Dear First Presbyterian San Anselmo Family,
Grace and peace to you.
As I’ve been reporting in worship for the last few weeks, the Session, the Deacons, the staff, and I have been following closely the developments in the emerging coronavirus/COVID19 epidemic. We have been monitoring national and local health advisories; listening to the concerns and wisdom of our community; implementing precautionary measures week by week; and making longer-term preparations for sustained pastoral care, worship, and staff support. These are apprehensive times, and I’m grateful for the way that this community has pulled together and how we are moving through this calmly and steadily, leaning into the love for community that we have come to know in Jesus Christ.
Last night, the Session met and made the difficult but wise decision to suspend in-person worship for the next two weeks, as we implement new ways of sharing worship online. Additionally, the Session and the deacon leadership discussed the plans that the deacons and pastoral care team have been working on for some weeks now to enhance and develop new ways of staying in connection.
We want to share those plans for worship and connection, but first the Session has asked me to share a word about the Session’s discernment that led to our decision about worship. As you know, for the past few weeks, each day has brought new news and new health advisories. We have paid particular attention to the advisories from the Marin Public Health Officer. On Monday, the Marin Health Officer issued a recommendation that organizations cancel or postpone “nonessential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.” That recommendation supplements the existing precautions in place for vulnerable populations. Particularly, the Marin Health Officer has advised two groups – both (1) older adults (over 60), and (2) persons with other existing medical vulnerabilities – to avoid large crowds and to stay closer to home to minimize the risk of exposure. Our average worship attendance is 115, and for the past two weeks has been just under 100. More than 50% of our church family falls within these higher-risk groups.
Even with these official advisories, the Session’s conversation was hard. Folks expressed the centrality of worship to our life together. Folks expressed deep love for this community, for each other, and for the communities we serve. Folks expressed concern for those in these higher-risk groups, with some gently sharing what it feels like to find themselves in those higher-risk groups. At the heart of the Session’s concern is the well-being of our congregation and the broader community we are called to serve. In an uncharted world of epidemic that changes daily, the Session determined (by unanimous vote) that the best step toward community health is to suspend in-person worship to reduce the risk of transmission, while implementing new ways of worship and staying connected. We also view this step as something that our church family is doing in connection with communities all across the Bay Area, the nation, and the world. We understand from public health officials that our best hope for slowing the transmission of this disease is for communities like ours to make decisions like this, all of us together, while the medical community builds capacity to respond to the epidemic.
Here’s more on how we will move forward.
1. Worship and Meetings
We will not be gathering in-person in the sanctuary for worship the next three Sundays (March 15, 22, 29). We will, however, be making worship available online in several ways:
· We will continue to make the sermon available on the website for listening and reading. If you haven’t yet discovered the sermons on our webpage, they are fairly easy to find and access. There is a “Sermons” link on the upper right of the church’s homepage – www.togetherweserve.org You can click that link to find the sermons available to listen or read. The listening option is posted by Sunday afternoon; the written manuscript by Monday.
· We will continue to email out the written version of the sermon. If you haven’t yet subscribed to that email, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org sign up.
· We will also begin to “stream” worship online. We will have a small worship team leading worship (complete with preaching and prayer), with the “stream” (i.e. video) available through the internet. This week, we will stream the worship service on our Facebook page, through the Facebook Live streaming service. To watch the livestream, you will just need to visit the church’s Facebook page at our regular time of worship: https://www.facebook.com/First-Presbyterian-Church-of-San-Anselmo-247294265690/ The video of the service should start at 10am on Sunday. You can also view the worship service later by visiting the church’s Facebook page. Please note that this may require signing up for a free Facebook account; we are hopeful that if you click directly on the link in this email you may be able to view even without signing up for a free account.
For future Sundays, we will also be exploring other ways to stream directly on our website.
In addition to the plans for worship, the Session also adopted guidelines for meetings: For the rest of March, meetings should be conducted by phone conferencing or video conferencing, whenever possible. Phone conferencing will be the easiest; everyone will dial in to one phone call. We’ll be sending committee and group leaders the dial-in information by mid-week.
Please note that a number of events in the next few days have been postponed, including the Women’s Breakfast on Saturday, and our Sunday Reparations study (the Reparations team is already at work on how we will keep that vital study going!).
Again, this is the plan for the rest of this month. We will continue to monitor developments and community health advisories, and will reassess our plan at the end of the month.
2. Pastoral Care and Connection
As we move into new physical limitations on our ability to gather, we want to enhance and develop new ways of staying in connection. I’m grateful, in particular, for all the ways that the deacons and Martha Spears have given thought to this for the past few weeks.
We understand that, in response to the public-health precautions, folks within our congregation are starting to practice recommended healthy “social distancing” – avoiding group gatherings and staying closer to home. Please let us know if you are deciding to follow this advice and healthy practice, so that we can stay in communication with you. You can contact either your deacon or the church office and let the church know what your plans are. The deacons will be checking in regularly with their deacon “flocks,” and the pastoral care team will be focusing especially on calling and keeping in touch with those who are choosing to stay closer to home. We care very much for you, and want to remain in communication.
Additionally, by next week, I hope to have up and running a weekly online groupthrough the Zoom web service. Zoom is a way of conferencing through our computers and phones – either by video (if you have a camera on your computer) or by audio through your phone or computer. This will likely be a learning adventure for us all – I’ve been a participant in Zoom calls before, but haven’t yet “hosted” one. But I’m learning! Right now, we are thinking through how we can provide support for folks who want to participate to connect to the Zoom meeting (i.e., make the technology accessible and understandable). We’ll send more information about this opportunity in the coming days.
3. And a Word of Grace
Friends, that’s a lot to take in. This year, Lent has arrived with its metaphor of wilderness journey perhaps more vividly than we would prefer. Just a few weeks ago, no sooner had we entered the season of Lent than we found ourselves in uncharted territory. We are doing our best, calmly and steadily, to move forward together; to care for each other; to participate in and love the world around us; to be part of its collective work of healing; and to live, day by day, the lives that we have as a gift from God.
And we are not alone. We have each other. And always, always, we travel with the God who accompanied the people through the desert, with water from the rock and manna in the morning; with the Christ who brings streams of living water to all our parched places; and with the Spirit who dwells in us, empowering us to live lives that are healing and whole. Always, we travel with the God who loves us and the whole world. Always, we travel with the God whose goodness is planted in us and all creation more deeply than all that is wrong.
The Session, the Deacon leadership, the staff, and I are grateful for you. Please keep an eye out for future emails as we continue to stay in connection and find our way together.
Together We Serve,
Interim Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo