PC(U.S.A.)’s Theology and Worship office issues pastoral statement on the coronavirus

LOUISVILLE (PNS) — Many people worldwide have questions about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), first detected in China and now in more than 60 locations internationally, including the United States.

Within the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website currently shows confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in 12 states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Florida and Georgia.

In a March 2 World Health Organization statement about COVID-19, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, said the number of cases continues to decline in China, with 206 cases reported the day prior, the lowest level since Jan. 22. The epidemics in the Republic of Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are of greatest concern, he said.

“We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures,” Ghebreyesus said. “Containment of COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries. With early aggressive measures, countries can stop transmission and save lives.”

The WHO statement makes clear that COVID-19 is currently considered an “epidemic,” not a “pandemic.”

The Coronavirus COVID-19 dashboard by country/region, managed by Johns Hopkins University, shows there have been more than 92,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,100 deaths worldwide. The dashboard currently lists 108 confirmed cases in the U.S. Six people in Washington state had died as of Tuesday.

A number not well publicized is the more than 48,000 who have recovered from COVID-19 in mainland China and other locations, according to the dashboard.

In this time of high anxiety, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology and Worship has issued a Pastoral Statement on the Coronavirus/COVID-19. The statement provides pastors and congregational leaders with guidance on how to talk to worshipers about the outbreak, as well as practical suggestions for passing the peace, shaking hands, embracing, and communion practices. Some elements of this statement are adapted, with gratitude, from a letter by the Rev. Dr. Steven T. Yamaguchi and Dr. Peter Mathies, who’s at Tokyo Union Church in Tokyo, Japan.

As the statement explains, “Leaders can demonstrate that they are taking seriously the facts of the situation and keeping the best interests of the community in mind. At the same time, they can model a response that is faithful, gracious and wise — trusting God in all things, remaining calm in a time of distress, extending compassion to those who are suffering, and praying for the healing of the world.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), recently issued a Call to Prayer, asking for healing of all who are affected in China and in all the places where the virus has spread.

“We pray for God to keep us alert to the threats posed by such a worldwide crisis,” Nelson said. “remembering the millions of God’s children who live in places where the availability of medical care is meager or nonexistent.”

The National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches shared its appreciation for the Stated Clerk’s Call to Prayer to address the Coronavirus epidemic.

“We wholeheartedly join you in your urgent call to cry out to the Almighty God and lift the Church to seek Christ’s healing presence in all the affected regions of the world,” the letter reads. “Your Call to Prayer was translated into Korean, and both English and Korean versions of your plea to prayer were disseminated throughout the Korean American congregations as well as the wider Korean Community.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has prepared the resource Preparedness for Pandemics. “It is important for faith leaders to proactively model protective health practices in congregational life, resist and renounce the racism and xenophobia at this virus’ geographic point of emergence, and make sensible plans to support vulnerable and isolated members of their community,” said the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, PDA’s director.

“In a time of crisis, strong and loving leadership in worship is a significant part of the church’s ministry of pastoral care,” said the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “This statement is an attempt to help pastors fulfill this role.”

For insights on spiritual care, see Light Our Way, an ecumenical guidebook provided by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.

The PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville has issued a ban on travel to countries under Level 3 travel advisory (currently China, South Korea, Iran and Italy). There is also a travel warning for countries under Level 2 travel advisory (currently Japan).

Updates will be provided by Presbyterian News Service as they become available.

by Tammy Warren, Presbyterian News Service