March 12, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
What a difference a day—or even a few hours can make! Earlier today, I sent out a detailed email, in which I outlined some responses designed to keep us safe during the coronavirus epidemic. But then I started talking with colleagues and with our Church Council. I also did some research, received news updates, and pondered recommendations from our bishop. Then I prayed. A lot. And as the day went on, I was surprised at how my view shifted 180 degrees! I came to realize that when we're talking about the health and well-being of our most vulnerable ones, it's better to err on the side of being overprotective, rather than failing to do enough.
At the heart of our Christian faith is the practice of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We believe that as the state of Oregon attempts to deal with the Coronavirus, one way for us to love our neighbors is to do all we can to limit the spread of the virus. We do not react out of fear. Instead, we choose to act with love.
So, after much research, prayer, dialogue with leaders of other local congregations, and personal "wrestling" (i.e., discernment), Zoar's Church Council has made the difficult decision to cancel Sunday and Wednesday Lenten worship services and most face-to-face meetings during the coming week. We will revisit this decision next Thursday, but you should expect that many things may be canceled until Holy Week. In this we are following recommendations from our Oregon Synod Bishop, Laurie Larson Caesar, which are in keeping with the advice of many public voices, including our governor and mayor, who are calling for social distancing. We believe that in the future we will not regret acting with abundant caution—but we could regret not acting cautiously enough. (Read the excellent Special Message from Bishop Laurie here.)
Caring for the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors requires great thought and balance in these times. The emergency warming center, which opens only on the coldest nights, will continue to serve our handful of houseless guests. We haven't yet reached a decision regarding the Tuesday night community dinner; while we want to continue to feed hungry people, we are weighing the high risk of infection. Please stay tuned for further information or call the church office for updates, as this situation is evolving rapidly.
It is disappointing to realize we will not be seeing each other face to face, but know that we will miss you and are exploring other ways to gather. Watch for further communication via email and Zoar's Facebook page, as well as on our church website. We will also be setting up a phone tree to inform folks who don't use email.
Pastor Michelle is preparing to make electronic gatherings available for worship and other purposes. Using Zoom, a video conferencing tool, we'll be able to meet, worship and work together virtually.
We'll gather virtually for prayer, Scripture reading, a sermon, and maybe a hymn. You'll probably want to prepare and practice using Zoom ahead of time, so see the next section below.
As a practical matter, we do encourage you to continue financially supporting God’s work through Zoar. Offering envelopes can be mailed to the church office or you might consider giving electronically, via the secure link at the bottom of our website, www.zoarlutheran.org. Online giving is easy, secure, and uniquely suited to today’s situation.
For the time being, our church office will remain open. We invite you to reach out to members who may become isolated and lonely. As a congregation, we will pray for each other and do our best to act with love toward all our neighbors.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Michelle Manicke and
Zoar Church Council members
For Detailed Instructions on How to Use Zoom
Prayer for a Pandemic
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
(This poem was shared through the NW Washington Synod Facebook page.)