To the First Parish Church Community:
Last evening we received word from the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, of which we are a member, that in response to the continuing spread of the Coronavirus throughout this region and the country, they are requesting that all 600+ of their churches postpone their Worship services this Sunday and next (March 22).
Though I am not prone to overreaction, I believe we should comply with the Conference’s request. It is simply the right thing to do – right both for medical, but also for spiritual reasons.
We must never lose sight of the fact that while the Christian path is about our own individual spiritual growth, it is never just about that. It is, and always has been, about the common good. And so while it would be easy for us to say that there is no need to postpone Worship, or take any other measures recommended by medical experts and scientists, because the virus has not directly affected any of us, it would not be the most faithful thing to do.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, widely considered to be the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, what matters most now is what he calls “flattening” the peak of the virus’s spread so that it does not overwhelm our medical system’s capacity to treat and overcome it with the least possible harm and loss of life. That “flattening” is something that all of us can, and should do what we can to contribute to, especially those of us in the Christian community, as it is one of the ways for us to carry out Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves” in this season of Lent.
Therefore, after consulting with Nancy Peterson, Moderator; John Round, Chair of Trustees; and John Feuerbach, Chair of Deacons, it has been determined that we will not hold public Worship this Sunday or next (March 22). We will however, conduct an “abridged” version of Worship that will be live-streamed at the usual time of 10am. Specific information on how you can access that, as well as how you can view it after the fact, will be sent either later today or tomorrow.
That “abridged” Worship time will consist of a Prelude from Herman Weiss, Pastoral Prayer, Scripture Reading (Matthew 23:1-4, 13-15, 23-28), Anthem from Herman Weiss and Rebecca Shrimpton, and a Message from me.
In addition, please know that we are at the point where it is not just Worship that needs to be taken into consideration. Therefore, and again with the guidance of lay leaders and for the sake of the common good, it has been determined that we will also be postponing all other “group” gatherings, at least through next Sunday, March 22. This includes meetings, classes, rehearsals, and unfortunately, the “Early Risers” concert being sponsored by our Missions Committee. We will reassess these parts of our community’s life the following week. We have also received word that the Open Door meal which we are schedule to sponsor next Wednesday has also been cancelled.
Regarding additional measures related to looking out for one another at this time, I have asked John Feuerbach to mobilize our Deacons for the task of keeping in regular contact with members of our congregation who live alone, or who have health issues which make them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Also, I strongly encourage you to contact the Church Office 978-526-7661 or me directly through email (email@example.com) or cell (908-477-5426) for any pastoral visits or assistance you wish, so that I can respond directly, or through the assistance of our Deacons or Care Team.
Lastly, please keep in mind that along with the physical and emotional effects of this pandemic, there will likely be serious economic ones for those who are hourly workers or living paycheck to paycheck without paid sick leave, available day care for students who must stay home from school for a period of time, or adequate health care coverage. Along with your prayers, I encourage you to consider donations to food banks (like the Open Door), or other aid organizations for people in these circumstances.
The early Christian leader Paul tells the Christian community in Corinth during a time of great stress not to lose heart because their struggles will not last, and in that time of struggle is an opportunity for them to grow closer to being the kind of spiritual community that God calls them to be. Let us do the same – for each other and for the common good.
Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea
First Parish Church