Coronavirus in our community
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear… Psalm 46 1,2
United Methodists across the Greater Northwest Area,
News of the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) within the United States is causing no small amount of concern. While this is particularly acute in the Seattle area, members of faith communities across the country are asking questions about how this might impact the ways they worship and practice their faith both inside and outside of their buildings.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the COVID-19 virus is a danger to individuals and our communities across the Greater Northwest and especially in King County, Washington, where it spread undetected for some time. The capacity to test everyone with symptoms continues to lag behind the need for this testing.
Because of this, gathering as communities of faith may put people at risk of exposure to COVID-19. I am encouraging an abundance of caution in our churches, following the wisdom and advice of Seattle & King County Public Health.
Public Health Recommendations for Residents and Churches in King and Snohomish Counties, Washington
Yesterday the City of Seattle and King County issued temporary public health guidelines meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of exposure. Describing the situation as “a shifting landscape,” King County Executive, Dow Constantine discouraged large group gatherings of 10 or more people. This was later adjusted to 50 persons.
This morning, the Snohomish Health District followed King County in announcing that it is also discouraging unnecessary large group gatherings of more than 50.
Please read these guidelines as they are available online here:
As your Bishop, I am strongly requesting that pastors of churches and other ministries within Seattle & King County follow the recommendations of Public Health. These guidelines — subject to change as the situation evolves — define vulnerable populations, encourage adaptive practices in our work environments, limit the size of public gatherings, offer guidance for schools and those who are sick, and give advice to those seeking to remain healthy.
Currently, Public Health’s guidance means that churches are being asked not to gather large groups of people for worship, concerts or shared meals. Additionally, the serious nature of the situation means we should postpone celebrating communion through the end of the month and give special care to the cleanliness of our facilities. For many congregations in King and Snohomish Counties, these recommendations are an invitation to find other ways of being in prayer and relationship with one another.
Public Health Recommendations for Churches outside King & Snohomish Counties, Washington
If you live or work, or are involved in a church outside King or Snohomish County, I recommend that you begin now to develop plans for how you will identify and preserve the critical ministries of your local church when COVID-19, or some other disaster, arrives in your town.
Interim Guidance for Faith Communities from the CDC was released this week which every leader should take the time to review. A checklist produced several years ago to prepare faith communities for a flu pandemic should still be a helpful guide. Those who have received the Connecting Neighbors program produced by UMCOR may be a resource for churches who are new to this sort of work. A list of trained individuals will be made available soon along with other resources on the Greater Northwest website.
Encouragement for all churches across the Greater Northwest Area
It is natural for people to become anxious in the face of an unknown disease that shows no symptoms for many days after it has infected a person. This is undeniably a time of concern, and for taking precautions, but it is not the time for panic.
When health and life are at stake organizations must cooperate with the latest information and guidance from county and state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
We’ve set up a page on the Greater Northwest website providing easy access to these sites and links to several church specific resources which we’ll add to in the coming days.
It’s in times like these that people of faith dip into the well of their courage and persistence and trust in God. It’s time to do what we can to promote health and wellness and to make sure that we and the people in the circles of our care are safe and have what they need as we live through this season of illness.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Changes in Practice for the PNW Conference Office
In response to the recommendation of Seattle & King County Public Health, employees working out of the Pacific Northwest Conference Office have been given the discretion to telecommute through the end of March. The office is not being closed but the number of employees working out of the conference center will be lower. While we hope this will still allow us to aide and assist local churches as needed, we ask for your grace as we adjust to this measure.
We intend to follow this guidance for the month of March, but we will evaluate on a weekly basis and make adjustments as we go keeping a close watch on the situation.
If you are scheduled to attend a meeting at the PNW Conference Office over this period of time, please be in touch with your staff liaison. Where practical, we will be moving meetings to Zoom to limit persons travel into King County. Some meetings may also be postponed or canceled.