Pandemic Ponderings by the Transitional Executive Presbyter

April 20, 2020

Greetings, friends.

Yesterday I was privileged and uplifted to listen to about six outstanding sermons on John 20:19-31. Generally, you defended “doubting Thomas” and connected his need to see Jesus and Jesus’ response of “peace be with you” to the wearying and fearsome moment the world is in during this coronavirus pandemic. Powerful messages of acknowledgement and hope. Our pastors, musicians, and technicians are continuing to find many creative and effective ways of communicating the good news of the gospel to “melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of gloom away.” A much needed word in these grim and tender circumstances.

And now there is an increasing push to open back up the country. This presents the church with at least two questions. One is more immediate. The other more long-term. The more immediate question is when to open back up the church for physical gatherings once state restrictions have lifted. In the next few weeks, the state of Alabama is set to release guidelines for the gradual reopening of the economy.  But the state of Alabama is not our only guide. It remains imperative for us all to listen to the scientists rather than the politicians and to be guided by our faith-driven valuing of God’s beloved community. In talking with my brother, who is a public health doctor, yesterday, he noted three things that must be taken into account before easing restrictions should begin:

  • New infections must be fewer than the current number of infections remain that way for two weeks.
  • There must be widespread tests to determine who has already had the virus (indicator of “herd-immunity”).
  • And finally, as he said to me, “What is your stomach for death?”

These are some of the factors that will guide us and with which we must grapple in the weeks ahead. As Pope Francis said in a recent address, “Faith is not a light that scatters all our darkness but a lamp that guides our step in the night.” So we pray and seek guidance and in the meantime, stay home.

The longer-term issue the church will need to wrestle with is, “how will we as a church and a society emerge from this pandemic?” What has the church learned about itself, its creativity, its resilience, its core mission? This pandemic has exposed a great many evils of disparity, health care accessibility and racism in our society. How will the church lead in crafting a more just and life-giving future? I’ll take this theme up again so in the meantime I leave you with this provocative thought from Brene Brown. “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than that we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all humanity and the earth.”

Ok. That was pretty long winded. Now for some information, links, and opportunities:

 From the Living River Board chair, Rev. Jonathan Yarboro:  “On Sunday, April 19th, the Living River Board met via Zoom for its scheduled meeting. After a great deal of discussion, the Board voted to cancel its residential camp plans for summer 2020. The Board was unanimous in recognizing this action as the responsible step to take in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. The Board and its Program Committee will discuss possible alternative offerings for camp-like experiences. In the meantime, Living River remains open and available to families and small groups as a safe place to retreat to God’s great creation, either for project work or relaxation. More information will be forthcoming from the Board regarding the ever-changing face of Living River as summer approaches. Please continue to reference the Living River website and Facebook page as well as Presbytery communications for that information.”

Be watching later this week for a communication from our Moderator, Bill Stribling regarding the May meeting of presbytery (Thursday, May 21, 10:00am)

The Presbyterian Foundation has put out a very thoughtful communication to ask us to prayerfully consider what we will do with our stimulus checks. Here’s the link:

Ruling Elders, please check out this helpful piece by Dan Saperstein on leading your congregations in this time:  (Dan writes regularly in support of ruling elders for the denomination.)

The Presbyterian Children’s Home got a lovely write-up in the Alabama News Center on the extraordinary job they have done in keeping a residential center operating safely. Well done, Doug Marshall and board!

Looking for some adult education resources? Columbia Theological Seminary has teamed up with First Presbyterian of Atlanta to offer a course in Philippians led by Brennan Breed and Chris Holmes with selected Biblical scholars and theologians. It is offered as their gift to the church and it looks like it will be excellent.

Finally, I am continuing to host a presbytery gathering every Thursday afternoon at 4:00pm. Specifically, I would like to engage with you about the topics I raised in this communication. I look forward to our feedback! I believe my public health brother, Dr. Jack Westfall, will be joining us as well. All are welcome. The link is:

God be with you till we meet again,

Sue Westfall

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