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Seattle Presbytery co-executives advise churches to cancel in-person Sunday worship

Some of the presbytery’s 44 churches plan to worship via live stream Sunday

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Eliana Maxim, at left, and the Rev. Scott Lumsden are Seattle Presbytery’s co-executive presbyters.

LOUISVILLE — Owing to the coronavirus, Seattle Presbytery’s co-executive presbyters are urging Seattle-area churches to cancel worship services Sunday, March 8 — and perhaps several Sundays after that.

In a letter posted Friday on the presbytery’s website, the Rev. Eliana Maxim and the Rev. Scott Lumsden say that “it is time to cancel regular worship.”

“Eliana and I, as pastoral leaders in this presbytery lament this conclusion,” Lumsden wrote, “but believe in our hearts that it’s in the best interest of our community, our neighbors, our parishioners, our family, and our friends.”

Seattle Presbytery is home to 44 churches and new worshiping communities.

The virus has killed 15 people in King County, which includes Seattle. County health officials have confirmed 71 cases.

“To be clear, by canceling worship, we come in line with the latest recommendations of King County Health Department to ‘cancel large gatherings,’” Lumsden and Maxim said in their letter. “We appreciate all the good work your churches have done to mitigate the spread of the virus, and know that many of you are taking precautions for worship this Sunday.”

“But if you’re asking for our advice,” the presbytery leaders’ letter continues, “we believe the more prudent path is to cancel worship until further notice. We do not know how long churches should do this, and if pastors and leaders wat to pray together or discuss long-term decisions, let’s figure that out.”

The two presbytery leaders cite the words of the prophet Jeremiah in their letter: “Seek the welfare of the city … and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

As of Saturday, many churches within the presbytery had heeded the advice to cancel the Sunday service, or to offer congregants a virtual service via live stream. Overlake Park Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, for example, posted a link to the live stream it plans to offer and a copy of the bulletin for the service.

The Rev. Becki Barrett

“We feel confident God is with us during this time and are eagerly planning virtual worship that is meaningful and draws us close to God and one another,” wrote the Rev. Becki Barrett, the church’s head of staff. “We will share instructions on how to send messages to us during the live stream and email prayer requests throughout the week.” Congregants without internet access are welcome to join the service via telephone, she said.

“We are working hard to find alternate forms of spiritual nurture and care to develop in the coming weeks,” Barrett wrote. “Our hope is to organize Care Groups to check in with each other and make sure all of us are connected until we gather again.”

Here is the advice of the King County Health Department regarding public gatherings: “If you can feasibly avoid bringing large groups of people together, consider postponing events and gatherings.”

If organizations can’t avoid bringing people together, the county’s health department advises:

  • Urging anyone who is sick not to attend
  • Encouraging those who are at high risk for coronavirus to not attend
  • Finding ways to give people more physical space so that they aren’t in close contact as much as possible
  • Encouraging attendees to maintain good healthy habits, including frequent hand washing
  • Cleaning surfaces with standard cleaners.

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