American Baptist Churches VT & NH are an association of local, autonomous churches. Unlike a Bishop or Superintendent, I have no authority over local churches. However, this does not impede the number of e-mails and phone calls I am receiving concerning the coronavirus pandemic and requests for guidance. After listening to national ABC conversations and the decisions being made by other national and regional church bodies, I believe the most responsible action is to suspend worship services, meetings, and gatherings for the next three weeks. After three weeks, church leaders can then reevaluate the crisis and prayerfully decide next steps. This is not a directive, but I believe the most responsible counsel ABCVNH can give to its member churches. I would also draw your attention to the American Baptist Regional Executive Minister's call for three weeks of prayer (go here). All of us can pray God will lift this pandemic.
I am reminded of 9/11 and how that one-day event changed history's trajectory. This pandemic will be a longer, more uncertain season. It will most likely bring about both good and evil, altruism and selfishness, isolation and community. Both our minds and souls are tempted toward anxiety and fear which causes us to fixate upon toilet paper and hand sanitizer as though such things govern our destiny.
I cannot write anything that has not been written on best sanitation practices or social distancing. I am not a creative techie, knowing how to utilize social media for the good of worship, caring, and community. But if I am reminded of 9/11, I am also reminded of praying with people in isolation; or those experiencing infectious pneumonia, tuberculosis, or HIV. Gowns, masks, gloves, and the heavy doors of isolation units are not only isolating, they are dehumanizing. Needed, but life draining.
Please refer to ABCVNH's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ABC.VermontandNewHampshire/ as a place for church leaders to share their plans, strategies, and decisions. Also posted on our Facebook page is a very good article from Harvard Medical School and links to the thoughts and plans of other church leaders. Please utilize this resource. Feel free to contact the Region office for any questions, guidance, or simple advice. Should any pastor feel the need to talk, reflect, or vent, my phone is 603-790-8044 (office) or 603-252-0477 (cell). I pray we can stay calm, close to Christ and not be overtaken by the crisis.
So I offer to you, my friends, that by the grace and power of our Lord and Savior, may we, in this new season, not add to anyone's anxiety, fear, isolation and illness. Cannot the Holy Spirit temper our impulses, opinions, and actions so we might not wound anyone? In the tumult of it all, we can live and speak as those who know the Christ.
In Jesus name,
American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire