I first wrote to you about COVID-19 on March 13th; a Friday night from a hotel room in Wichita. That was my last out of town trip. In that letter that, I encouraged all of our congregations to discontinue in person worship and close buildings by the end of the month because of the danger presented by COVID-19. But things moved more quickly, pastors and congregations responded and within the next week or so, most acted and were worshipping on-line. It was amazing!
Since March 14th, like most of you, I have been home. That was before any stay at home orders from governor or the health department. Those orders quickly followed and now, Governor Kelly is scheduled to lift the stay at home order for the State of Kansas effective May 3rd and Governor Stitt has implemented plans to reopen the state of Oklahoma in three phases; those plans began yesterday. These orders are being lifted for many reasons, mostly important economic realities. But another reality is that the virus is still spreading; Here are the numbers:
Kansas now has 2,812 confirmed cases; an increase of 200 and 113 deaths statewide https://www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/
In Oklahoma:3121, confirmed cases, an increase of 104, and 188 deaths statewide, https://coronavirus.health.ok.gov/
I write to you with one request; STAY THE COURSE. Continue to refrain from in person worship. Even though stay at home orders are being lifted, confirmed cases of the virus continue to increase and now is NOT the time to return to our buildings and gather together for worship.
The physical closeness in our sanctuaries is risky. Even the simple act of singing a much beloved hymn could compromise the health of those gathered as droplets which can carry the virus can infect a neighbor. An unintentional touch, or hug, could do it. We don't know who is infected with the virus. Gathering for worship impacts not only those who choose to attend, but also whomever those who attended come into contact with. We have no right to impose the consequences of our choices and behaviors on others. In Kansas, five religious gatherings resulted in 85 cases and seven deaths from COVID -19.
We miss being together as communities of faith. I understand that. But remember we are staying apart to save lives. The lives of those we love, the lives of our neighbors, maybe even our own lives. How long will this last? I don't really know. Honestly, we are all thinking about everything differently, including worship. What I do know is that we are still the church, no matter how we gather for worship. What I do know is that the Spirit of the Living God still moves among us. I see it as I join you online for worship, as I read about continuing ministries in your communities and how you are continuing to care for each other through food pantries and mask ministries and calling trees to check in on those who may be especially isolated. I see it in the dollars you continue to give for Medical Debt Relief despite the financial realities in our two states; I see that you are making sure that those in your our own church who need help with technology get it so they can join worship; if food needs to be delivered, plans are made to do that and the list goes on and on. You continue to serve. And people from all over are joining you in worship; your faith is not bound or contained by your buildings. COVID-19 has not stopped us from being the church; in fact it may have resulted in our stepping up our game! We are still the church, no matter where we are or how we gather.
So for now, let's continue to do our part in helping to flatten the curve, helping the numbers to go down; to care for each other, our families, our communities, ourselves; that's enough for now. Let's continue to experience worship in new ways; apart, but together online, in small online groups, streaming, Facebook Live, YouTube, ZOOM.
LET'S STAY THE COURSE