COVID-19: Pastoral Letter

COVID-19 cases reported as of March 13, 2020 according to the Pan-American Health Organization (https://www.paho.org/).

March 14, 2020

Dear friends,

My, how things can change in a week! Since we sent our eNews out Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a world health pandemic (Wednesday), Governor Evers has declared a public health emergency in Wisconsin (Thursday), and President Trump declared a national state of emergency (Friday). Additionally, all Wisconsin public schools will be closed March 19-April 6, and local school closings may be even longer.

On Friday, the Wisconsin Conference of The United Methodist Church published a resource for churches which contains links to excellent sources of information such as the Center for Disease Control and the Wisconsin Department of Health outbreak tracker…

https://www.wisconsinumc.org/connections/conference-news/latest-news/5614-coronavirus

Current best practices for responding to COVID-19 discourage meeting in large groups of 250 or more, and encourage excellent hand hygiene, social distancing (staying several feet away from other people and avoiding physical contact), and self-isolation if you suspect you might be ill.

All of these are attempts to flatten the curve – to slow the spread of the disease and keep the maximum infections within the capacity of our healthcare system. In other words, the time to respond for all of us is now, before the sickness is rampant. For a good description of flattening, see here…

https://www.npr.org/815502262

So what does this mean for Onalaska United Methodist Church? James 1:27 (CEB) says, “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for widows and orphans in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”

Gotta love that turn of phrase (grin). While James is talking about having our faith corrupted by worldly values, we’ll go ahead and apply this to COVID-19 as well. Broadly, James advocates for a living faith that expresses the love of Jesus Christ we experience in caring for the most vulnerable among us.

Let me frame our response in terms of Onalaska UMC’s vision statement.

LOVE all people unconditionally…

  • Those who might be carriers should self-isolate to care for the vulnerable.*
  • Those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 should stay home. This includes the elderly, people with weak immune systems, and people with breathing disorders.
  • We will practice social distancing and good hand hygiene at church to avoid spreading germs.
  • In addition to our normal cleaning, all regularly-touched surfaces at church will be wiped down daily with Clorox.
  • Ushers will practice good hand hygiene in distributing bulletins.
  • The offering plates will be placed at the back of the sanctuary for you to deposit your offering. Or (preferably) use electronic giving.

PREPARE our hearts, minds, and hands…

  • Wash your hands with hot water and soap, or thoroughly scrub them with hand sanitizer, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Be patient and loving with others during the disruptions to our community.
  • Continue to grow in discipleship by reading Lenten devotions and participating in online worship.

SERVE in all the ways we can…

  • Can you volunteer to do shopping or deliver meals to those who are quarantined at home? If so, contact the church office. If you are quarantined and need someone to help, call or email us.
  • Stay tuned for other service opportunities such as packing meals for kids who aren’t getting a school lunch.
  • Need pastoral care? Let the office know and we will have Pastor Park, Bruce, Paul, or a Stephen Minister contact you by phone.
  • Don’t forget to give. The ministry of the church is more important than ever during this time, and we need your ongoing support to make it happen. You can give online (http://onalaskaumc.org/give) or request mail-in envelopes from the office.

CELEBRATE GOD in all we do…

  • Sunday morning worship will continue at Onalaska UMC on a smaller scale. It is our duty to praise God and pray for our community especially in times of trial.
  • Rather than physically coming to church, join us online for live video worship Sunday mornings on our YouTube channel (http://youtube.onalaskaumc.org). Please be patient as we work out kinks in this new technology! If the YouTube livestream doesn’t work, we will upload worship services Tuesday of the week following.
  • Find time and ways to pray for our leaders, health care workers, and those who are sick.

For now, the church office will remain open Monday-Thursday, 8:00am-2:30pm. Sue will be in the office, while Park, Jessica, and Paul will sometimes work from home.

Thank you for your prayers and patience as we do our part during this public health emergency. Historically, Christians have been at their best loving and caring for others during times of difficulty. That’s when our true religion shines through. Remember, we can do all things through Jesus Christ.

Peace and grace,

Park

Pastor Park

*OUMC MEMBERS HEALTHY BUT SELF-QUARANTINED

Two OUMC couples recently returned from a trip to Sicily. On the way home, they flew through the Rome airport just as Italy became a hot spot for COVID-19.

On returning home, both families decided to self-quarantine for two weeks, even though they have shown no sign of infection. They report they are well and resting up from an excellent trip. Two are continuing to work from home, including teleconference meetings with clients.

We thank these couples for modeling good self- and community-care!