COVID-19 Response

March 13, 2020

Dear Friends,

Over the past two weeks your leaders on Session have been working with key staff to make clear, timely decisions about how to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our aim has been to refrain from alarmism, but to remain at all times concerned about the health of all our congregants, including our greater Westfield community, and especially for our most vulnerable members and guests. With this in mind and understanding the role of ‘social distancing’ in preventing the spread of this illness:

There will be no live worship services at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield through March.

Please do not come to the church on Sunday.

This decision was not reached lightly. Over the past 24 hours, however, the landscape of this public health matter has made a seismic shift. The CDC has made new recommendations to help “flatten the curve” of spreading this disease, first among them is social distancing; it is for this reason that our live worship and face-to-face programming will be suspended through March, and this timeline will be reevaluated as time progresses. This is a really tough thing for church communities to do. We love each other. We spend time together. We worship together. Our sense of community is more than a value, it is integral to who we are. It is from this very good place that a number of people will push back and say, “but we’re not that far along yet!” I was in the same place yesterday. There are two things I read yesterday that I have not been able to get out of my head.

First, is something offered by our presbytery’s own Stated Clerk, Jeremy Campbell. In encouraging our local congregations to begin suspending worship immediately he had this to say about some of the populations most vulnerable to this particular virus, “The older and[/or] sicker people are, in my experience, the more insistent they are that if there is a worship service they will get there no matter what. In order to protect those most at risk, refraining from in person worship might be the smart thing to do.”

The second came from a mentor and teacher of mine from my seminary days. Dr. Shane Berg shared a theological reflection called Social Distancing and the Love of Neighbor. I encourage all to read it in full, but it is these words that capture the heart of why suspension of worship at this time must be done, “It is not fear or irrational caution that led [to this]… it is rather fidelity to Christ’s charge to love our neighbors and care for the least of these that compels us.” Part of loving our neighbors, especially those most vulnerable, is to recognize how our behaviors contribute to their good or not.

Our love of neighbor most commonly calls us to reach beyond ourselves, in real and often physical ways. In times like this, however, that same call asks us to forgo, to pull back, and to find other ways to remain connected. Our leaders and staff will be working this week to bring interactive forms of worship and programming to our community. Our worship life will continue, but in an altered way. In addition to this, your pastoral staff will remain committed to ensuring that, to the extent possible, we are all in connection with each other and that we continue our outreach and care of our most vulnerable members.

Peace be with you,

Jeremy