Dear members and friends of Southminster,

With all of the anxiety in the air, Session met last night to appropriately respond to the coronavirus pandemic. We are convinced that social distancing and self-quarantining appear to be critical ways in dealing with the spread of the disease and we have a social responsibility as a community to respond out of concern for all and especially those who are most vulnerable to this virus. We are reminded of the prophet Jeremiah in the Hebrew text who writes: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray to the Lord on its behalf – for in its welfare, you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). If ever the world needed Christians and if ever Christians needed each other now is it. May we see this as an opportunity to grow, to build connections with each other in a way that we have not been able to because of our frantic-paced lives, and to focus on the welfare of all.

In responding to Covid-19, the Session of Southminster met on Thursday, March 12th and determined the following (please see the section at the end of this letter for “Session’s reasoning for these actions”):

Worship and All Group Activities:
We have decided to cancel all face-to-face group activities, events, committees and worship services for the next 4-weeks. If all goes well as expected, our next physical gathering will be on Good Friday (prayer vigil) and Easter (April 12). We will become a “Virtual” church for one month. We see this as an opportunity.  This means that we will make every effort to ensure “access” to ministries and worship services in an online manner. Sunday morning worship services will be replaced with written, audio and sometimes even video materials that can be easily accessed online. Committees and groups and book clubs will be encouraged (and trained) to use Google Hangouts as a way to connect with each other. Leadership and members will be highly encouraged to stay connected by the old-fashioned use of the telephone and other forms of social media. Pastor Don will work with staff members to reorganize their duties to keep members connected, participate in online development of worship services, develop a weekly newsletter and participate in planning functions. 

Church Office
Weekday access to the church will be restricted to essential functions of staff and volunteers. Pastor Don will work in both church office and home office and can be reached 24/7 at 503-819-2442 or ludwigpdx@gmail.com. Don will be available for all pastoral care needs. All other staff will be best reached by email or text.

Session Reorganization
Session members will continue to serve in their role in providing oversight to their particular ministry area. In addition, we have created four main functions of the “Virtual Church”:

  1. Communication: Kathy Huddleston, Karen Butler, Don Ludwig
  2. Connections: Matt Schulze, Aleta Parker, Diane Bender, Don Ludwig
  3. Technology (Small Groups): Michel Mouzong and Matt Schulze
  4. Worship: Ben Fisher, Michael Mouzong, Matt Schulze, Don Ludwig

Events and Meetings:
Since there will be no Face to Face groups that meet, Michel Mouzong (Elder), Ben Fisher (Elder), and Matt Schulze are available to help groups set up a “Google Hangout” or similar discussion venue. Michel will be publishing a “how-to” checklist for groups to set this up themselves.

Pledges and Giving:
We know that this change is unexpected for all of us. In the process of becoming a “Virtual Community” for a month, we hope that everyone will maintain their pledges and giving patterns. Remember, we are not cutting any staff salaries during this month as we refocus their duties. Most expenses of the church are recurring even during this “virtual month.” If you need any support on how to set up an automatic bill payment from your bank or any other method for giving, please contact one of the Trustees (Kirstin Frederickson, Rick Collins, and Pam Brown).

Puerto Rico Mission Trip 2020:
Due to the unknowable future and the planning needs, the Puerto Rico Mission Trip 2020 will be canceled and will be rescheduled for June 2021. Participants will receive reimbursement for the payments they have already made. Note: We will explore and expect to offer a youth mission trip experience to a regional location (travel by van), assuming that the local conditions are amenable to that possibility in June 2020. All youth payments can alternatively be applied to the regional mission trip.

Session’s Reasoning for these actions:
Our decision to cancel the next four weeks of face-to-face worship and group activities is based on science. We take these steps to protect our beloved Southminster community as well as our broader community. Since the Covid-19 virus can be spread before people are sick or by people with no symptoms, it is or will be everywhere. The majority of our congregation is in the higher risk group- over 60 and/or having one of the underlying medical conditions that increase risk for all ages. This list includes relatively common diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma.

You may have seen or heard about the epidemiological concept of ‘Flattening the Curve.’ This is a graphic representation of how canceling events and self-quarantine can save lives. We are still in the Influenza season. This always increases hospitalizations dramatically. There are limited numbers of available beds and respirators. Social distancing helps prevents the system from being flooded with very sick patients who need respirators and ICUs. A lesson from history: during the 1918 Flu Pandemic Philadelphia’s leadership was inactive. Events went on as usual. In contrast, St Louis enacted a plan called ‘intelligent citizen cooperation’ which included quarantines and bans on public gatherings. The death rate in St. Louis was half that in Philadelphia. [Read the full story on WSJ.com]

“Community” at Southminister
Friends, we are not “canceling” church – we are just re-envisioning how we do “church” for the next month. About a year ago, Pastor Don preached a sermon on “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu is a Zulu word that means, I am because we are. Southminster serves as a place for affirmation and inclusivity and faith and most importantly “community.” We are a gathering space for those seeking to transform the world. We need it, we need you, we need us. We hope that everyone in our midst will continue to make connections, share their passions, and find a way to love each other in this virtual world that we are creating. And we pray and act on behalf of our larger community and world and especially vulnerable populations!

So on behalf of Session, may we all remember:  Ubuntu – I am because we are,

Don Ludwig, Interim Pastor
Kathleen Huddleston, Elder
Karen Butler, Elder