Dear Church Family,
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.”
The elders and I have continued to monitor guidance from the CDC as well as state and local health departments. While none of us knows how long this time of social distancing might go on for, we have seen recommendations that indicate it will likely take some time before the spread of covid-19 eases. On March 15, the CDC issued guidance to cancel gatherings of 50 or more people (10 or more if the people include those who are more vulnerable) for 8 weeks. The next day, the recommendation was to limit any gathering to 10 people. Since then, Philadelphia and surrounding counties have been placed under a “Stay at Home” order, meaning we are to stay at home (no gatherings at all), except for essential/life-sustaining purposes. While our governor has classified religious institutions as “life-sustaining” (indeed, it is our faith that sustains us in these times), we believe it would be irresponsible to gather in person. We continue to believe that the best way we can love our neighbor—caring for one another as well as our wider community—is to continue to gather only virtually. At this time, the session has decided to extend our online-only time through at least the month of April.
I would encourage you to find a space in your home that you can make your regular “church space.” You might want to arrange a space with some candles or other symbols that remind you of God’s presence with us. If you have children, you might let them choose your family’s “church space” and ask them how they’d like to set it up with reminders of God’s love and presence with us. Ask them why they chose the space and elements they chose. You might arrange some rocks as a reminder that God is our rock or as a connection with the ancient practice of building a cairn, a stack of rocks marking a place where God’s presence has been experienced. Perhaps you have a cross or another meaningful symbol of your faith you could set out.
Our worship committee will be sending out more information in the next week about how we will celebrate Palm Sunday and Holy Week together. Our session has determined that we will still celebrate communion on Sunday April 5 and on Maundy Thursday (April 9). In a Presbyterian understanding of communion, the elements themselves are not actually changed, but rather as we celebrate together the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence. The Spirit blows where it will and is certainly able to gather us into Christ’s presence as we gather virtually. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has issued guidance supporting the practice of celebrating communion online during this pandemic. In order to celebrate together, please prepare your own elements at home—ideally, bread (or something bread-like) and grape juice or any “fruit of the vine.” However, please do not make a special trip to the grocery store for these elements. Use whatever you have at home, even if that’s rice and water. Jesus used the ordinary elements of a meal when he instituted the sacrament, and the Spirit is able to use the ordinary elements we have in our homes now to unite us with Christ and with one another.
We are heartbroken that we will not be able to gather in person for Easter. Our worship committee is working on plans for how to best celebrate together virtually. Easter bonnets made out of whatever you’ve got at home, anyone? I’m already thinking about how I could decorate my floppy beach hat and have a little fun in this strange situation. It is our sincere hope that we will have an Easter celebration (with breakfast, brass, and the Hallelujah chorus) whenever it is safe for us to gather in person again. We’re going to need a resurrection celebration then!
In addition to Sunday morning worship, we will offer a check-in and prayer service on Wednesday evenings at 7pm on Zoom. We’ll check-in with each other and say hello beginning at 7pm and a brief (~15-20 minute) service of evening prayer will begin at 7:30pm. I am also hosting a Bible story time with the kids on Mondays at 9:30am.
If you’ve joined us virtually, call someone who hasn’t yet joined us and encourage them to join us. You now know how to do it, so you can help them get connected (or connect them with our more tech-savvy folks if they need more help than you can offer). I’ve been learning more about Zoom, so I’ve now got a regular Zoom link/meeting ID set up and set as the church phone number (so it will be the same for any church gathering). This means you can save/bookmark this link and join any church gathering using the same link or the same call-in information.
Lastly, as you are able, please continue to support the church financially. Many of us are already giving online. If you’d like help setting up online giving, let us know. You can also mail checks to the church. Your generosity enables us to continue our ministry with one another, in East Falls, and beyond. In times like this, it is especially clear how much we need one another, need to lean into our faith and ground ourselves in God’s unchanging love, and need to reach out to love our neighbors. Your generosity enables us to continue BE the church even when we are not IN the church building.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of our elders if you have questions, are in need of support, or just want someone to talk with. I have found these words of the Apostle Paul resonating more deeply this week:
“For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11-12).
I love you all and I miss you. May God be with you until we meet again.
Dear Church Family,
“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous;
do not be frightened or dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
– Joshua 1:9
Along with you, the session and I have been monitoring the developments regarding COVID-19 (the new coronavirus). Things have been changing very quickly throughout the week, which is why I determined it was necessary to come back from my vacation early and to be here with you as we navigate these uncertain times. Last week, we followed the then-current recommendations from the CDC and local health officials by urging more frequent hand-washing, staying home if sick, greeting one another without touching, and other recommendations.
In the last few days, the situation has changed. We have reached a point where those measures are not enough and we need to practice “social distancing,” minimizing our contact with others and avoiding large group gatherings. Therefore, the session met tonight and unanimously agreed to close the building to all use for two weeks, through at least March 27th (including in-person worship, choir practice, committee meetings, and outside groups). By doing so, we are doing our part to slow the spread of the virus.
We have not come to this decision lightly or fearfully, but with careful consideration of what our call as Christians is in this day. Gathering together for worship is at the heart of our life together and we take pride in being a church that offers our space to the community. Also at the heart of our life together are the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is love of neighbor (those in our church family and also the wider community) that has led us to this decision. At this time, loving our neighbor means limiting our physical contact and proximity with one another in order to help slow the spread of this virus.
What does this mean:
In order to help us keep connected to one another even when we cannot meet in person, we are working to get an updated church directory sent out as soon as possible. I am available to you and am working with our congregation’s leaders to help us care for one another. Feel free to reach out to me or any of the elders with any questions you have. I will also arrange to host “Zoom Office Hours” or times to gather digitally while the building is closed. Links for those will be sent by early next week.
Finally, even though we are not gathering in person at this time, we still need your financial support to continue our ministry. You can give online through the church website (www.fallspres.org) or mail a check to the church. Your generosity allows us to continue to be church for one another, even (especially) in difficult times.
Every week, when the children leave to worship in their Sunday school classrooms, we proclaim together, “Although we worship in different spaces, we worship together in spirit and truth. Let us worship God.” Beloved, this Sunday, we will worship in very different spaces (though it is my hope that many of us will be in the same digital space), but we will worship together in spirit and truth.