May 29, 2020
Dear Kirk friends:
This is a re-write of the COVID-19 update letter I drafted earlier this week. After reviewing the first draft, I found that I was restating the key elements of my April 29th correspondence, because so many things are unchanged: there is still a lot we do not know about SARS-COV-2; physical distancing measures, along with good hygiene and mask wearing, is helping to dampen its spread; and our Session is committed to focus on the health and wellbeing of our members and our neighbors, trusting that God will help us maintain and extend community even when we are unable to be together. If you didn’t read that April 29th letter, or the FAQ that went along with it, both are available at kckirk.org, and in any event both are worth the time to reread. (The April 29th letter follows this one below; the FAQ is available here.)
Health experts urge caution, stressing that this pandemic will not be over until effective treatments are developed, adequate testing and contact tracing is available, a good vaccine is widely deployed and/or herd immunity is achieved. These will all take time. Meanwhile our leadership is seeking out the best public health advice about the unique questions large gatherings (like churches) face when pondering how to restart in-person events.
Instead of just restating where we are, I want to suggest another important perspective for us to consider. How we, collectively, engage our challenges during this pandemic is critically important. We can look over these past few months with an attitude of melancholy regret that SARS-COV-2 has kept us all apart (and I personally feel that regret, daily), or we can put a greater emphasis on celebrating the good we are doing as a community together. While some debate whether church is “essential” or should be “re-opened,” we know that The Kirk never truly closed. We continue to worship faithfully, study regularly, serve lovingly, and check in on one another with friendship and support. We organized the making of sack-lunches for the hungry at Cherith Brook and gathered non-perishable items for the Grandview Assistance Program. We lifted up the accomplishments of our high school and college graduates and sent them off to their next endeavor with love. We gather for a vibrant worship service every week, from the comfort of our homes. Therefore, whether we are using new technology (like Zoom) or old-fashioned methods (like pen to paper, or talking on the phone), we are living into our calling as a community of faith, adapting where necessary so that we can continue our work.
This is about perspective and focus. I’ve been so very proud of our fair church, of all of you. To date, I’ve heard overwhelming messages of support for our ministry together, along with encouragement and inquiries about how you can pitch in and help. We all recognize the future is unclear, and so how we frame the present challenges and the future possibilities makes all the difference. Will we see this time online together a unique opportunity to show love and care for our neighbor, or will we instead describe our caution as fear and anxiety? Will we base our decisions during this pandemic on our core values (as found in our purpose statement–inviting all to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ, through worship, authentic relationships, and meaningful work together, and to promote peace and justice in the world), or will we be guided by an effort to “get back to how it was,” when we’re not able to do that? Can we instead see this time as full of joyful possibility and potential, as we work out our next steps over the next several months?
These are some of the questions our Session and our Covid-19 Adaptation Task Force is working on right now. There are three major topics of consideration at the moment:
1) What is the best course of action for the health and well-being of our members and neighbors?
2) What would gathering together for worship safely look like (masks, physical distancing, pews roped off or some outdoor gathering, curtailed singing, no direct interaction, limited attendance and possibly turning people away, and so on), and would that be a better experience than the online worship we’re able to offer now?
3) How can we harness the very real benefits of an online church when it comes to evangelism and participation by people who are not regular Kirk attendees but who have been active while we’ve been online?
The Task Force will be working to think through these questions in the weeks ahead, and I invite you to pray for them during this time. If you have feedback or input, send it my way (email@example.com or at 913.908.7302) and I’ll be sure the Task Force receives it. Meanwhile, upon their recommendation, the Session acted to keep everything as it has been through at least June 29th, meaning worship, classes, and fellowship will be online and our office will remain closed. Mail to the church continues to make it to us, voicemails left there will be regularly checked, and staff email addresses are available online at kckirk.org/about/staff/.
