Pastoral Letter from Rev. Kelly Regarding Covid-19
I write to you in a time of national and international anxiety. The Covid-19/novel coronavirus is a public health emergency that reaches around the entire globe, and for many of us here at First Parish it’s a source of both uncertainty and fear. As with so many things that are beyond my all-too-limited power to control, I find grounding in hewing to what I know, in so far as I can know it. So here are two sets of grounding facts I can offer:
- Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization: This is a serious health risk. While the overwhelming majority of people who have contracted the virus have come through it alright, a disease that is this easy to transmit has to be taken very seriously even if it has “only” a 1-3% mortality rate. Particularly vulnerable populations, especially anyone with a compromised immune or respiratory system, are at much greater risk – and that should move even those of us who feel healthy and invulnerable. The safety and wellbeing of the must vulnerable in our communities depend, in part, on our choices and actions, so it matters enormously what we choose and what we do.
- From the history of our nation, our movement, and our congregation: We have gotten through things like this before. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, schools and businesses shuttered and public assemblies (including worship services) were banned. Nonetheless, our congregation endured, just as it did through the upheaval of the Revolutionary, the Civil, and two World Wars. We have tools to meet this moment that our ancestors could not even have dreamed of, and the advantage of their experiences to draw on. This does not mean there is no cause for concern, but it does give us good reason to hope.
As a true public health crisis, this is about all of us working together to reduce the collective danger. That’s about much more than just us as a congregation, but it also very much includes us. So here is what we are doing now, what we are preparing to do if necessary, and what I am asking of each of you:
Right now: in line with recommendations from local public health officials and in consultation with neighboring congregations and the larger UUA, we are continuing to hold services, committee meetings, and Sunday School, as scheduled. The biggest changes are that we are postponing special events (including the NAGLY potluck fundraiser originally scheduled for March 22nd), stepping up our disinfectant strategies here at the church, and adapting all activities to eliminate physical contact (more on this below). I recognize it is a challenge in a warm and welcoming community for many not to reflexively hug or shake hands. I hope that this can be an opportunity for us to engage creatively in finding ways to express our care and appreciation for each other without physical contact. I shared a few strategies on Sunday, and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so, but I encourage you to make this project your own. What sign of warmth and caring can you extend to another person – stranger or friend – that represents you, and what is in your heart?
In the future: we may be asked (or told) by public health authorities to suspend gatherings of 50 people or more – for which Sunday morning worship certainly qualifies. We will absolutely comply with this when instructed (and it could well be abrupt, given experiences in South Korea, Italy, and now the Seattle area). The primary reason to wait until the order is given, for Beverly, for Essex County, or for Massachusetts is that most of the collective benefit of stopping public gatherings comes from collective action. Suspending services while the rest of the community continues in relative normalcy won’t make a big impact on the progression of the virus. (But, by no means should you take that as a reason why you shouldn’t make the personal choice that is best for your own health – it’s just why we aren’t shutting down the regular functions of church yet. Again, please see below.) Right now, I’m studying what some of our sibling congregations in Washington state are doing to maintain community and connection and join together in worship online – to make sure that if and when we have to cancel in-person services and committee meetings, we have a robust plan for online worship and meetings ready to go.
What I’m asking of you:
- Please take good care of yourself and those you interact with, which includes washing your hands frequently and thoroughly (have you got your 20 second song picked out, yet?), coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your elbow, maintaining physical distance from others as a matter of course, and staying home when you are sick.
- I want everyone who is a part of our community – staff, volunteers, visitors, and others – to hear clearly: your health should always be the highest priority. I care about you and I want you to be healthy and well; if you feel a tension between that and something that you’re scheduled for or committed to do at church, please follow your health, every time. Let someone know you won’t be able to be there, and then let it go. We will manage; you are always more important to us than any particular plan or expectation.
- Please note especially that the CDC is recommending that folks with a particular vulnerability to Covid-19 (including people with respiratory ailments, suppressed immune systems, infants, and everyone aged 60 and up) avoid crowds. I know there will be variation among us in how closely that instruction will be followed, but I strongly encourage you to take this advice seriously.
- If you need something, please let me know: assistance in navigating sometimes difficult and conflicting public health advice, someone to problem-solve with if you find yourself sick, but without paid sick-leave from your job, or just moral support in a challenging time. In the still unlikely event that you are diagnosed with Covid-19 or seriously suspect that you have it, please let me know. Both because I want to be of help and support as your minister, and because it’s important to know if someone in our community is affected as we make decisions about the church as a whole. As with any other tender information, I promise confidentiality.
Opportunities to maintain connection: If, due to illness or proactive concerns for your own health, you cannot join us for worship, please know that an audio recording of the sermon is made available online each week, before the service is even over. It can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/kelly-weisman-asprooth-jackson/tracks The audio and the full text of the sermon generally makes it to the church website later that week, here: https://firstparishbeverly.org/service-overview/service-overview-and-archive/ I’m currently exploring livestreaming the worship service for those who can’t be with us in person; there are issues of both confidentiality and copyright at play. Somewhat ironically, if we have to suspend worship in the sanctuary, those become much less of a problem. Again, if and when that happens, you can expect instructions for how to join us in worship from your computer. Similarly, options for holding committee meetings and small group spiritual programming online will be made available. Finally, the church has it “closed” Facebook group, where some community discussion already takes place, and more may happen in the weeks to come. If you aren’t yet a part of this, but would like to be, please message me so that I can send you the invitation (sadly, that’s the way it’s structured): https://www.facebook.com/kellywaj
This is a time of great challenge and uncertainty, and no small amount of fear. I do not ask you to be unafraid; fear is an appropriate reaction to danger, and at its best it helps us to know that action is required in order to affect healing and change. Rather, I commend to you a quotation that I find solace in daily, from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “All the world is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear.” My friends, for you I pray:
May you be healthy,
May you be well,
May you not be overwhelmed by fear,
And may you,
Mindful of the consequences of your actions,
Participate in the motion,
That helps to heal the world.
Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson