Church Protocols in a Time of Pandemic

Following the Alameda County public health department protocol, we are sheltering in place to slow transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Global precedent suggests that we are at a critical time for containment, to slow or “flatten” the curve of community spread and hopefully avoid a healthcare system overload. The way we respond in these next few weeks matters and can help save vulnerable lives. (You can read one helpful explanation of the importance of cancelling events, social distancing and self-quarantine here).”

Until further notice, we will worship by web only. See here for links to watching on Sundays at 10am, or the archived edition anytime afterward. Worship leaders will likewise be sheltering in place, either leading worship live from their individual homes, or pre-recording elements of the service. 

All in-person gatherings are cancelled, but some church programs and committees will gather by Zoom videoconferencing and conference calls by phone. Stay tuned in this space for all offerings. If you would like to schedule a Zoom meeting for your committee or program, contact [email protected]

We encourage you to reach out by phone, text, email and social media to your First Church neighbors. Learn who they are. Times of crisis can draw us closer together if we let them, and knit us together more closely. We are a geographically diverse church, and knowing our neighbors can, at this time when we are gathering less in person, improve our mental & spiritual health as well as reinforce our sense of security in community no matter what is going on. Never let a crisis go to waste! If you live in the local area, your “neighborhood captain” will be in touch soon by email to connect the Firsties in your neighborhood for mutual support and encouragement. 

We will let you know if particular needs of vulnerable community members emerge. Please do let us know if you are available: to connect by phone with isolated people, shop, pick up medications or do other tasks that may help the most frail among us. You can email Congregational Care Program Manager Louise Halsey at [email protected] to help or with a need.

For those who might have to take unpaid time off from work, know that we have the Emergency Fund available for church members who are facing a gap in income, and for whom a grant would provide sufficient economic stability to keep you out of crisis. Speak to Rev. Molly or Rev. Kit for more information.

Finally, here’s a short, sweet set of spiritual guidelines Molly has adapted from her friend Matt Mardis-Lecroy’s church in Iowa where Rev. Kit used to pastor: 

Moses had Ten Commandments; First Church keeps it to four.

THOU SHALT PRAY. Pray for all people everywhere who are impacted by this disease. Pray for health care workers, first responders and all those serving others in this time. Pray for local, state and national governmental officials, that they will have strength and good counsel to make wise decisions. Pray for our most vulnerable community members, those at higher risk of contracting the virus, those living in isolation, those without paid sick leave, those whose mental health issues are exacerbated by the high levels of anxiety and uncertainty. Pray for First Church and for all churches everywhere, that our work and witness will be faithful.

THOU SHALT WASH THY HANDS. THOU SHALT WASH THEM FREQUENTLY AND THOROUGHLY. Please wash your hands with hot water and lots of soap. It is the single best thing that you can do to cut down on the risk of spreading the virus. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you need to time yourself and are tired of singing the “Happy Birthday” song, consider using the doxology instead (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”).

THOU SHALT GO OUTSIDE. Walk, stroll, roll, lie in the grass (or the rosemary, or the succulents–wait, ouch!) on your front lawn. The UV and vitamin D will help your immune system, the strangers walking by and smiling will help your spirit. Hug a tree. Tilt your head up and drink the rain. Feel the wind in your hair. Enjoy this one moment, and hang the future for now.

THOU SHALT CONNECT WITH FIRST CHURCH ONLINE. Watch worship online every Sunday morning starting at 10 am or whenever you like after that, on one of these platforms. Sing the hymns loudly without fear that anyone but your cat or spouse will notice your off-key notes. Raise your blessing hands during the passing of the peace toward your nearest First Church neighbor (do you know who they are? We do! Just ask us!). Use the chat function to post hollabacks, amens and hallelujahs (well, maybe not that last one during Lent). 

Get better acquainted with our social media presence. Like our public Facebook page or follow us on Instagram (@firstchurchberkeley). Join our private Facebook community group where you can post prayer requests, funny GIFs to break the tension, or ask for help. Join the book group by videoconference happening next Wednesday for An Altar in the World.

THOU SHALT SERIOUSLY CONSIDER ONLINE GIVING. If you haven’t already, now would be an excellent time to look into our options for electronic giving to First Church. At you can make a one-time donation or email business manager Kit Dunbar at [email protected] to set up a recurring electronic gift (by automated checking account withdrawal or credit card – rack up those miles for the days to come!). Making arrangements to give electronically is one of the best things you can do to stabilize your church in these disruptive times. You can, of course, continue to give to our plate offering recipient, RIP Medical Debt, each week or in a lump sum via Realm, so we can meet our East Bay UCC Churches goal of $44,000 by Easter. 

God be with you all!