ST. NICHOLAS ORTHODOX CHURCH, JACKSON, TN - CONTINUED RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS AND COVID-19

MARCH 16, 2020


ST. NICHOLAS ORTHODOX CHURCH, JACKSON, TN - CONTINUED RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS AND COVID-19

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst!

As circumstances continue to develop around the coronavirus pandemic, I want to continue to share information with you about how our church is responding.

First, here is a link to a statement released by the Patriarchate of Antiochhttps://www.antiochpatriarchate.org/en/page/2367/.

Secondly, I have set up on our website a dedicated page to our response to the coronavirus. You may find the above statement, as well as other links, on that page by locating the tab at the top of our website (www.orthodoxjackson.com). My intention is that you can find in one place the relevant documents disseminated by our Archdiocese, as well as reliable medical information for handling the coronavirus. It will not be a location for spurious information and speculation.

Thirdly, as of right now, I intend to livestream some services on Facebook. There is a tab on our website that links to the live feed when it is available. You will be notified in advance when services will be available. Let me say, I have never done this before, so you may as well expect some hiccups until I get it smoothed out. Also, the recommendations regarding social gatherings is changing quickly. The CDC currently recommends no gatherings of more than ten (10) people. I am continuing to assess the best course of action regarding services, as you should see below.

In the days ahead, I may also record or stream live various teachings or ministry meetings so that I am still providing you with the spiritual food you need, since there is currently no Bible Study, Church School, Catechism, etc.

Finally, I want to stress very strongly my belief that this pandemic is NOT being overblown by either the government or the media. The most common danger we are facing is normalcy bias—the tendency for people to believe that things will function in the future the way they normally have functioned in the past and therefore to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects. The disaster is already here.

Even a cursory study of history will show that nothing is unprecedented. The Church Herself has encountered many challenges with wisdom and faith. If we think that the social distancing and closures are overreactions; if we do not accept the medical science and the history of disease propagation and the ongoing results of this virus—then we will find ourselves on the wrong side of all this. If we think that what we see today in the news cycle is today’s reality for the virus—we are wrong; it is last week’s reality. While social distancing is a difficult concept for our society, it is an essential part of the response to any virus. It is an act of compassion toward our neighbor. The best course of action is for us to assume that we are already contagious. If we are wrong—what harm will have come of it? If we are correct—we may have saved lives.

Therefore, while specifics may change as circumstances change, here are the basic guidelines I expect to use in St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:

AS LONG AS THERE IS NO LOCAL SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN THE JACKSON/MADISON COUNTY COMMUNITY:

1.      I strongly encourage everyone who is sick to stay home. Without qualification or exception. If you have ANY illness, stay home.
2.      If you are homebound due to sickness or because you fall in a high-risk demographic, I will personally do my best, so long as I am able, to provide supplies to your doorstep to meet your basic needs and to help prevent the spread of the virus.
3.      At all times I encourage you—all of you—to protect your personal health.
4.      If you are unsure whether you are a high-risk individual, I encourage you to consult your physician about your personal health risks.
5.      I will continue to review the need to cancel services or provide them in a virtual format.
6.      I have posted the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in various locations in the church (they are: fever, cough, shortness of breath).
7.      I will clean church surfaces that are frequently touched (e.g., tables, countertops, kitchen area, light switches, doorknobs, etc.).
8.      I will stay up-to-date on developments in our community and in our Archdiocese and provide you with that information in a timely manner.

IN THE EVENT THERE IS LOCAL SPREAD:

1.      I will cancel in-person services and strive to hold them virtually with a single chanter.

IF THERE IS SUBSTANTIAL LOCAL SPREAD:

1.      I will cancel services of any size and strive to offer virtual reader services by myself.

IF THERE IS A CASE OF COVID-19 IN OUR PARISH:

1.      I WILL separate anyone on church property who has symptoms from others until they can go home.
2.      I WILL contact local public health officials.
3.      I WILL communicate with parishioners about possible exposure, first via email and, if necessary, by phone.
4.      I WILL clean and disinfect the church before anyone is permitted inside after the incident.
5.      I WILL cancel ALL services for whatever time is advised by local authorities to ensure no trace of the virus remains in the church.

I continue to monitor the reliable information that is released in order to make discerning decisions for the health of our parish.

This is not our time to ‘shine’ by showing empty courage and adolescent bravado. A Christian shines through humility and sacrifice of oneself, sacrifice of one’s ‘courageous’ image in the world. We are human beings, made of flesh and bones. Flesh and bones can become Chalices of God’s presence in the world, but they can also become ill. As a Christian, my duty is to comfort and to love, to keep myself and my neighbor from harm.
            Be kind to one another. Do not mock as weak those who protect themselves. Do not pile pressure on the shoulders of those who need compassion and encouragement. Even if you are not afraid, do not offend your brother. Instead, encourage and show compassion. That is true humility. Let them share their fears with you so that they do not have to carry them alone.
            Do not pursue a macho Christianity. It is pride and delusion.
            Do not judge your neighbor as weaker than yourself. Let us show the world Christians are not judges of the world. Not here to condemn, but to love. Not to mock, but to be to our neighbor what they need in order to find hope, peace, grace. Stand with the weak, stand with the fallen, identify with our brother even as Christ came and identified with us while we were yet sinners and dying.
            Do not seek out any form of ‘martyrdom’ under these circumstances. The Church condemns such pursuits. Rather, do all you can NOT to get infected and to infect others. Do what is within your power to do, and leave the rest to God.
            Pray for everyone. Live wisely and simply. Do not pursue ‘heroics’. This is our Lenten fast: to carry each other’s cross and not crucify our neighbor on the false cross of our own ‘heroics’ or ‘good image’.

May God bless you and keep you!

Blessings in Christ,
Fr. Matthew