As you doubtless know, the news around the COVID-19 outbreak is unfolding rapidly.
I would like to provide you with updates about two things that happened earlier today, and follow that with how we are planning to respond.
First, County Commission Chair, Brownie Newman, held a press conference this afternoon and announced that with the support of the other commissioners, he was declaring a state of emergency in Buncombe County.
This declaration is centered mainly on positioning the country to receive federal relief benefits when those are needed and available, in the event that hospitals and other medical facilities are faced with meeting unsustainable demands on their services.
Without mandating this, he also recommended that all non-essential public gatherings either be canceled, postponed, or reimagined so that they can be held online.
Shortly after that I met with pastors of all the area Presbyterian Churches.
We agreed that it is important for our congregations to comply with Chairman Newman’s request, both to help protect the health of our members and also to help “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19.
So, after conferring with Ken Murchison, our Clerk of Session, I wanted to let you know that we will not be holding worship in our sanctuary for the next two weeks.
I am also aware that many of us, perhaps even most of us, are probably feeling the need to be inspired, and to have our faith strengthened, during these highly anxious times.
So, I will be conferring with the church staff tomorrow to talk through the best means of providing spiritual nurture and support during this time.
To say that another way: we will provide a shared devotional experience of some kind on Sunday morning. And we will give you more specifics about what that looks like, and how to participate in it, closer to the time.
In the meantime, we are also asking all of our Ministry Teams to postpone any meetings or gatherings you have planned at church in the next two weeks (between now and Friday, March 27th).
We will reevaluate all of these plans on an ongoing basis and we will keep you closely apprised of any changes that we may deem necessary in response to the changing fact pattern of this outbreak.
Let me close by saying that church doesn’t just happen in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.
We can also practice church, and be church, by checking in with one another, and supporting one another during times just like these — when, together, we meet uncertainly with faith, anxiety with peace, and loneliness and isolation with love made real (even if it is not expressed in person).
Please feel free to be in touch with me directly if you have any questions, or if you have any concerns about yourself or someone else in the congregation.
We will get through this together! Of that, I have no doubt.