Following the City of Berkeley recommendations, we are limiting mass gatherings and large community events until we see the direction of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to slow transmission of the 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).”
For at least the next two weeks (March 15 & 22), we will worship by web only. You can watch the service live here on Sundays at 10am, or the archived edition anytime afterward. You can also watch on Facebook live. Both the Facebook Live and the church website will have chat/comment options so you can engage with others and with the worship leaders live during the event!
A skeleton crew of worship leaders will be physically present in the sanctuary, both to lead worship and to welcome anyone who comes not knowing we have cancelled in-person worship. For those present, we will observe excellent hand washing protocols, avoid physical contact and keep a safe social distance.
Large and intimate church gatherings, such as the Women’s Voices Retreat and the March 22 Leadership Retreat, are likewise postponed, as are Sunday events such as learning hours and youth group. Small meetings may continue–we will review them on a case by case basis–but groups are encouraged to meet by phone or videoconference, especially for folks in high-risk categories, all people over 60 years-old and with underlying health conditions.
For our facilities and program staff, who will have fewer hours as a result of the cancellation of in-person worship and other events, we are committed to paying them at the full expected rate.
We are not cancelling the events of outside organizations who have rented out the church at this point, leaving it to their discretion. We will sanitize bathrooms, doorknobs and other frequently touched hard surfaces before and after these events. This policy may change as we monitor the best facts and wisdom from the epidemiology and public health community.
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!
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.
You might consider, if you are not in a high-risk group, attending a much smaller worship service such as Berkeley Chinese Community Church UCC. Their English language service is at 11am Sunday morning, safety protocols are in place.
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 will keep it to five.
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 TAKE A BREAK FROM HANDSHAKES AND HUGS. We all need human touch for mental and spiritual well-being, but now is a good time to swap out those hugs, handshakes and high fives for elbow bumps or meaningful eye contact, for the physical well-being of our most vulnerable community members.
THOU SHALT CONNECT WITH FIRST CHURCH ONLINE. Watch worship online every Sunday morning at www.firstchurchberkeley.org/watch starting at 10am or whenever you like after that. 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 firstchurchberkeley.org 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!