Dear Friends, As we hear about cases of COVID-19 in our community, many of us are asking very important questions about how we can continue in our mission while protecting the health and safety of both church and community members. Our church is taking practical measures as we consider how to keep people safe, reduce unproductive fear, and move our mission forward! 1. Cleanliness and Disinfection The biggest thing here is to WASH YOUR HANDS! CDC guidelines say to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to ensure they are clean. We will also have hand sanitizer by the main church doors and in Allen Hall for use as people enter our building. We have asked our cleaning crew to disinfect all common surfaces when they come for their regular cleaning schedule. In addition, our church will be a hug-free/handshake-free zone. I realize this might be hard for many of us who are used to greeting each other with hugs and handshakes on Sunday morning, but in the long run, this will be best for everyone. We can still greet with smiles, waving, or elbow bumps instead. 2. Communication We will pay attention to communications for our local health officials, school districts, and government and plan to follow local closure recommendations. As of right now, all scheduled worship services will go on as planned. Our bishop, Ken Carter, recently posted a Facebook Live video here of his thoughts around coronavirus, and I was struck by one thing he said: "I don’t want this to be a time where the community so many local churches have worked hard to build becomes fragmented and becomes weaker. And so I would just say to you that worship is really important, and if you’re healthy, if you’re not in one of the high-risk groups... I encourage you to be present in worship. Many of our sanctuaries have the space for us to be together in worship and... there is something very important and central about worship. And some of what you hear on television, you are almost going to hear worship be described as something that is nonessential, and I would just say to you it really is essential. You worshipping in your church is really important." I would also encourage you to practice the golden rule when it comes to health: if you do not feel well, do not come in. You can join us online for worship if you feel you are at risk or feel sick. You can call the church office (813) 236-5931 or email us to share prayer concerns. Hold the church in prayer from your personal prayer closet. Don’t risk other people’s health. We will continue to email and post updates on our social media platforms. If you are not able to join us in person for worship on Sunday, I would encourage you to continue giving as you are able. You can give online here, or you can mail in your financial gift to the church. It’s important to remember that that giving is not payment for services rendered. It is a Christian practice, an act of faith and devotion to God. 3. Practice your Faith Pray. Pray for the health of friends and strangers alike. Pray against the spirit of fear. Pray that God would use this season to deepen your dependence upon and obedience to God, your delight in God’s presence, and your appreciation for small blessings. Pray for our church. Pray for our mission. For your kids, your neighbor’s kids, and for the village raising them. Especially if schools are closed. Pray for the vulnerable: the elderly, the infirm, those undergoing cancer treatments, and others with compromised immune systems, the food unstable, the housing unstable, those with limited access to clean drinking water, let alone hand washing supplies. Pray for those serving on the front lines of illness and disaster response including medical professionals, civil servants, caregivers, and custodial staff. And then pray again: pray for your own courageous faith in uncertain times. Read Luke 12. In this passage, Jesus directly addresses finding that balance between preparedness and worry. He warns against leaning too far into worry that you begin hoarding goods out of fear. Take a look at the supplies you have collected. Then ask yourself: what does this say about the amount of control fear has over me right now? Consider, how could you conquer fear by practicing generosity? Who around you could benefit from your preparedness? Have your local schools, nursing homes, shelters, clinics, the church, etc. asked for donations of hand soaps and sanitizers? You might consider making a donation.
Grace and peace, Pastor Tiffania
P.S. For parents and caregivers of children, here is a link to an article about ways to talk to your children about the virus.