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Update: Suspending In-Person Worship & Building New Ways of Connection

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 – 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 joannamagee@togetherweserve.orgto 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