Transylvania Presbytery recommends canceling worship gatherings on Mar. 15

Another presbytery – Transylvania Presbytery in Kentucky – is recommending that Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations in the region cancel church services on March 15 because of the coronavirus danger.

That recommendation, from general presbyter Philip Lotspeich and stated clerk Jerry L. Utt II and posted on Facebook, follows a request from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear March 11 asking Kentuckians to avoid crowds and large gatherings, and asking congregations across the state to cancel worship services this weekend.

Transylvania Presbytery has offices in Lexington, Kentucky, and includes 71 congregations in eastern and central Kentucky. The first confirmed COVID-19 case in Kentucky was from Harrison County, in the central part of the state. As of early March 11, Kentucky had eight confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The PC(USA)’s stated clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, said in a statement March 11 that church attendance is “an individual choice” and that the leaders of particular congregations are best suited to determine whether that congregation should cancel its services. The denomination also provided resources and guidelines for congregations interested in livestreaming worship.

The statement from the Transylvania Presbytery leaders acknowledges that “these are difficult decisions and we know that all of you will do what you believe is in the best interest of your church and larger community.”

It also encourages church leaders “not to minimize what is happening” with a “serious, potentially life-threatening situation” for those infected. The presbytery leaders said they agree with Beshear’s recommendation for canceling church services.

“Given the average age of our congregants and the determination to err of the side of health and safety, we humbly recommend cancelling worship for March 15 and then deciding from week to week, depending on the future spread of the virus,” Lotspeich and Utt wrote.

“We would also recommend cancelling any large gatherings your church may have including mid-week services until it seems prudent to resume. We’ve been told by experts and believe that these short-term decisions will produce long terms gains in limiting the spread of this virus. We also believe that by making these decisions now, we will protect the most vulnerable in our population from a potentially fatal or debilitating outcome, even if many won’t feel affected by this virus. While worship is extremely important to us, so is being a good neighbor and making sure we hold our communities in the highest regard.”

Ultimately, the decision of whether to cancel worship rests with a congregation’s session, the presbytery leaders said.
They also encouraged church leaders to “be creative during this challenging time” – perhaps using online video conferencing or live-streaming platforms such as Zoom, YouTube or Facebook, or sending out sermons and church bulletins via email.

At least three congregations in the presbytery do plan to livestream worship on Sunday, they stated:

The statement also stresses the importance of pastoral care. “Finally, at the end of the day, we have a deep call to care for people,” the presbytery leaders wrote. “Sending out prayers, making contact with those who are feeling isolated and calling/texting vulnerable members are all great ways to help stay connected while we address the growing concerns of this virus.”

Transylvania Presbytery is at least the second mid council to recommend canceling worship in response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus epidemic – both of them at least partly in response to the urgings of government officials in the region.

On March 6, the co-executives of Seattle Presbytery, Eliana Maxim and Scott Lumsden, sent a notice to congregational leaders that “it’s time to cancel worship” until further notice. That followed a recommendation of the King County Health Department to “cancel large gatherings.”

In an update posted March 10, Maxim and Lumsden wrote that“unfortunately, our area is still considered a hotspot with the Covid-19 contagion, with more people being diagnosed, hospitalized, and even dying. We particularly lift up our siblings at Queen Anne Presbyterian who informed us that a member of their congregation passed away Monday morning from the coronavirus. May God’s tender embrace comfort and console the family and church members at this sudden loss.”

That update also said some congregations are hosting online, live-streaming worship services on Sundays – sometimes partnering together to do so.  And it included some questions and answers on issues such as serving communion when the service is being live-streamed; holding session meetings; and what to do about youth mission trips scheduled for the summer.

The Office of the General Assembly announced on March 5 that it is delaying registration for the 2020 General Assembly, scheduled for June 20-27 in Baltimore, until at least March 24 to monitor the fast-evolving COVID-19 situation.

Nelson, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, on March 9 halted international travel for the denomination’s national staff, based in Louisville.