COVID-19 December Update

    12.08.20 | by Troy Howell

    Dear Friend in the Messiah,

           With sadness and an increasing concern for the welfare of those most impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic, I am announcing that gatherings at First United Methodist Church are suspended in the wake of spiraling infection numbers and alarming concentrations of the virus as identified through testing.

           This decision was made following consultation with Dr. Wallace Greene (Virologist, PSU Hershey Med Center), and a meeting with First UMC’s ministry staff, Council Chair and Trustee Chair.  This decision is consistent with a Nov. 30 communication from Bishop Jeremiah Park urging the suspension of gatherings.

           Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases totaled 12,884 last Saturday – another daily record.  Just a few months ago new cases daily averaged less than 1,000.  Statewide, six Pennsylvanians are dying each hour from COVID-19, and nationally, one person dies on average every 35 seconds.  Hospitalizations have increased dramatically, further draining health-care staffing and jeopardizing medical care – including elective surgery – for others.  Further, the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York region has been identified as nearing staffing crises in hospital settings.  All this comes prior to the full impact of Thanksgiving gatherings is realized. 

           Of specific alarm is the following information shared by Dr. Greene:  1) Area community infection rates now exceed 18% (that’s nearly 2 in 10 persons COVID-positive), and 2) the Titer rate (concentration of the virus) in testing has skyrocketed from “the hundred-thousands to now in the billions or trillions.” This means the virus concentration being exhaled by infected individuals (symptomatic or not) currently is extremely intense.

           In the Spirit of Jesus Christ who calls us not to count the cost to us but to love others sacrificially, I see no other way forward in these days than to suspend gatherings out of great love and precaution for one another, in basic respect for those serving on the front-lines and in harm’s way, and for our holistic health as a society.  Science and medicine alone cannot save us from self-centered behavior.  We must step up in sacrificial engagement with each other, and as Christ followers should demand that of one another.

            Most immediately, this means our scheduled mid-week Advent services, the Longest Night service, and the Christmas Eve services are canceled.  Further, all meetings and gatherings in the church building are suspended.  Ministry staff will continue to work, but will abide by a reduced presence in the Office complex/building to limit possible exposure.  In addition to Sunday morning worship, offered on-line will be “A Quiet Christmas Eve/Candlelighting” Dec. 24, and “A Christmas Day Celebration Service” on Dec. 25. 

           Please join me in praying for God’s intervention in every circumstance of COVID19.  Pray for a Christmas Miracle:  leaders whose energy and focus is for the greater good rather than self; science and medical professionals whose blessed work will be multiplied, for the more than 1.5 million souls who have died (nearly 300,000 in the U.S.) and their loved ones; and for all those impacted psychologically, economically, socially by this pandemic.  As you pray, may you know the presence of Emmanuel, God With Us, to assure us of salvation … and who demands our participation in the deliverance we seek.

    Amen, Lord Jesus,

    Pastor Troy Howell