The rapid change of events over the past 48 hours has left me feeling somewhat dizzy (metaphorically speaking). As more and more information comes out regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and the list of cancellations of cultural events, conferences, schools, etc. continues to grow, it is difficult to keep up.
While it is important to avoid panic and overreaction, I want to assure everyone who is part of the Grace Covenant family and community that we are monitoring the situation and are prepared to take prudent and necessary measures as advised by state and local authorities and medical experts.
Among the experts we are trusting is Dr. Jerry Jacob, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Penn Medicine (University of Pennsylvania) and the Director of Infection Prevention at Good Shepherd Penn Partners. Dr. Jacob is also a Deacon at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. With permission, we share part of a communication sent to Tenth Presbyterian earlier this week:
Dr. Jacob has recommended two categories for us to think about regarding the corona virus. The first relates to wisdom, and the second to mercy. When it comes to wisdom, Dr. Jacob lists six ways for us to protect members of our community from transmitting or acquiring the virus. First, he advises us to stay home from worship services when ill with fever or when we are experiencing respiratory symptoms (cough, congestion, shortness of breath) and instead to utilize the livestream. Second, we should wash our hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water is not easily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cleaning the environment around us is also important. We should regularly clean high touch areas in our church and home, such as tabletops, light switches, and doorknobs. Third, we should take extra effort to cover our mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If a tissue isn’t easily available, use your elbow to cover your face rather than your hands. Along the same lines, we should generally avoid touching our eyes, nose or mouth to prevent any germs on our hands from getting into our body. Fourth, we should avoid close contact with people who are ill where this is reasonable. This is not simply to protect us from illness, but to protect our loved ones who come in contact with us regularly. Conversely, we should keep our distance from others when we are sick to prevent them from becoming ill. Fifth, prepare your household by planning for ways to care for those who might become sick, especially those at higher risk for complications (i.e., elderly), and for emergency operations/closures at your work or children’s school. Finally, if the virus becomes truly widespread in Philadelphia, we as a church will need to consider cancelling services and/or postponing events.
The second category to think about is mercy. Dr. Jacob gives four suggestions about how we as the body of Christ should respond with mercy should we encounter a public health crisis. First, we should pray for those afflicted with the virus, for the healthcare workers placing themselves at risk by caring for sick patients, and for the Christians around the world who live in highly afflicted areas. Second, we should consider what support we can provide for parts of the country or the world that are heavily afflicted, including financially or materially. Third, we should combat potential stigma towards people from afflicted regions through our words and actions. Fourth, we should offer the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who are fearful.
As a Christian and an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jacob believes following these principles and practices will enable us to respond to this virus with wisdom and mercy, which is befitting for followers of Jesus Christ.
At this time, we do plan to hold services this Sunday at Grace Covenant as usual, at 8:30 & 11am. However, erring on the side of caution, and to give our Elders time to consider if there are wise changes in our normal practice, we will not be offering the Lord’s Supper this Sunday, March 15, as we would normally do on a third Sunday of the month.
We encourage everyone to exercise their own judgment and conscience when deciding whether to attend services, or whether to stay home. In particular we would advise those who are in the more vulnerable demographic – the elderly and the immunocompromised – to be especially careful, and to err on the side of caution. Further, we encourage those with cold or flu-like symptoms to stay home until symptom-free for at least 24-48 hours.
For those gather for worship, our greeters will not be shaking hands, and we discourage others from shaking hands as well; hand sanitizer will be provided throughout the church building; and our deacons, and others, will be diligent to keep door handles, surfaces, etc, wiped down with disinfectant.
For those who choose to stay home, we invite you to participate in the service by watching it via LiveStream, or encourage you to hold family worship. LiveStream can be accessed under the Resource page of the Grace Covenant web page, or by clicking this link: GCPC LiveStream. Special thanks to Tim Nargi, who diligently worked yesterday to fix a problem with the sound that accompanies the LiveStream and the recorded messages. The audio quality of the LiveStream should now be good.
Finally, I commend to everyone an article published this week by The Gospel Coalition, 8 Things the Coronavirus Should Teach Us.
If any changes are made, including any cancellations, you will be notified via a special Grace Notes.
Grace & Peace,
Dennis Griffith, Pastor