A memo from the administrative council
The Administrative Council has discussed the ongoing public health crisis known as the Coronavirus (COVID-19). In an effort to be proactive and to educate our members and implement a strategy to limit the exposure and transmission of the Coronavirus the following actions have been taken:
In the event that BCPS (Baltimore County Public Schools) should determine to suspend classes to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, the following CUMC programs will be suspended until classes resume:
- Sunday Nursery Program
- All Scout programs
- This includes both Girl and Boy Scouts and all related programs
- Sunday School Educational programs
- All Middle and High School Youth programs and activities
- Catonsville Nursery Co-Op
In addition, the church will increase the frequency and scope of church cleaning efforts to include:
- Handrails and elevator button
- Door knobs and handles
We ask that everyone use and encourage all guests and attendees to use the hand sanitizer that will be made available in restrooms and upon entering the sanctuary.
Lastly, it has been deemed necessary to postpone the following spring events:
- The Annual United Methodist Men’s Spaghetti Dinner
- The Rummage Sale
The Administrative Council does not arrive at this decision lightly and hopes that our membership understands that these decisions have been made out of a concern for our membership and the risk that this virus poses to our church family.
At this time, Sunday services will continue on their usual schedule.
A Letter from Pastor David
Dear Catonsville UMC Church Family,
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The coronavirus news is moving so quickly that it is hard to keep up with. I would like to invite you into a time of fervent prayer for 1) protection from the spread of the coronavirus, 2) for those currently living in coronavirus hotspots, 3) for those who are grieving, and 4) for medical professionals and leaders. James 5:16 says that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Prayer is not a sufficient response to the coronavirus outbreak, but any response that does not include prayer is deficient. Included below is “A Prayer for Deliverance from the Coronavirus” by Pete Greig and 24-7 Prayer. I encourage you to make use of it in private and family prayer time.
Based on the information that we have available as I write this letter on Wednesday, March 11, it is likely that we will be directly impacted by COVID-19 in a number of ways, in the weeks and months to come. I am not an alarmist, yet the governments of the world are preparing and reacting in ways that are perhaps unprecedented in our lifetimes. To inform our prayers and preparations, two “bad” scenarios seem increasingly probable. The first scenario is that of continued and increased community spread, with very significant impact, particularly upon those who are elderly or otherwise vulnerable. The second is a widespread, mandatory (governmentally imposed) quarantine or restriction of travel, as has happened in relatively permissive forms in Italy and New Rochelle, NY, or in a more severe form, such as happened in Wuhan, China. Such mandatory quarantines appear to be an effective if drastic response to the virus. Either way we are likely entering a season where either by mandate or simply by wisdom, many will be spending a lot of time at home.
For those who are young, healthy, financially stable, and prepared, such scenarios may merely cause inconvenience. For others, they could bring great financial and physical hardship, severe illness or even death.
How should we think about these things as Christians? How should we respond if things really do get bad? I am encouraging us to use both sober judgment and wisdom in preparing physically and spiritually. The CDC is a good resource for appropriate physical preparations. I would like to offer some thoughts for spiritual preparation.
We are wise to see what both the bible and the history of our faith have to say, as widespread diseases have happened many times in the history of God’s people. These parts of our heritage are worth pondering no matter how this outbreak progresses as we seek to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Diseases and plagues are relatively common topics in the bible. Although I am not particularly comfortable with saying that coronavirus is God’s plan, the Bible seems clear that such diseases are sometimes God’s plan. Famously, when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave their slavery in Egypt, God sent plagues as a means to free the Israelites and topple the unjust regime (See Exodus 7-12). In the book of Amos, plagues are sent against God’s own people due to their unfaithfulness. The expected response was that they would turn from their sin and return to the Lord. “‘I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt…, yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord” (Amos 4:10).
This expected response is present in other places in scripture: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Over all, such hardships seem to have the effect of shaking us out of our self-sufficiency in order that we might turn to God. Pandemics and other natural disasters are no respecters of persons, having a great equalizing effect on humanity. For those who are very accustomed to being self-reliant, this can come as quite a shock. Because of this, God is able to use situations such as these to remind us of our mortality and to expose the vulnerability of our reliance on money and good health. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The early church was faced with several devastating epidemics as well. By learning from their situation and response, we can become more prepared spiritually to face whatever comes our way. In A.D. 165, there was an epidemic (likely smallpox) that devastated the Roman Empire. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the entire population died. A similar epidemic (likely measles) further devastated the empire in A.D. 251. Early church fathers believed that these epidemics actually played a major role in the growth of Christianity within the empire. Not only were early Christians better able to cope with the disasters than their pagan/Hellenistic neighbors, but their mutual service and solidarity, perhaps together with some miraculous provision from God, meant that they actually experienced significantly higher rates of survival. Furthermore, the Christian social witness at the time was profound. While most non-Christians fled the hotspots of infection if they were able, Christians frequently stayed behind and cared for the dying. After the epidemic in A.D. 251, Dionysius Bishop of Alexandria wrote:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger; they took charge of the sick, attending every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.
Contrast this with the account of their non-Christian neighbors:
The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the suffers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.
Crises of plagues and epidemics expose what is usually hidden within our hearts. We must resolve in our hearts before a crisis that the elderly are worthy of protection and dignity, no matter how frail or vulnerable they are. Less critically, we must also resolve not to be people who wrestle the last roll of toilet paper from our neighbor in the store, but rather to be those who act generously and seek to look after one another within our community.
We may have a unique opportunity to witness to the world what the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ looks like when embodied. I long for our modern day church to be filled with the type of Christians of whom it could be said, “they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.” That, to me, sounds like Christ, who “has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Isa. 53:4). Of course, I do not expect that we will face anything like what the early church faced. In this teachable moment, however, I want to affirm that we have the same source of faith, hope, and love that they did. In Jesus Christ, we can act in profoundly generous ways because of the great love that he has given us and because of the hope that we have in resurrection.
Part of preparing to be a blessing to others means being informed. I recommend that everyone go to the CDC web site for coronavirus and familiarize themselves with the content there. In particular, please read about those who are at high risk for getting very sick. Even if you yourself are not in this category, you may have regular contact with someone who is. We must consider how our personal attitudes toward getting sick will affect those whose bodies cannot protect themselves adequately. You may want to make preparations as if you were at high risk.
Regarding worship and activities, at this time, our worship schedule will remain unchanged. The Administrative Council has decided that in the event that Baltimore County Public Schools closes, all children and youth activities will be suspended (see their included memo above for details). Adult activities will continue at the discretion of the leaders of those individual groups, given their particular demographics and concerns. For example, we have agreed that it is best to cancel the Senior Adult Ministry group next Wednesday, March 18. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed. If you have questions about scheduling, you can call the church office.
If you feel sick, please stay home. If you are in a vulnerable group, please stay home. For the time being, each of us will need to decide whether our desire for worship, prayer, bible study, and other activities outweigh the risk of infection and increased community spread. Sunday sermons are now available on our website, typically by Monday. Additionally, although virtual participation in worship is a limited substitute for worshipping in person, we are exploring ways to make live video of the worship service available online for those who must stay away or who choose to stay away. We are also exploring options for meeting online. Please “like” us on facebook to receive notifications for future live stream options. Whether you choose to distance yourself from public gatherings or not, let us not look down on those who make a decision other than what we make, or even other than what we would make for them.
Should you choose to avoid attending worship for a time, please also consider how you might continue to support the church financially through online giving or by mailing your offering to the church (6 Melvin Ave., Catonsville, MD 21228).
When you come to worship, there will be a few small changes. For now, we will not formally greet one another during our worship services. Although waves, fist bumps, and other low-risk greetings are endearing, it is reasonable for us to lower the risk even further. It will be difficult to find that new rhythm together, but I know that you understand the need, given our current situation.
We plan to continue to serve communion on the first Sunday of the month. Our evening service, which typically serves communion by intinction, will transition to individual cups and pre-cut bread for a season. Otherwise, the service of communion will remain unchanged. Please clean your hands before communion using your own sanitizer or using one of the several bottles in our sanctuary. If for some reason you are unable to clean your hands before receiving the communion bread, I recommend indicating that you would like to receive the cup only. Christ will be present with you still.
We have been frequently encouraged to wash our hands for 20 seconds. That just happens to be the time it takes to say the Lord’s Prayer. I encourage you to make good use of your hand-washing time.
Finally, let’s begin to call and check in on our elderly and vulnerable members. Those who need to restrict their travel may need additional assistance with shopping and other errands by those of us who are less at risk while out and about.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Yours in Christ,
Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to protect us from the spread of the coronavirus. You are powerful and merciful; let this be our prayer:
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57:1)
Jehovah Shalom, Lord of Peace, we remember those living in coronavirus hotspots and those currently in isolation. May they know your presence in their isolation, your peace in their turmoil and your patience in their waiting. Prince of Peace, you are powerful and merciful; let this be their prayer:
“May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Saviour, for the glory of your name.” (Psalm 79:8)
God of all Comfort and Counsel, we pray for those who are grieving, reeling from the sudden loss of loved-ones. May they find your fellowship in their suffering, your comfort in their loss, and your hope in their despair. We name before you those known to us who are vulnerable and scared – the frail, the sick and the elderly.
God of all Comfort, you are powerful and merciful; may this be our prayer:
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)
Jehovah Rapha, God who heals, we pray for all medical professionals dealing daily with the intense pressures of this crisis. Grant them resilience in weariness, discernment in diagnosis, and compassion upon compassion as they care. We thank you for the army of researchers working steadily and quietly towards a cure – give them clarity, serendipity and unexpected breakthroughs today. Would you rise above this present darkness as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in your rays. May this be our prayer:
“Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
God of all Wisdom, we pray for our leaders: the World Health Organisation, national governments, and local leaders too – heads of schools, hospitals and other institutions. Since you have positioned these people in public service for this hour, we ask you to grant them wisdom beyond their own wisdom to contain this virus, faith beyond their own faith to fight this fear, and strength beyond their own strength to sustain vital institutions through this time of turmoil. God of all Wisdom and Counsel, you are powerful and merciful; may this be our prayer:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (Psalms 46:1-2)
I bless you with the words of Psalm 91:“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (Psalm 91:3-7)
“Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1)
May El Shaddai, the Lord God Almighty who loves you protect you. May Jesus Christ, His Son who died for you save you. And may the Holy Spirit who broods over the chaos and fills you with his presence, intercede for you and in you for others at this time. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)