Dear Reformed Church in America friends, members, and partners in ministry,
Many of us awoke today to the news of schools, sporting events, cultural and music events, and businesses being closed for the next several weeks. At this moment in our history, we find ourselves in the murky waters of an unprecedented health crisis. As our government officials, health agencies, and medical experts determine the appropriate responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus, we wait, many of us anxiously, wondering what the future will bring and how this illness will affect the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, the situation overseas continues to deteriorate. Brothers and sisters in Italy, Iran, China, and around the world mourn the loss of loved ones and grapple with a strange, new life lived in isolation from one another. We hold these people—and all those ministering to and caring for the sick and grieving—in prayer.
During times like these, many people turn to the church as a place of refuge and care. To be sure, the church does not hold all the answers to this crisis. To the ones who grieve the untimely and unexpected loss of a family member or friend to the virus, there are few answers that will console and none that will repair the loss. Some Christians will find themselves able only to sit on the stoop quietly and in solidarity with victims, as Job’s friends did when their answers to his suffering failed. Many of us turn to the Bible and its words of hope to God’s people.
As I look to Scripture for direction, I am reminded of Isaiah’s injunction: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NKJV). Although our situation is radically different from Isaiah’s people, it is helpful to remember that the prophet conveyed this message from God to a people who had been deported from their homeland, taken into captivity, and were living in exile in a foreign land. God’s words were meant to comfort the fears and encourage the faith of the exiled people in their distress. In case God’s people did not take heart with the first reassurance, Isaiah repeats three times: Do not fear. Do not fear. Do not fear (41:10, 13, 14).
God’s Word to us today as we grapple with a new reality in our own world is the same as it was to the exiled people of Israel so many years ago: Do not fear. Although we do not know the future and do not know what God’s plan is in this situation, we can rest assured that the God who accompanied Jesus through the depths of suffering on the cross is with us as well. God is with us in our anxiety. God is with us in our pain. Fear not.
As Reformed people, we rest in the conviction that the brokenness of this world is transcended by a God who is gracious and faithful. God has sustained his covenant people through war, famine, exile, and pandemics. And God will continue to be gracious and faithful to us in this current crisis. Over the past four centuries, the Reformed Church in America has been sustained by connections, relationships, and a sense of family. Care for each other is a hallmark of our denomination. Now, as well, I ask that you extend a family-like care to those in your congregation and in your community. Keep in your prayers all who have contracted the virus, are awaiting test results, or are anxious about their health or the health of a loved one. During this season of “social distancing,” make a special effort to care for those who would be uplifted by a phone call, a text message, a card, or an email. And hold fast to God’s words to a people in distress: Fear not. Fear not. Fear not, for I am with you.
Should we hold worship services?
The COVID-19 situation is different in every community; please follow the recommendations of your local health department. If you do cancel services, look for ways to stay connected. Some churches are livestreaming worship on Zoom or Facebook Live; others are meeting in small groups or house churches. For those of you just getting started with streaming your services, here’s a starter guide.
- The Super Basic, Low-Budget Guide to Livestreaming for Churches
- Get advice for planning your service with 9 Key Tips for Holding an Online Worship Service
How do we set up online giving?
If you don’t already have online giving set up, now’s a great time to consider it. This roundup reviews five platforms, including the costs and benefits of each.
What precautions are you taking as RCA staff?
To slow the spread of COVID-19, non-essential travel for GSC staff and missionaries has been cancelled through early June, and staff may choose to work from home in consultation with their supervisors. Any travel deemed essential requires approval from the Executive Leadership Team. Update 3-16-20: All GSC staff offices have been closed through March 31, with staff working remotely.
Large meetings and events sponsored by the RCA in March and April will be canceled or moved online. Staff are encouraged to hold smaller gatherings and meetings via conferencing software rather than in person. All staff have been told to stay home when they are sick. Staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who have traveled to high-risk areas must isolate themselves for 14 days and work remotely.
When working in the office, staff should use the hand sanitizers that have been placed throughout the offices, wash their hands regularly, and wipe down office and meeting spaces with disinfectant wipes or spray.
For now, we are planning to hold General Synod in June. We continue to monitor the situation and will make a final decision in April.
- Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus (Humanitarian Disaster Institute, PDF)
- Coronavirus resources on Faithward.org
- CDC resources for community and faith leaders
- Canada Public Health outbreak updates
Reformed Church in America