, he said, that’s too late, since the disease can be transmitted before people even realize they are sick.
So we are all in a fast of sorts—fasting from going out to eat, fasting from visits to our beloved senior citizens, even fasting from gathering in worship. As I contemplated this sudden interruption in our very busy lives, it occurred to me that this is an opportunity for us to take a sabbath mentality, relying on God’s providence rather than trying to do everything ourselves. It is also an opportunity to sacrifice our own activities in order to protect the most vulnerable among us, and to find new (old) ways to reach out to loved ones, such as using the phone or snail mail to send a card or two.
Many of our churches decided to curtail in-person worship services for the rest of March. But since the recent CDC guidelines go to at least MAY 15th, I would recommend all sessions consider how you will bear witness to the Resurrection without gathering in person. We are trying to be helpful by offering tips on livestreaming your worship service; there are several platforms but perhaps the simplest and most accessible is Facebook’s livestreaming feature. To get started with live-streaming click here for a helpful article. For some help thinking through how to plan worship services like this read this Sojourner’s article here.
I have to say, it was kind of fun surfing on-line worship services yesterday! I managed to attend three services, roughly simultaneously—all in my nightgown. Not only was it an opportunity to touch base with folks far away (it was Josey Saez Acevedo who invited me to Claremont’s service—from the Dominican Republic!) or folks I haven’t seen for a long time (from Immanuel in Los Angeles, my internship church from 23 years ago). It also showed me a bit of what God hears on Sunday mornings—I’ve often wondered what that’s like, having all sorts of people praising and singing at the same time. What surprised me was how lovely it was—one church seemed to sing a lot, so they often were the musical backdrop for the prayers and preaching of the other churches!
Based on my limited experiences, here are a few observations on livestreaming:
- Make it easy for folks to find you. The best was an email that included a link to their Facebook page, and the time when they went “live.” Of course, it’s also great to have the link on your church website.
- Have good humor about it—one church somehow put their phone at an angle so the picture was sideways! And monitor the comments, which can be poignant and hilarious. Knox Pasadena did great as always, with many folks and families on-line, including Bryce Little and Tod Bolsinger, and I was able to relay a prayer request for retired pastor Dan Newhall to Immanuel’s prayer time.
- People don’t need Facebook to view the livestream, but if they do have FB, they can add to the comments—which means if you account for the lag time, people can send in prayer requests! You will need Facebook and access to the internet (wonder if using the phone as a hotspot would work?), as well as a smart phone and tripod.
- Claremont did a “hybrid” service, which means there was a congregation on-site in addition to the Facebook participants—it felt nice to hear the responses of other worshipers (especially the kid who squealed with delight hearing Karen Sapio say “toilet paper” in church!). That might defeat the purpose of social distancing, but since most churches have at least a few people on-site to lead worship, perhaps at least they can be near the microphone.
- The sound—even when just using an iPhone—is surprisingly good, especially for your first time, but there are ways to improve it, either with an added mic (one church got a good price and advice from Samy’s Camera, and even a church discount), or by tapping into your sound system.
- If you haven’t signed up for online giving yet (or even if you have), you might consider registering as a non-profit with Paypal—they don’t charge a service fee, donors can use credit cards and even Paypal credit (for $100 or more), and they even issue tax-exemption letters on your behalf (you will get information on the donors unless they ask to be anonymous).
MARCH 17th CONFERENCE CALL
Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17 at 10:00 am, you are invited to join a conference call to share questions, concerns, ideas, and best practices with sister churches. If you have questions, you can call Ally Lee at 626.614.5964.
- Click here for the details on joining the ZOOM call.
- Click here for a video on how to join a ZOOM call.
MARCH 28th PRESBYTERY MEETING
Over the weekend, the Presbytery Executive Commission voted to cancel the stated Presbytery meeting scheduled for March 28th at Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. We will have to enjoy their hospitality—and great Korean food—at a later date. In the meantime, the PEC will schedule a special meeting to take any needed actions. The only substantive, time-sensitive actions anticipated are to concur with two General Assembly overtures:
Last week I referenced the overture on the Philippines, and if time allows, I will speak to the overture for ministry with veterans next week.
WHERE’S THE PRESBYTERY STAFF?
Finally, I was scheduled to be on vacation this week. Though I have decided not to travel, I will be trying to take the time to rest and do some housework. And I suggested to Ally that she work from home, which she will be doing—but you can always call or email her, and if you need to see her or go by the office, just check in with her and she’ll arrange for it. For the time being, we will hold future meetings via Zoom, and will plan to have this capability for our May 30th Presbytery meeting if needed.
As we consider life at home, may this be a time when we can be gentle with each other—and care for those who are most vulnerable, in body or in shelter.