March 13, 2020
Dear beloved Federated family,
I write to let you know that, after much consultation, deliberation, and discernment, church leadership has decided to cancel both of our planned worship services for this Sunday, March 15, and for the remaining Sundays in March. As time goes on, we will evaluate how to proceed beyond March. For the time being, we still welcome commissions, committees, and groups to meet in the building, knowing that many groups may decide to suspend their meetings temporarily, and urging those who do continue to meet in person to maintain appropriate social distancing.
It is with a heavy heart that we suspend worship, but also with the deep conviction that it is right and necessary. These last few days have seen an enormous change in the way we view COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has now been declared by the World Health Organization to be a global pandemic. As I write, cancellations from nearly every walk of life are pouring in. The Cleveland Orchestra cancelled its weekend concerts as well as its upcoming tour; the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball have all called a halt to their games; the NCAA has cancelled all college sports for the rest of this winter and the coming spring; the Cleveland International Film Festival has called off its program; many colleges have sent students home and shifted to online classes; and Ohio schools, public and private, have been shuttered for the next three weeks.
On Thursday, I watched the press conference of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. He carefully acknowledged that the First Amendment grants religious institutions the freedom to make their own decisions. At the same time, though, he eloquently reminded us that our first responsibility is to honor each other and to keep each other safe. Many of our fellow citizens are undoubtedly carriers for the virus. Larger-scale gatherings are potential breeding grounds for COVID-19. In an attempt not to overwhelm our health-care facilities, authorities are urging us to do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus. One of the great keys to limiting the spread of the virus is “social distancing”—providing physical space for people and minimizing the contact we have with each other. As a church that takes its responsibility to the common good enormously seriously, we feel it is incumbent on us to stem the possibilities for sharing the virus and inadvertently contributing to the worsening of the pandemic.
Even without being able to worship in person, it is vital that we continue to give ourselves into the hands of God and to look for God’s direction and sustenance during this crisis. In that vein, I will be recording a meditation to be uploaded to Federated’s website for this weekend. We will hear scripture and be directed to keep our eyes and hearts on God. That meditation will be made available by Saturday afternoon on the sermon blog of the church’s website (https://fedchurch.org/blog/). In addition, for those who would like to keep up with their financial pledges, remember that online giving is available on the website (https://fedchurch.org/giving/). You may contact Janis Stefanchik at email@example.com for help.
Even with these cancellations, it’s crucial to remember that we are still and always a rich and caring community of Christ’s people. God is holding us close even, and we would say especially, when contagion and fear and panic strike. We are people who are bathed in grace.
Not only that, but, as servants of God, we might always be asking ourselves: Where are there needs in the church family that we might meet? How can we connect with and support each other during this period when we won’t be gathering as a congregation?
In all this, let me remind you that I hold you in my heart. And God holds you in the divine heart. And finally, we live with the unshakable conviction that, as Julian of Norwich so simply and eloquently put it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
May God’s blessings abound and give you a deep sense of peace.
Yours in grace and peace,