Corona Virus Update – March 13, 2020

Beloved of God,

I give thanks for you, the people of God at Good Shepherd. I give thanks for the ways you are taking seriously how we can love our neighbors and care for the vulnerable in this time of a global health pandemic. I am praying for all those who have been exposed, infected, or impacted by this virus. I am also praying for each of you and your loved ones as you navigate the complexity of the uncharted times. 

On Wednesday night a task force of Good Shepherd members met to plan faithful and wise responses to the pandemic. Our task force is made up of Wes Anderson, Decorah and Dubuque VA Clinic Administrative Officer; Karen McLean, retired provost of Des Moines University who currently serves on the Winneshiek Medical Center Board of Trustees; Bob Felde, retired student affairs administrator; Elizabeth Kaschins, Luther College Professor and Reference Librarian Emerita; and Marv Slind, Luther College Professor Emeritus of History.

Our task force was informed by the guidance of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during the coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Tuesday evening. He recommended that it is important to make changes now in order to “flatten the curve of the disease by … trying to interfere with the natural flow of the outbreak.” Flattening the curve of the disease means working towards a more gradual rate of infection over a longer period of time. This reduces the number of cases that are active at any given time, which in turn gives doctors, hospitals, police, schools and vaccine-manufacturers time to prepare and respond, without becoming overwhelmed. You can read more about this here:

Dr. Fauci indicated that we cannot wait until there are cases close to us. We need to make preparations now. These comments guide our planning. We all have a responsibility to take measures that help to flatten the curve in order to care for our neighbors and protect the vulnerable.

            Our task force developed the following plan that has been approved by the executive committee of the congregation:  

PHASE #1 Encourage good hygiene, change cleaning policies, enhance food handling procedures. Encourage all people who are sick to remain at home.
We have done this. We are:

  • not shaking hands when greeting each other or sharing the peace.
  • encouraging hand-washing, hand sanitizing, and avoiding facial contact
  • not passing the offering plates and the red hospitality books.
  • sanitizing regularly.

PHASE #2 Encourage social distancing, no longer offer fellowship or gatherings with food.
We are now in this phase. Specific Recommendations for this phase are that we will:

  • continue to offer midweek and Sunday worship but encourage social distancing.
  • discontinue gatherings with food including Fellowship Hour and Soup Suppers and the potluck for new members this Sunday.
  • serve communion with bread only. The server(s) will stand in front of the altar.
  • discontinue hymnal use and print all worship materials in the bulletin. All other paper materials (Bibles, hymnals, hospitality books) will be removed from the sanctuary.
  • continue the practice of not passing the offering plates or the red hospitality books.
  • disinfect high touch areas daily.

PHASE #3 If there is a presumptive case of COVID-19 in Winneshiek County or community spread in nearby counties, encourage all teams and nonessential gatherings to meet via phone (or Zoom if possible) or postpone gatherings. Encourage all members who are over 60, have underlying health issues or are pregnant to remain home. Provide worship offerings with no human contact and offer online options for the community. Postpone Sunday School, Youth Forum, Adult Forum and Lenten worship. 

PHASE #4 In the event that the Decorah Community School District closes and/or faith communities are asked not to gather in any way, we will move all worship services online or via video. The building will remain open to the public; however, hours are subject to change. Staff will work remotely or in the building.

PHASE #5 If there is a known case of COVID-19 within the Good Shepherd community, the building will be closed immediately and cleaned by professionals. Working with public health, Good Shepherd’s leadership will follow guidelines for communicating with the broader community and mobilize a proper quarantine. Good Shepherd’s building will be closed and worship will be online. 

We are also working with the Social Justice Subcommittee to put plans in place to care for the needs of congregation and community. We will be organizing groups of people who are able to provide support for those impacted by illness and quarantines. Discussions are also taking place to offer food or resources to our most vulnerable neighbors in the community. We will be sharing more about these plans next week. For now, please contact the church office if you are in need of support and pastoral care and if you can help with care for others.

            As a community we are dedicated to caring for one another and our broader community. We trust in God who is with us always and who gives us the peace that passes all understanding. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1).

Peace be with you,

Pastor Amy

Here is a prayer provided by the ELCA:

God, our peace and our strength, we pray for our nation and the world as we face new uncertainties around coronavirus. Protect the most vulnerable among us, especially all who are currently sick or in isolation. Grant wisdom, patience, and clarity to health care workers, especially as their work caring for others puts them at great risk. Guide us as we consider how best to prepare and respond in our families, congregations, workplaces, and communities. Give us courage to face these days not with fear but with compassion, concern, and acts of service, trusting that you abide with us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.