The response of Session to the COVID-19 Pandemic

 Dear Friends,

The worship of God has always been a principal preoccupation for those of us in the Reformed branch of the Christian faith.  Calvin wrote powerfully and unapologetically about worship as a principal means of grace, counseling us “to contemplate, reverence, and worship God’s majesty; to participate in God’s blessings; to seek God’s help at all times; to recognize and by praises to celebrate the greatness of God’s works — as the only goal of all the activities of this life.” [Institutes II 8.16 - my paraphrase, PHL]

Given this strong admonition about the central role of worship in the life of a Presbyterian community of faith, you can imagine how difficult it has been for the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Fargo to decide to suspend all public gatherings at church, including Sunday services, until after April 30th  at the earliest.  This includes all gatherings at the church including committee meetings, worship, and other events/groups we typically host.  Committee Chairs should expect to hear from the staff who support each committee about how we plan to provide a video conferencing solution (ZOOM) to address the need for committees to meet and do work without gathering in the same place.  The session is closely monitoring developments as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and will meet regularly to revisit our decisions about how we will continue in ministry in these trying times.

Presently, in deference to the guidance of the PCUSA, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization, we have decided that the best way we can model both good citizenship and a strong faith, which considers the needs of others as if they were our own (see Philippians 2:1-4), is to suspend public gatherings in order to encourage social distancing for a time.  As time passes and we have a clearer picture of the situation with the virus, the Session will need to make new decisions.  Until then, we ask that you help us by avoiding gatherings with large numbers of people and supporting one another as you are able.

THE CHURCH OFFICE IS CLOSED
The church office is currently closed.  You can reach staff via the church directory, or by calling the church and leaving a voice message.  Staff will return calls as soon as they are able.  You may also use the "contact" form on the website to send queries.

Though we will be unable to worship together each Sunday for a time, the staff at church are hard at work with our lay-leaders to provide you with resources aimed at encouraging your daily and weekly worship of God.  The resources offered will change over time as we discover what works and what does not — but at present we want you to hear from each ministry area of the church about the opportunities we will be providing.  We will keep the home page of the church website updated with the latest information so you can always check there for the latest news.

MUSIC
Although our choirs and ensembles will not be rehearsing for the foreseeable future, we will be providing some opportunities to connect online. Many of our choirs operate as small groups that care about each other and pray with each other. Perhaps we can find ways to lift each other up and minister to each other in creative ways. We will be working as a staff to record music which will be included with the worship offered through the church website. If you have suggestions, please contact Sally Harmon: [email protected].

OFFICE
Copies of the daily devotion book, These Days, will be available on a table just inside the west entrance.  You can also find envelopes there for One Great Hour of Sharing and Emergency Food Pantry.  You can drop your offering in the dropbox outside the office door or you can make an online payment through the church website, under Give.

FINANCE
Even though we are unable to worship as a church family on Sundays, please don’t forget about your church home!  We are still in need of your weekly offerings to pay expenses.  Now is a great time to get enrolled in ACH (automatic withdrawal from your checking account) or try giving online through FPC’s website or the mobile app.  You can always mail your offering to the church or use the drop box found outside the office door.  Please contact Jan Lundgren at [email protected] if you’d like an ACH Authorization Form sent to you, or if you need help navigating giving through the website or mobile app.

YOUTH
In the midst of this wild time, the youth will still be connecting online! We will be using online mediums to communicate with one another. We will use ZOOM and something to create a group text forum for the youth. We will still meet on Wednesdays at 7, but just online! You can use this link to join: https://zoom.us/j/818552522.  Kayla will be sending out more detailed information to the youth and confirmation families. Please watch your email for a follow-up.
 
WORSHIP
Kayla will be hosting a daily prayer gathering online starting on Thursday, March 19, at 10 am. This will be a short gathering, no more than 15 minutes, to hear God’s word and pray together as a community. You can join here online: https://zoom.us/j/407546603 or call +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) and use the Meeting ID: 407 526 603.

Pastor Paul has created and uploaded daily prayers modeled on the monastic patterns of daily prayer.  These Pocket Prayers are available both through the church app and through the church website.  On the website simply go to:  https://www.firstpresfargo.org/pocket-prayers.  There you can find audio files of the prayer services as well as PDF documents which you can use to follow along.  If you want a hard-copy of the Pocket Prayers, simply contact Pastor Paul and he will get them to you.

Pastor Paul will also be posting occasional devotions which will be available through the church website and through the church app as well.

We will provide online worship on Sundays.  This will not be a live-stream of a live worship service, but it will be an abbreviated and pre-recorded service for use in your home.  All the staff are working together as a team to make these services meaningful for all congregants from children to adults.  We do not yet have a link for this but will post it to the website when we do.

CHILDREN
You can look for a blend of education and worship in a “Worshiping at Home” template. This is intended for you to develop your own family worship style together. Everything you need will be provided, including a children’s sermon, pastor’s sermon, text, and music. We are figuring it out as we go, so please be patient, but tell us what you like or what you need.
 
I’m planning as if the Children’s & Youth service will happen on May 3. Of course, we don’t know if it will. But I will be sending you links for the music and possibly other things you can prepare from your home. I’ll also be planning as if VBS will happen. If we can’t gather before then, I will expect a great outpouring of volunteers for VBS as we celebrate our health together!
 
Finally, please know that I am available for a quick video chat with your kids or a ZOOM parent meeting for planning or support as we take this journey together.

NURTURE AND OUTREACH
Though we may be apart for a time, we are eager to stay connected and committed to one another.  Pastor Mary, along with deacons and others from the congregation, will be calling and emailing members who may be particularly vulnerable to this virus. Perhaps you need your medication or food staples picked up, or you have another necessary errand run. We are here to help you!  Above all, we want you to know there is a listening heart at the other end of the phone.  If you have a concern or a worry, or just a story to share, contact Pastor Mary at 701.293.6311 or [email protected]  Let us know how we can be present with you!

We invite you also to remember “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).  We continue to collect imperishable food, diapers, and other items for the Emergency Food Pantry, and pillows for the YWCA.  You may drop items/checks off at the church, or mail them directly to the appropriate facility.  Pantries and shelters are hit particularly hard during times of emergency.  

FACILITIES
We will take this time to disinfect the entire church to provide a clean and safe environment for when we can all be together again.