How do we gather as faith communities when there is sickness spreading? The coronavirus (covid-19) is gripping us throughout Canada, North America, and the world. People are stocking things like soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other goods, for fear of needing to live in isolation – not leaving their homes – for a good length of time. There are shelves in grocery stores that are bare! Our church bodies have released statements with best practices policies for local congregations to implement. (See those from Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Anglican Church of Canada, United Church of Canada.) The Lutheran World Federation has offered helpful words, and worship resources here. The Canadian Council of Churches released this statement. Local congregations are needing to take action. We encourage our membership to gather – so what do we do in times when it can be risky to gather? Here is an article about how some have started to take added precautions. In weekly gatherings for Christian communities, there are several places where we encourage physical contact: -a greeting as we enter the space (usually with an usher or greeter) -sharing the peace -passing the offering plate -holding a pew copy of a hymn book -receiving Holy Communion -a greeting as we exit the space (usually with the pastor) So what do we do? Here are some ways in which we might address this situation, and avert further virus transmission: -greet and share the peace with an ‘elbow bump,’ or using sign-language -project words on a screen to avoid using shared hymn-books (this publisher is offering some ways of avoiding transmission by sharing books) -do not use a common cup at Communion; individual cups can be set in the tray in a way that avoids transmission (see this pdf-file) -place the offering plate in a central location for people to drop off their offering before, during, or after the service -receive offering through pre-authorized services (like this one) or online (like CanadaHelps) -offer your worship service in a live-stream, or video-record and edit and post to a YouTube channel like this one later on -have servers distribute coffee for fellowship time so there isn’t potential to share germs on coffee-pot handles -consider “brown-bag potluck lunches” as an option so there is less possibility for transmission -make sure kitchen volunteers are prepared to receive and sanitize dishes properly, and wash their hands frequently And, of course, encourage those who may be sick to stay home. Make hand sanitizer readily available. Repeat the mantra, “wash your hands, don’t touch your face” We may despair at news we hear, but this article is helpful by reassuring us that “Pandemic means sustained and continuous transmission of the disease, simultaneously in more than three different geographical regions. Pandemic does not refer to the lethality of a virus but to its transmissibility and geographical extension.” Find up-to-date information on the Government of Canada’s website, here. (Wondering about how to identify symptoms? Here is a helpful article.)
**UPDATE** In light of the Prime Minister’s remarks on March 16th, it is advised that public gatherings be suspended, including worship services, in order to slow the spread of the virus. People are asked to stay home. We hold in prayer those who are sick and their care-givers and families. We may offer to go grocery-shopping for them, or find ways to help them get their needs met. This devotion offers prayerful words: “In a strange and unexpected way, we have been returned to the first day of Lent, when we journeyed with Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus himself has gone into a kind of self-isolation, not in fear of disease but in order to better hear himself and God, to be close to God and to test his own capacity for survival in the midst of trials.” Peace be with you!