There is no doubt that Covid-19 is now a fact of all our lives. Here at First Pres, the staff has come to a discernment that our previously-announced plans need to change. So please read what follows, both with care and with caring. Though our focus will be on programs, logistics and plans, what lies at the heart of it all is faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these things is love.
After consulting our Session and Deacons, and after receiving guidance from Governor Gretchen Whtimer, we have made the painful but necessary decision to close our building at 5:00 p.m. TODAY, after which time all church programs are cancelled through March 31 - except that we will be offering Sunday worship via broadcast only (see below). We will make a determination during the last week of this month about whether the closure/cancellation protocol needs to extend into April. Triangle Nursery is closed through April 6. All small group activities, outside events, field trips, and meetings are cancelled until that time. As far as outside local mission opportunities are concerned, of course, we cannot cancel the activities of other agencies or groups (e.g. Habitat for Humanity, the Delonis Center) outside our building that our members support - many of which have urgent humanitarian dimensions. For those programs, we ask you to contact the lay leader who represents that group for further information. We need to be safe in our interactions with everyone around us. If you are leading a Lenten study in your home, it is cancelled. Our pastors are not allowed into the local care facilities; so we will endeavor to offer pastoral care in ways that don't involve in-person contact - via telephone, email, etc. And, of course, we urge you to be in close touch with us - even closer than usual!
Most of our staff will be working from home, and meeting frequently via internet-based gatherings, and staying into close contact with one another via email and phone. The Church Office is available between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., Mondays - Thursdays; just call the main church number (734) 662-4466. Messages left outside those hours will be received. Please do not come to the building to see us. Your fobs will not give access to the building during this time. Only critical staff will be coming in the building. However, we are eager - even more than usual! - for you to stay in communication with us. And of course, we are all accessible by email.
Regarding worship — this Sunday, March 15, our service will be broadcast as usual: at 11:00 on WAAM Radio. To join us for the service, tune in on your radio (1600 AM) - or go to their website, waamradio.com, click the "Listen Live" button, and then click the "Play button" (a black triangle in a circle). The staff members who have been planning this service for several weeks will be recording it for broadcast - including music, scripture, sermon, prayers, (even a conversation with young disciples!) - in the hope that it will offer encouragement and solidarity, inspiration and joy, even in these trying times. We hope so much that you'll join us from the comfort of your own home. As always, the bulletin is available online and will lead you through the liturgy. We are so grateful to those who have supported our radio ministry so that we can provide this option to you. Rev. Rick Spalding will preach this Sunday, and several ministers will be present to guide us as we join our hearts to worship God, to seek healing, to pray for peace and health, and find unity in this particular way.
Going forward - we will announce on a weekly basis what will be broadcast and how the live-stream on the radio will be handled - so please continue to read the communications we send you so you can stay up to date. And, as we've all come to know by now, we may have to revisit these plans. But we are prayerful that the worst of this public health crisis will pass in time for us to celebrate a particularly poignant resurrection together in time for Easter. In the meantime - these are deeply strange and trying times, and there is real danger to all of us of contracting what we know can be a deadly virus. We are all unsettled with concern for those we love, and fearful for our own good health. But in the midst of it all, we worship a God who comes to us as the Holy Spirit, always present with us, no matter where we may be. We worship a God of healing and wholeness, who longs to meet our spiritual hunger, which never ends. That same Spirit unites our hearts in worship and in communion with one another no matter where we may be. We are each grieving the loss of various things caused by these changes and concerns. These weeks will not last forever. But, for now, we join our brothers and sisters throughout the world in responding as wisely and faithfully as we can to a crisis that affects, not only us, but our human family across the globe. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (29:11). We believe. And the Lord helps us in our unbelief.
God bless you, each of you. God bless us, every one.
The Staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor
The author of our Lenten Study book, Lent in Plain Sight, Jill Duffield, offers us this prayer.
Lord, in your mercy you healed those suffering in body, mind or spirit. We cry out to you now on behalf of those infected by the coronavirus. Heal the sick, and bind up the broken-hearted who grieve those felled by this illness.
As both infection and fear spread, we ask for courage and protection for healthcare workers risking their own well-being for the sake of others. We pray wisdom for government officials and those in decision-making positions. May they rightly discern what needs to be done to treat those already infected and prevent others from falling sick.
We know there are those in quarantine, afraid they might be exposed to illness, wondering when they will return to their normal lives, anxious about what might happen next. Comfort them with your peace that passes understanding and grant them patience during this liminal and frightening season.
Lord of all, we are intimately connected to one another no matter where we reside on the earth, and so we plead for healing, good healthcare, relief and wholeness for our siblings in China and in all the places where this virus has made its appearance. May our collective care, effort, resources and love bring an end to this epidemic. Amen.