God is Still Speaking,

A Pastoral Letter

March 23, 2020

Dear Central Atlantic Conference,

Being faithful during this virulent pandemic of COVID-19, with the attendant fear and anxiety surrounding us and perhaps within us, means being called to be responsible to the God we serve and to those we serve in our congregations and communities.

Within the flood of information about ways to contain and mitigate the pandemic, it appears that the best strategies are increased testing and social distancing. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recommended that all gatherings of fifty (50) or more be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks since large events can increase the spread of COVID-19.

We know that many churches have already made the hard and perhaps painful decision to either suspend in-person worship or altogether. We know that these decisions were carefully, thoughtfully and prayerfully deliberated. We also believe that they were wise and ultimately faithful decisions.

In light of the growing number of cases of COVID-19 and the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic, we have recommended in an earlier communication to our pastors this week to suspend in-person worship for the next eight weeks following the recommendation of the CDC. We grieve this decision deeply, for we know this includes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. Yet we believe that this difficult recommendation is also wise and ultimately faithful as well.

With that said, we deeply respect the autonomy of the local congregation which is at the heart of who we are together as the United Church of Christ. If your congregation is led by the Spirit to continue in-person worship and other gatherings, we will respect that leading as well. However, we encourage you to follow the guidance of public health officials in your communities. We also will provide in our communications resources for creating online worship experiences and, beginning with today’s edition of Happenings, a listing of congregations where you may worship virtually.

Please know that however you and your church discern it best to navigate these strange waters, your Conference Ministry Team is here to support you. Do not hesitate to reach out to us with anything you need now, or in the days ahead. Take care of yourselves and your families. We need you healthy in body, mind, and spirit to be the salt and light the world needs in “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

These difficult times weigh heavily on us. Yet a story from Exodus comes to mind. The Israelites were in battle with Amalek. Joshua led the battle while Moses went with Aaron and Hur to the top of the hill. When Moses held up his hand with the staff God had given him for the wilderness journey, Israel prevailed; when he lowered the staff, Amalek got the upper hand. Yet later as the day went on, Moses’ hands grew weary. It was then that Aaron and
Hur placed a stone under Moses so that he could sit and rest. Aaron lifted one of Moses’ hands, Hur lifted the other, and Israel defeated Amalek.

May this story help you remember that you are not alone. You are beloved and cherished by God. Please know that your Conference Ministry Team is with you and your congregation, here to help us hold one another up however we can. By God’s grace, following the way of Jesus through this Season of Lent, we will get through this wilderness together. And we are confident that we will prevail.

Faithfully yours,

Rev. Freeman L. Palmer
Rev. Dr. Audrey C. Price
Rev. Marvin M. Silver
Rev. Nelson R. Murphy