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03/14/20 – Pastoral Statement from PC(USA) Office

A Pastoral Statement on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

At a time of high anxiety — such as the global outbreak of coronavirus/COVID-19 — pastors and
other congregational leaders have an important role in setting an appropriate tone for the
church’s response. Leaders can demonstrate that they are taking seriously the facts of the
situation and keeping the best interests of the community in mind. At the same time, they can
model a response that is faithful, gracious and wise — trusting God in all things, remaining calm
in a time of distress, extending compassion to those who are suffering, and praying for the
healing of the world.

With these things in mind, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship
offers the following pastoral statement. These words may be adapted for an announcement at
the opening of a worship service or for other forms of communication, such as emails,
newsletters or social media.

• With reports about the spread of the coronavirus (or COVID-19), we want you to know
that the health of our community is of utmost concern to the pastor(s), session and staff
of this congregation. We are doing all that we can to stay current with public health
guidelines, follow best practices for hygiene, and exercise an abundance of caution and
care in responding to this situation. [This may include extra supplies of hand sanitizer
and facial tissue, new procedures for sharing food and fellowship, and other efforts to
keep church facilities clean and safe.]

• Worshipers are always encouraged to participate, or not, according to their comfort,
conscience and condition. Other worshipers should honor these decisions and refrain
from making judgment or taking offense. Folding one’s arms across the chest and
smiling or nodding can be a gracious way to decline physical contact in greeting lines or
other public encounters.

• The next two points may be included at the discretion of the pastor and session, according to current conditions in your community.

o Since passing the peace is a particular concern at this time, instead of shaking
hands or embracing, we will … [options include a verbal greeting, a unison
spoken or musical response, or other gestures such as an elbow bump, smile or
bow; see the link to “Preparedness for Pandemics” below]. This is another way
to express Christ’s call to reconciliation in the church and world.
o We have also modified our communion practices … [options include extra
precautions in preparing the bread and wine/juice, not using a common loaf or
cup, having only servers handle the bread, and different manners of distributing
the elements; see the link to “Preparedness for Pandemics” below]. These are
expressions of our care for the people of God as the body of Christ.

• Use common sense and your best judgment in protecting your own health and the
health of others. Reduce unnecessary travel, touch and contact to avoid placing yourself
or others at greater risk. If you are feeling ill or have recently experienced symptoms of
an infectious disease, we ask that you stay home from public events and/or keep a safe
distance from others to limit contagion. Even if you believe you are not sick, but are
coughing or sneezing, be mindful of the anxiety this may cause in others around you.

• If you decide to stay home from worship or other events due to illness, please find ways
to stay in touch — through prayer circles, small groups, ministry teams, social media, or
emails and phone calls. We don’t want to create situations where those who are ill also
feel lonely, isolated or outcast. We want to pray for you and provide other forms of
assistance and care as needed.

• Let us be faithful and vigilant in our prayer for those nations, communities, families and
individuals most affected by this outbreak, and for the medical personnel and
government officials seeking to respond. Let us resist and reject fear and suspicion
based on ethnicity or nationality; this virus is affecting people of all races and ages. Let
us be generous in supporting organizations that provide assistance and support public
health in our area and around the world.

• Above all, let us remember and rejoice that “nothing in life or in death can separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Brief Statement of Faith; Rom. 8:38–39).

For more detailed guidance, please see the excellent Presbyterian Disaster Assistance resource
titled Preparedness for Pandemics. For insights on spiritual care, see Light Our Way, an
ecumenical guidebook provided by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.

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Some elements of this statement are adapted, with gratitude, from a letter by Rev. Dr. Steven T.
Yamaguchi and Dr. Peter Mathies at Tokyo Union Church in Tokyo, Japan.
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PDF of the statement below…
“A Pastoral Statement on the Coronavirus/COVID-19” from PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship