When you can do ‘social distancing’ and still bring the love of Christ

Mar 24, 2020 by

From Canon Phil Ashey, American Anglican Council:
In the heart of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Jonathan Millard and the staff of Ascension Church listened to the many medical professionals in their congregation who advised them urgently to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic by asking the congregation to observe “social distancing.” They did so immediately, weeks ago, but as they observe on their website:
“The danger as we take these necessary measures is that social distancing would turn into isolation, and that we would no longer be able to fellowship or to care for one another as the body of Christ. We have asked community groups to continue to meet in virtual form, through Google Hangouts, Zoom, or some other online tool, and we are committed to continuing to pray for one another and offer assistance as we are able.”
But then they took an additional wonderful step in creating a “Congregational Care Hub” through an on-line questionnaire “to understand what needs exist within our congregation and beyond, and then deploy the vast resources of our congregation to meet them.”
Here are some of the questions they ask their members to address:
  • Do you have all the supplies (food, prescriptions) you need if quarantined for a 2-week period?
  • Are you in a Community Group? (Community Group leaders will regularly check in with their members)
  • If not in an Ascension Community Group, do you want to be partnered with a ‘buddy’? Buddies will check in on you regularly by phone, will pray with you and for you, and will alert church leaders to your needs should you become ill or be in extended quarantine.
  • Would you be willing to be a ‘buddy’ to someone who needs one during the current crisis (the next 8 -12 weeks)?
  • There are populations that are more vulnerable – those 60+, those with underlying conditions, those adults who are single and living alone. Will you actively reach out to 3 – 5 people in your Ascension family in an ongoing way who fit these descriptions, communicating with them at least weekly for the next 8 – 12 weeks (or until the crisis subsides)?
  • Similar to above, will you actively reach out to 3 – 5 individuals beyond your Ascension family – in your neighborhood and professional worlds – who are particularly vulnerable or who are in isolation due to exposure and/or sickness, communicating with them at least weekly for the next 8 – 12 weeks (or until the crisis subsides)?
The form goes on to ask if members would be willing to prepare meals for home delivery, to deliver those meals, to run errands…and more. You can find the form on the Ascension Church webpage “Covid-19 Response: Serving our Neighbors” here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdzDNMd9fu-FTyV-Z_0mwZjJK052tMfQRi7UxznLFYg9xkKLA/viewform
At Ascension, pastoral care is not merely “in-reach”—it has come to be at the heart of outreach to neighbors!
When anxious neighbors need the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
St. Mark’s is a mid-sized Anglican church in the Philadelphia suburb of Rydal (in the ACNA-REC Diocese of the Northeast). Last week, their Rector, Fr. Jason Patterson, wrote to the members and asked them to change their thinking from being a “congregation” to being a “parish.” Historically, a “parish” was and is a church responsible for the spiritual welfare of everyone in the geographic area in which it as founded—whether they attend the church regularly or not. This is how the local church functions as a parish in the Church of England to this day.
Fr. Jason invited the people of St. Mark’s to see their neighborhood in the same way. They already have a classical Christian School as part of their “parish” church, but he wanted to do more. Seizing the pandemic and social distancing as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors, he wrote:
“[We have] a particular duty towards those who live in our neighborhood. We are a visible presence here, and we need to be a spiritual presence as well. To that end, we have drawn up a short flyer (which is attached) and I’d like to see this flyer placed on as many doors and mailboxes in this neighborhood as possible. To do this – we need help. It is still ok to take a walk outside and we will not be knocking on the door or seeking to engage with the people – we will simply leave the flyer and invite our neighbors to respond.”
The flyer presents a brief outline of the Gospel and an invitation to “turn to God” in times of trouble (Phil. 4:6-7). On the other side is a question: “Are you anxious or afraid, or would you simply like to talk or to know that someone is praying for you?” followed by an email and phone number for the church and the Rector, and an offer to pick up and deliver supplies to those shut in. You can find the form here: https://www.saintmarksrec.org/neighborhood-handout

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