As we gather virtually, we ask that you continue to engage our ministries and share the word with your friends who might be looking for a community like ours. If you watch worship via Facebook, consider sharing it on your own page, or start a Facebook watch party when you get online. If you join worship live, say hi during the service using the chat feature. If you are unable to connect live, make plans to watch later. We post the weekly worship video on the front of our webpage at kckirk.org. Please let me know if you are having difficulty participating in worship or our church activities, or if you have any feedback or pastoral concerns. I’d be glad to hear from you.
Meanwhile, I am convinced that God is on the move, and that we are doing good and meaningful work together as a community of faith. I do not know where we’re headed, exactly, but I believe that we are making good decisions and staying connected with each other, and that God is enlivening The Kirk. I am honored to be a part of it with you.
UPDATE April 29, 2020
Dear Kirk Friends:
It has only been about six weeks since we’ve stopped our in-person operations as a church due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has felt like so much longer. For years, we have stressed that a church is made up of its people and its mission. This maxim is tested when we’re not able to be in our building. We miss each other, and we miss being together. Even so, I have been amazed by, and so grateful for, your flexible spirit as we seek to find new ways of being the church during this time.
I want to share an update with you about where we are, and what to expect over the next several weeks. There is still a lot that we do not know about the novel coronavirus. While the initial wave appears to be peaking in many places (aided by widespread home quarantine orders), scientists still do not know enough about the virus, understand whether those who have had Covid-19 develop immunity to re-infection, nor are close to developing a vaccine or treatments for those severely afflicted. Those over age 60, or with certain pre-existing conditions, are more vulnerable to severe forms of this disease, but it can affect healthy, younger people too. Social distancing has worked, in that the feared inundation of our hospital system has not happened, but we do not know if the disease will taper off after we start easing up on these measures, or if there will be later waves of infections.
As your pastor, we’ve been spending these past six weeks reconstructing how we do church together: creating virtual platforms for meetings, classes, and social gatherings; extending our Kirk Connectors program so we can check in with each other; living fully into our commitment to service by establishing food drives for Cherith Brook and the Grandview Assistance Program, sending goodie trays to nurses at the VA hospital, funding our mission partners at the Community Assistance Council and Heartland Center, and much more; and trying new, vibrant ways of worshipping online, particularly during Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. This would not have been possible without the gifted staff and incredible volunteers of our church community, and your ongoing support and participation in this important work.
In many ways, that work of rebuilding our way of being the church continues. We will be guided by the legal requirements of city and county entities, the guidance of public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, and the recommendations of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We know that the most faithful thing for us is to tend to the health and wellbeing of our members and our neighbors, and to trust that God helps us maintain and extend community even when we are unable to meet in person. While local municipalities may slowly start reopening some business activity, they will still require safeguards to be in place, restricting proximity and requiring safe practices like masks and sanitation stations. Please be aware that our timeline at The Kirk may be slower than what is happening in our community, as we have a considerable number of attendees who are high risk due to age or underlying medical conditions.
The exact timetable for resuming activity together is not known at this point. The Session has determined that public, in-person Kirk activities will remain suspended through at least May 26, 2020. It is quite possible that this date will be extended, or that a return to public gatherings will be phased and limited at first. So much of what we ordinarily do will need to be re-evaluated, from worship to classes to social time to service projects and more, and we anticipate that we will need to be prepared for a “flexible return,” where we experience greater or lesser restrictions from time to time, based on what is happening with Covid-19 in our community.
The Session has established a task force to help us think through many of these questions. The C19 Adaptation Task Force (with Ruling Elders Susan Combs and Don Clardy, Deacon Judy Penland, and me) will help the Session understand the guidance of local authorities, our unique circumstances, and will help the Session chart a course through these uncertain waters. We will want to learn from what has worked well these past few weeks (including strong participation in online worship and our ability to continue service projects together) as we consider what adaptations we will need to make in the future.
For the next several weeks, we will continue to gather on Zoom and (technology permitting) Facebook Live for worship. We will keep serving our neighbor and giving generously to those in need. We will gather (virtually) for study and friendship. We will encourage everyone to check in on one another and to share the care and compassion of Christ. In short, we are still the church together: community minded, loving and serving.
I have attached a FAQ to this letter that might answer some additional questions, and I encourage everyone to review it. In addition, I am always available to receive your feedback, concerns, suggestions, or questions, by phone (913.908.7302), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or social media (facebook/insta: chadherring; twitter: @chadah). I would be grateful and delighted to hear from you.
Even with all of our challenges, as I look at our church, I see a joyful, faithful, adaptive and thriving community, rooted in the love of God, committed to being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Even though we are not sure what the upcoming months will bring, I am certain that we will face it well, with God’s help.
May you have a joyous, faithful Eastertide.
March 18th, 2020
Dear Kirk Friends:
This has been such a stressful time for all of us, for our neighbors and for the communities we call home. Our purpose as a church is to welcome all to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ, through worship, authentic relationships, and meaningful work together, and to pursue peace and justice in the world. As your pastor, I cannot help but watch the expanding effects of this pandemic through this calling. How can we invite people to experience God’s love when everything is so upside down? I’m convinced that The Kirk has an important role to play, to help ground us all in God’s values of love and compassion, and to inspire us to new ways of loving and serving our neighbor.
Everyone is having to adapt due to the coronavirus pandemic, and much quicker than we thought possible. The Kirk is no exception, and as we work through how we will adapt to these challenging circumstances, we are committed in our support of public health and medical professionals who are working to keep us safe, to “flatten the curve,” and to ensure that people severely impacted by COVID-19 can have access to the best possible medical care.
City and County health officials have urged everyone to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. This is to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and is particularly important for groups with those particularly in danger of severe infections. To this end, The Kirk session has voted to suspend all of our in-person gatherings at The Kirk effective immediately through at least April 6th. We are asking that anyone who might need assistance from the office to please email first or call, and we will try to respond through phone or email wherever possible. The session will be meeting (electronically) next week to consider additional steps that we might need to take.
I am currently out of town, but will be heading back home Wednesday evening. We are working on digital options for our worship, bible study, and community building opportunities. Committees and teams will also be meeting electronically, and it will take a few days for these plans to become operational. While not the same as gathering together in person, we are seeking to worship authentically and meaningfully together, even if we have to do so electronically for the time being. Please stay tuned for more communication about these virtual offerings, and help us by calling or texting your church friends and staying in touch with one another. Your ongoing support for our work together, through your patience, your engagement, and your encouragement, will be important as we seek to weather this pandemic and do our part to help our neighbors.
If you have questions, concerns, or pastoral needs, please contact me by email (email@example.com) or phone at your convenience.
March 12th, 2020
Dear Kirk Friends:
We hope that this letter finds you safe and well. As we continue to watch the reports surrounding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we are having conversations about what effect this has on our church life. Our Session and staff will be regularly evaluating the recommendations from the Missouri and Kansas departments of health and our cleaning staff is doing a good job all over our church complex.
We plan to continue to meet, but we will be taking some precautions:
The most important thing we can do is simple practices that we should do every cold and flu season:
For spiritual practices: sing the Doxology (Praise God from whom all blessings flow), say the Lord’s Prayer, or take this opportunity to memorize Psalm 23.
In addition, we will be exploring best practices for communion, and there may be some modifications starting in April. Those who prepare the elements will exercise good hand sanitation and will wear gloves. The use of individual cups (our traditional practice) continues to be recommended over a shared cup, and we will modify Maundy Thursday accordingly. There may be other changes as well, including a temporary elimination of the broken loaf, in favor of using the pre-cut pieces of bread as currently offered. We’ll share more as we know it.
As we are a community, we are all in this together. If you do not feel well or are worried about being in large gatherings, please exercise good caution, and let us know if we can send you a DVD of the service. It is best to stay home in this situation, or if you are at heightened risk to serious illness due to the novel coronavirus. We currently post videos of the sermon each week, and are exploring how to expand this if necessary.
In the meantime, continue to check in on your Kirk friends to see how they are doing, and find your own unique ways of supporting the church (through prayer, contacting your neighbor, mailing in your contribution, sending thoughts of encouragement). If you have any questions or concerns please contact Pastor Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace to you, and thank you for all you do for The Kirk.