Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Response to Covid-19

Update March 27, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of Westminster,

I want to start out by saying that I know this has been an incredibly difficult time for our congregation, our community, our country and our world. Every day, though, I have been inspired by our Westminster family and moved by the support you have shown one another and the gratitude you have expressed for the very existence of Westminster and its constancy in your lives. Just as our steeple has been recently re-lit, you as members are the beacons of light that make us a beacon of light for this community.

Using online technology, the Session held our regularly scheduled (“stated”) meeting on Wednesday, March 25. This was our first full Session discussion since the decision earlier this month to cancel all church programs and activities that involve gatherings of people, close our building, have staff work from home wherever possible, and move our worship services online. The Session has made some additional decisions in light of our experience and the closure of schools and non-essential businesses. We feel it is important to keep the congregation informed along the way.

First, we want to thank you for the tremendous support and enthusiasm expressed for the adjustments being made, including the outpouring of gratitude for the livestreaming of worship services, as well as online devotionals, classes, and opportunities for groups to meet online. Your enthusiasm has been heartwarming.

As a Session, we want to take note of the immeasurable skill and dedication of Alex Bryant, Vince Crisler, and Jim Buchanan, plus the financial support of the Session and Foundation, to move us into the “livestreaming age” with grace and patience. We have made tremendous progress and everyone has played a wonderful role in this, and the congregation’s ability to adapt has been inspiring.

Second, we continue to seek to fulfill our purpose as a church of bearing public witness to the Gospel by following the best guidelines of public officials and health professionals. To this end, we have now moved to a deeper level of closure and social distancing, including the following:

  • As of March 24, staff members are no longer working in the building except for essential functions that can only be carried out in the building (processing mail and offerings, retrieving necessary items, conducting worship live from the chancel, managing emergency repairs, cleaning and sanitizing the chancel following worship). Thus, all staff are working from home, with the custodial staff no longer working in the building, except for a few hours each week.
  • Clergy and musicians are now rotating their leadership of Sunday morning worship to reduce their own exposure. Additionally, the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services will be conducted by a pastor from their home via Zoom (like the morning devotionals).

Third, our commitment to holding groups, meetings, classes, and opportunities to connect online grows nearly every day. As much as possible, we are moving events to livestreaming, primarily through Zoom, to avoid canceling events. We invite you to join in what for some of us is a new experience. Please visit the church website and read the Westminster Weekly Egram for current events and opportunities. Please do not hesitate to identify a need or opportunity for us to remain connected and active as a community of faith.

Fourth, our pastors, staff and Board of Deacons are taking this opportunity to seek to reach every household in the congregation over the next several weeks just to check in, see how things are going, and say “hello.” In addition, a pastor is always on call and can be reached through the church’s main phone number (703-549-4766).

Fifth, because of the strong giving of this congregation, the reserve funds we have carefully built up, and unobligated cash balances, we have the ability to continue to pay our staff, including custodial employees and the handful of hourly workers from whom the closure of the building would mean a difficult loss of income. We are also strategically communicating with all our mission projects and providing in some cases increased giving from special mission funds for their needs in light of the Coronavirus.

Finally, during this uniquely challenging time, we are deeply aware that some individuals and families will experience financial change or uncertainty. We do not want financial giving be a source of pressure or anxiety. We want everyone to know that what is important is for us to give freely, responsibly, and joyfully as an expression of our faith. In the early church, “All who believed were together and had all things in common: they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). At Westminster we are together through this worldwide pandemic and have all things in common. This means that some of us who are able to give as we had pledged will continue to do so; some will be moved to give more; some will need to give less than they had hoped. Everyone’s gift will be received joyfully and respectfully to support the work of this wonderful congregation in this community and around the world. We will soon provide more information about giving online, and we will keep the congregation apprised of the decisions we make that impact our finances. Please know that all of this represents the Session’s ongoing focus on stewarding the blessings God has given us, which include both the financial resources we enjoy at Westminster, thanks to the generosity of the congregation, and the careful fiscal management our leaders have exercised over the years.

The Session continues to meet, using online technology, to keep and even enhance our connections as a congregation, and to enable us to serve others. Please keep the members of the Session in your prayers. The Session will assess the safe and appropriate time to move our activities and worship back to our facilities, and we look forward to the joy that day will bring.

Please continue to pray for the health of our members, your families and friends, and people and leaders across our nation and world. And please remember especially those on the front lines of treating people who have this virus and who themselves may be exposed.

Sincerely,
Larry R. Hayward
Pastor
Moderator of Session

Update March 13, 2020

 As have all of you, we have been carefully monitoring reports of the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the recommendations of health officials concerning the best way to slow the spread of the virus, and the responses of churches, businesses, local governments, sports and artistic institutions. We have also given considerable thought to “The Great Ends of the Church,” a part of our constitutional heritage as Presbyterians. These are to proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind, to provide shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship for the people of God, to maintain divine worship, and to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

As the governing body of Westminster, we – the Session – believe that the best way to fulfill these purposes at this moment in history is to join with other entities in our society to encourage “social distancing” between individuals. As such, we are cancelling all church programs and activities that involve gatherings of people. This includes worship services, activities in our building or offsite, and ministries both sponsored by Westminster as well as meetings of groups that use our building. We feel this is our most faithful public witness to the gospel at this time.

While we are suspending gatherings, we are not suspending our ministry.

We will have worship each Sunday morning streamed online, starting this Sunday, March 15, at 11:00 a.m. You may watch and listen at wpc-alex.org/live. The service will be appropriate to the format, but will include traditional elements of prayer, scripture, music, children’s sermon, and sermon. It will also be available for listening and viewing throughout the week. We trust this pattern will provide the well of spiritual resource and strength our worship always seeks to provide.

Clergy and staff will continue to work, primarily from home, but sometimes in their offices. Committees will continue to meet by virtual means at the discretion of the Chair to dispose of essential Church business.

We will continue to provide pastoral care, paying special attention to the way “social distancing” can create “social isolation.” As a part of this and as is always the case, you may call 703-549-4766 to reach the pastor on-call.

We will provide ways and resources for Christian Formation to continue to occur during this time.

And we will seek ways to continue to assist people in need in the Alexandria and Arlington community through our local mission efforts.

These changes take effect immediately, and the Session will continually re-assess the situation, in hopes of restoring normal activities as soon as circumstances permit.

Please continue to pray for the health of our members, your families and friends, and people across our nation and world during this time.

Sincerely,

Larry R. Hayward
Pastor
Moderator of Session