Western Avenue Church Family,
As of Thursday morning, there are 12 cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in North Carolina. The reactions to this news vary wildly from panic to apathy. As followers of Jesus who trust in the good providence of God, we must not move towards either of these two extremes. The best course of action is to take these events seriously and exercise vigilance to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus to protect ourselves and others. This is what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. We understand this virus can spread quickly, even exponentially. At the same time, it seems the spread of rumors, misinformation, and fear are easily outpacing the spread of the virus. For that reason, we want to share with you our thoughts and our plans.
We do not want to overreact and we do not feel it is wise to do nothing. We think we have come up with a moderate approach that will serve us well this week. We will then reevaluate the following week as conditions continue to develop. This Sunday, March 15, we will meet to worship at 8:30 and 11:00 but we will not meet for Sunday School. We understand our Sunday School classes, especially in our preschool and children’s areas, are much more intimate and put people in a more susceptible position to spread germs. It is easier to keep one room disinfected than multiple children’s rooms filled with toys and adult classes filled with hugs, handshakes, and discussions. There simply is not nearly as much interaction with individuals during the worship service and we even ask that our normal physical interaction be reduced greatly. We will also not be able to provide childcare during either worship service. Parents, it is up to you to bring your children with you into the service or worship with your family at home through the streaming service provided online.
We hope the majority will decide to worship with us this Sunday morning. We leave the decision entirely up to each person and family. If you attend the services on Sunday morning, we ask you to use standard flu-season precautions. Practice proper cough etiquette and hygiene. Wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer (there are dispensers in several locations). Practice social distancing by limiting physical contact with others. We are asking everyone to absolutely refrain from shaking hands or hugging. We are sanitizing highly touched surfaces such as doors, handles, tables, water fountains, and sinks. We also ask those who have flu-like symptoms or have been in contact with someone with similar symptoms to stay home and worship with us electronically. We ask those who have traveled internationally or even locally to a place known to be affected to stay home. We advise those who are most susceptible to contracting the virus to stay home, which includes older adults, people with chronic medical conditions or immunosuppression (people with recent or upcoming surgeries; people on autoimmune treatments, including steroids; people with impaired heart, kidney, or liver function; or people going through cancer treatment). We also ask those who serve as caregivers to at-risk individuals to stay home.
This also means that we will not have our regularly scheduled programs on Wednesday night (preschool, children, youth, Equipping University). It is the policy of the weekday preschool to follow the schedule of Iredell-Statesville Schools while leaving the ultimate decision to attend or stay home to our parents. County schools are closed on Monday so we will decide our course of action then.
I am thankful Western Avenue is set up to stream our worship service live at 11:00 AM each Sunday. You can view the services on our Facebook page and the homepage of our website (westernavenue.org). We use this technology weekly to allow those in our family who are sick and unable to attend to remain connected to the church body. Though we certainly never intended to use this technology as alternate to attending in person, we are glad to have the capability to do so in a situation like this.
Our staff and deacons will continue to discuss this issue and develop plans as the situation evolves. In the meantime, we ask you to act wisely in a way that honors the God we serve. The Holy Spirit led the apostle Paul to write these words: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:5b-6). The command is “do not be anxious.” The means to obey this command is given next: prayer. Please pray for the many medical professionals, public safety professionals, educators, missionaries, and others who are affected. Pray for the Lord’s protection from illness among our people. Pray for gospel opportunities to come from this outbreak. Pray for wisdom regarding ministry impact in the event of local COVID-19 cases. We want to be a church that reflects our trust in Jesus Christ and his love to our community.