March 12, 2020
Dear Follen members and friends,
Since last week, The COVID-19 pandemic has spread rapidly around the world. Our MA Department of Public Health has now advised that we avoid large gatherings. More information and requests from the Lexington Department of Public Health and Lexington Public Schools may be shared tonight via a live-streamed community forum. Our Safety team is responding to that request by moving our main large gathering, Sunday morning worship, to virtual online worship, along with some pre-recorded videos, beginning this Sunday March 15.
For links to live-stream worship and see the pre-recorded videos, and for more updates on many planned events, read the weekly Follen For You newsletter which you’ll receive soon.
What constitutes a large gathering? Some organizations say 150, others 100. Our Safety Team and I reached out to Dr. Jim Hellinger, a Follenite who is also an infectious disease doctor, and now on the Command Team for Partners Health responding to COVID-19. Dr. Hellinger advised to cap large gatherings at 50. That is 50 healthy, not vulnerable folks–the number would be smaller if it was a gathering of mostly elders or other vulnerable people. And, if the risk in our area increases, that cap on gathering size could decrease to 10. If we enter a quarantine/lockdown situation, we’ll have to adjust further and move almost all church interactions to online, zoom, and social media interactions for the time being.
Make good choices! As always, but even more so now, any church event is VOLUNTARY and if you are sick in any way, or have had contact with someone who may be sick, or if your risk factors are high, please choose to stay home and connect with Follen via our online offerings. I would rather our congregation take this action now than continue having large gatherings and possibly become a vector of infection, as we have seen happening due to congregational gatherings in South Korea, Washington DC, and New Rochelle.
As your minister, I am always aware that our mission as a church is to provide spiritual solace in hard times.
We need to fight social isolation, and its effect on elders, people who live alone, those who have past issues with depression or addiction, and folks who may struggle to have the resources to quarantine if needed. PLEASE stay connected with me, your Lay Ministers, and your support and covenant groups (we’ll create more–and virtual ones–if you tell us you want them!). As long as small gatherings are allowed, I want to encourage those who feel comfortable and well to continue to take part in the ways Follen offers in-person face to face human interactions. As humans, we need social and spiritual connection, and Follen and I want to meet that need to the best of our ability.
We are being proactive in many ways. Our sexton, Jimmy McFeeley, has already implemented an intense daily disinfecting regime which includes all doorknobs, light switches, and other surfaces. Our Lay Ministers, meeting tonight, will connect with all Follen members and friends (look forward to their call!), and our Religious Education Action Team and staff plan similar proactive calls. Staying in touch is important.
Zoom with us! Follen’s zoom account can have up to 500 participants on any individual meeting, which means for livestreaming you are welcome to invite your family and friends stuck at home in other places to join in. I encourage everyone to get a free zoom account at zoom.us, which offers you the ability to host as many 40 minute meetings as you wish. Experiment with zoom and try to get familiar with it, because we’ll be offering our virtual worship through zoom! Zoom offers many simple educational videos on how to use their user-friendly product, and if you still are having trouble, we have Follen members ready to support you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I hate to have to say this, but scammers follow the headlines. I will NEVER email you to ask you to purchase gift cards for any reason, nor would anyone else on staff here. If you get an email from someone with this request, please be wary!
In the next few days and weeks, the situation may change, and our response may need to change. There are many more decisions to be made about other activities, and your Safety team is working hard to allow Follen to fulfill our mission of offering spiritual solace to our community, while maintaining good public health practices. Dear ones, I love you all, and I pray that you stay connected with our community and each other in this time. Reach out and connect. We are here for you.
In faith, hope and love,