Ceasing public worship

March 20, 2020

Dear Colleagues in Pilgrim Presbytery,

By now you would have heard that we are asking PPNA congregations to join with
Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics and others in a united response to COVID-19 virus. We
now strongly urge all congregations not to continue with public worship.

The health reasons are clear: we have many people at risk in our congregations, and
we need to keep them safe. The best medical evidence is that no more than 15
people can be safe in a gathered context. It is not enough to avoid touching, hard as
that seems: singing together is a high-risk activity, like sharing toys amongst children,
and many other things we do.

I wrote this to ministers and pastors knowing that this decision is up to each
congregation. We do not issue orders like bishops do. At the end of this letter is a
list of things you will need to make sure of if you do decide through your Church
Council to go on with worship.

I hope instead most of you will join the wider church in a different way of sharing
together. Strangely enough, the safest way to meet is like the first Christians did
before they had church buildings or public worship.

Because of that, and because we
are all caught up in the threat of this virus emergency, I am hoping we may discover
God’s Spirit renewing us in this challenging time.

Here is what we recommend in place of public worship on Sunday:

1. Beginning next week, consider organising house groups of no more than 8 or 10
to meet together in peoples’ homes at times of their choosing. Ministers,
Pastors, and worship leaders can provide simple resources for sharing in prayer
and Bible Study week by week; and people might invite to their house group a
(healthy) friend or two who does not attend Sunday worship.

2. Please appoint a roster so that two or three people sit at the church building at
the advertised times for worship, in case anyone comes along for prayer or
pastoral support. I have written a simple liturgy you can use or adapt. We still
need the church to be present for those seeking pastoral care.

3. Worship leaders with the ability and tools can make online worship resources
available for congregation members: podcasts, recorded sermons, live
streaming, video links.

4. Please manage all ministry work with care for safety, including pastoral visits
and prayer groups. This particularly applies to ministry in nursing homes,
arranging funerals, and special events.

We will think hard about how to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in ways that keep
the faith but also keep safe. Each congregation will work out its own best way.

Please pray for one another, and for the NRCC and our faithful leaders in those
remote and at-risk communities.

Pray for all those affected, including people whose
incomes or vocations are put at risk. Pray for those working towards medical
responses to COVID-19; and for cooperation and mutual good will amongst the
nations affected.

With prayer and creativity and faith, we will not only work through this time but
make it God’s time, discovering new joy as we care for our neighbours in love.
For those who do decide to continue with Sunday worship, here is a checklist:

✓ Disinfect the worship room the day before worship, or at least ensure total
cleaning of the worship hall;

✓ Provide hand washing facilities (running water and antiseptic soap) and hand
sanitizers at several points around the meeting or worship place. Ensure that all
people go through this hand washing process before entering the worship hall
and when they leave.

✓ Make sure every person who enters puts their name on the register book and
signs out when they leave.

✓ Provide a temperature gauge at the entrance to the place of worship, and
make sure all people are measured for their body temperature. Those who
have body temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius, should gently be asked to
go straight home and consult a doctor; the same for people with flu
symptoms, coughing, or shortness of breath.

✓ Avoid direct contact such as shaking hands with fellow believers; use
alternatives like bowing, waving, or greeting ‘namaste’.

✓ Sitting in worship needs a safe distance: people should not be closer than two
metres to be quite safe; this makes Communion almost impossible.
✓ Sadly, the medical advice is ‘Thank you for not singing!’ There is really no safe
way to include singing in worship for now.

✓ Replace collection bags with special giving boxes where people do not get too
close to each other while donating. Also, those who count the money should
use disposable gloves and not touch their face during the counting process,
before washing hands thoroughly.

Whatever you decide, know that God will be with us and with all in need.

Blessings to you all through our Lord Jesus Christ,

L Lee Levett-Olson

Intentional Interim Presbytery Chairperson / Minister