COVID-19 Coronavirus and Pearl PCA
Members of Pearl Presbyterian Church,
The session of Pearl PCA have been carefully studying and considering the ramifications of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on our own local church.
We will state up front in summary the changes that will be immediately instituted at Pearl PCA, then we will explain and give some rationale for these decisions.
1. We are discouraging any church members who have had contact with COVID-19 or who are showing symptoms in keeping with COVID-19 from coming to church. If you may be exposed or sick, please stay home and call the Pastor or one of the elders.
2. Evening worship will be cancelled for the next three weeks (Mar. 15, 22, and 29). The session will re-assess whether it is wise to resume evening worship again in the month of April.
3. There will be no Sunday School, Wednesday Bible Study/Dinner, Men’s Breakfast, or any other activities through the rest of the month of March.
4. The deacons will now be intentionally holding the plate in their hands during the offering time. Members will not hold the plate and pass it to one another.
5. We are discouraging any physical contact between non-immediate family members when in the church. Please no shaking hands, fist-bumping, back-slapping, or hugging. We are also encouraging church members to space themselves out from one another when seated in the service. Try to sit with an extra row between those in front of you.
In addition to all of these things we are also going to be carefully disinfecting and sanitizing all points of contact in the church - door handles, lights, faucets, etc.
Why would we, as a small local church, take such dramatic actions that could seem so draconian or dramatic? When we as a session considered how to respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus, two twin responsibilities weighed upon us.
First, Proverbs tells us that “the prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 22:3). The Shorter Catechism, Question 68 also tells us that “the sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” The Bible seems to be saying that if there are wise things we can do that will preserve life, we would be negligent as a church not to do those wise things. In other words, the above actions are undertaken out of love for the members of this church, and out of a sense of obedience to the law of God.
Secondly though, we also had to counterbalance this responsibility with the command of Scripture that we should “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). Our God commands us to gather together for worship each week, which in times of disease or plague can indeed, put us at some measure of risk. Yet at the same time it’s something that our souls need during such times. What good is living if we don’t have the words of life to minister to us and carry us through the hard times?
The result of weighing these twin responsibilities (to worship, but also preserve life) was a conviction that we ought not to completely cancel all worship, and yet that we need to cease nonessential church activities for the immediate future to be revisited at the end of the month of March.
1. Why cancel evening worship?
At the moment the best evidence from the CDC is that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to 3.5 days. If we want to worship in the evening we would need to thoroughly disinfect the sanctuary between the AM and PM services. It is our belief that this is not feasible for us, as we would need to be able to clean the hymnals and other things people come into contact with.
If we have morning worship and then leave the sanctuary empty throughout the week, when we return a week later any virus that could have been there will be long dead according to the CDC. It is simply not feasible, though, for us to thoroughly disinfect the entire sanctuary and hymnals every Sunday between services, hence our decision to only have one service on Sunday mornings. We feel that revisiting this decision again in three weeks will give time for us to see whether this method of social distancing should continue or whether we should resume evening services at that time. This is a temporary solution and are eager to return to our regular practice of evening worship.
2. Why cancel all the other activities?
The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is through “social distancing,” which means refusing to allow the virus to spread by person to person contact. At the moment the CDC is saying that preventing such contact is the most efficient way to suppress the virus’ spread. While worship is commanded for God’s people, every other activity in church is not. Sunday School, Bible Study, Prayer time, shared meals, WIC Group, Men’s Breakfast, and so on are all blessings, but they are not required by God. As such we are obeying the sixth commandment and preventing unnecessary exposure.
We do believe that it is important for church members to remain in contact with one another. Please call each other, visit with each other, ask how you can be praying for them.
3. Why change the way the offering is taken?
The most prudent way to prevent every person in the church from laying hands on the offering plate as it is passed around is to simply have only the deacons handling the offering plate. This is not ideal, but, we do believe it to be wise.
4. Why discourage physical contact?
The CDC says that physical contact is the most sure way to spread the virus. If the pastor, for example, was to shake hands it could potentially spread something every member of the church, as happened last Sunday at a church near Washington, D.C. where a pastor administered communion and shook hands at a service with over 500 in attendance.
The reason some states are asking churches not to meet for worship is because "social distancing" is a very effective method to keep diseases like COVID-19 from spreading. Studies and epidemiological experts are universal in pointing out that “social distancing” is the best practice to prevent pandemics from spiking. The best information we have says that the invisible nature of COVID-19 means that it will spread within a community and be contracted before anyone even knows that they have it. Social distancing is generally a good idea, and we can practice it as a church, to a degree.
We know that it is difficult not to shake hands or even bump fists. Nothing feels more difficult or insulting than to not shake someone’s hand! It is almost painful not to hug those we care about. We know of no greater way to express love. However, we need to change our love language. The most loving thing we can do for every person around us is to keep our hands to ourselves for near future.
5. What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
Don’t leave your house or go directly to the hospital. Instead, the CDC recommends that you call your doctor and seek their advice. If your case is not severe they will recommend you treat the illness from home as you might the flu.
From the perspective of the church, we want to help you. If you are asked to self-quarantine we cannot give you medical help but want to help you get supplies such as food or other necessities. Please contact Pastor Parker to update us, and especially if you find yourself in need of assistance. Pastor Parker would love to pray for you and offer you any assistance that we can.
6. I think this is an over-reaction.
We are sure that there are members of our church who believe that the COVID-19 virus is nothing to be worried about and that this is all “much ado about nothing.” Many believe there is a political angle to this virus. However, this virus does not care who is in charge. It does not respect borders. It only is interested in replicating itself.
Could all of this be an overreaction? We hope it is! We would love for us all to look back six months from now and laugh about how concerned we were the same way we laugh about Y2K. But if we had to pick, we would rather overreact as a session out of a motivation of love than to under-react and see our church become a petri dish.
It is one thing to think about such things in an abstract way. It is another to think of the faces and names of folks who could be impacted if we don’t do the right thing. We have prayed over these matters and have tried to make the wisest decisions that we can, but one thing that we have seen is that many churches are responding to these problems in a variety of ways.
It is a sin to be cavalier in these matters, according to the sixth commandment. It is not a sin to be careful. It is not a virtue to be afraid. We should be cautious when there is reason to be, but we should not fear. We have a duty to preserve life when we can, but we also have to trust God while performing that duty. In other words, we should trust God, but also wash our hands.
If you have any symptoms of illness, please refrain from church activities, including attending worship. We will miss your presence, but we make all sermons and lessons available to download on our website and in our podcast. Don’t endanger others even if it is for something as important as attendance at worship.
It may be that at a future point some high risk persons in the church (those over 70 or those with pre-existing medical conditions) will feel they cannot come to worship because of pre-existing risks or health condition, or other risk factors. If this is you, please reach out personally to Pastor Parker. He wants to hear from you, encourage you, and pray for you. Also, if you are concerned about leaving the house and need help getting supplies or food, please let us know. We would like to be of assistance to you if we can be.
Please pray. Not only are there sick and suffering people, but there are also other churches that are affected by these events; especially churches that meet in schools around the country who have been told they cannot use the facilities. These churches are under extreme pressure and need our prayers. Let’s also pray for the especially vulnerable among us. Most importantly, let’s pray that God uses the losses and crosses of this life to remind us that this world is not our home.
Do not fear. The right answer to these concerns is wisdom and caution, but not panic or anxiety. Jesus said, “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt 6:27). David prayed in the midst of physical threat: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” (Ps. 138:7).
We live in a cursed creation that even now suffers under the burden of disease and illness. There is coming a day when sickness and death will be done away with and thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). Until that day arrives, we live expectantly crying out, “Come Lord Jesus!”
The Session of Pearl Presbyterian Church
March 13th, 2020
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 (known to some as Coronavirus) is a respiratory virus that causes flu-like illness ranging from mild to severe, with symptoms of fever, coughing, fatigue and difficulty breathing. As of the writing of this message there are six confirmed cases in Mississippi, and that number is expected to go up rapidly in the next week. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) are working to detect, contain and limit the spread of cases in the United States and Mississippi.
This virus is spread like the flu, person-to-person by close contact and by coughing or sneezing. The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others. That is why the CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.
The current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing. COVID-19 differs from the flu in its severity. Current estimates are that COVID-19 is at least 10 times more lethal than the flu, which means we must take it seriously.
At the moment there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to it. The MSDH recommends the following to prevent its spread:
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water carefully. If soap and water isn’t available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.