Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter of the Sheppards and Lapsely

Sue Westfall

November 16, 2020


Dear friends,

It was good to see so many of you at the presbytery meeting last week. It was a robust and good spirited meeting even while addressing serious issues. I am sure we will soon be receiving our Moderator’s “Highlights” of the meeting for everyone’s convenience and information. Meanwhile, suffice it to say here that this presbytery is to be commended for your spirit of respect, collective wisdom, high functioning and openness to the Spirit. And I also want to say how delighted I am that, with my contract renewed, I get to work with you for at least another year. I look forward to all that the new year brings.

But now on to another, and somewhat delicate – perhaps even controversial – matter, though I don’t fully understand why it would be. I was awakened this morning to the radio reporting the latest COVID19 figures which are staggering. A week ago, the United States reached 10 million COVID cases but the more concerning number is that one week later the number had climbed to 11 million. One million new cases in one week. That’s the way exponential growth works. And with an 11% positivity rate it is estimated that every person who is positive for the corona virus will infect at least one other person. I was in a meeting last week with an epidemiologist who spoke emphatically about now being the time to redouble our pre-cautionary efforts, not relax them.

Remember last spring when we talked about “flattening the curve”? Well, the lines on the graphs are not curvy at all anymore; they are vertical. Here in Alabama our numbers have erratically but steadily risen since this whole thing began and November is now on track to be the worst month yet. Ironically, this surge coincides with more and more of our churches opening up their public spaces for meetings and worship and events. Like maybe the timing isn’t the best? Since re-opening, three of our churches have needed to shut down due to Corona Virus exposure amongst the gathered. (By the way, if you have cases of corona virus in your public gathering spaces you need to quarantine that space and those people for two weeks and notify as many people as you can that they have been exposed so that they can quarantine, too, or at the very least get tested.) If the SEC can do it, why not the church?

Friends, this is like the last sprint at the end of a race because, thanks to this administration’s  Operation Warp Speed, an effective vaccine is soon on the way – perhaps by the end of December. And, yes, it will take some months for people to be vaccinated and we will have some real protection against the virus but it’s on the horizon. The question is will getting there cost 50 thousand lives or 350 thousand lives? That’s why we need to remain vigilance now. God tells Jeremiah, “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” So I urge you pastors and sessions to make wise decisions through the coming six months to a year (as you largely have been doing) and let the church take leadership in bringing all the people safely through.

A couple of quick announcements. The Presbyterian Mission has produced a complete worship service intended for use this coming Sunday. It will be available on Wednesday the 18th at in case you want to make use of it.

Finally, you are warmly invited to join me and your colleagues this Thursday, November 19 at 4:00pm for our presbytery gathering for mutual support. I thought it would fun and useful to the whole for us to debrief last week’s presbytery meeting a bit. What we got right. What we could do better. How we all comported ourselves. In what ways were God’s purposes served. Would love to hear from you and if you didn’t attend the presbytery meeting, you can find out what happened. The link is

As ever in prayer,

Sue Westfall




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