A Dimmer Switch Approach to Reopening the Commonwealth of Virginia

May 18, 2020
by Clyde G. Kratz
Executive Conference Minister

Virginia Governor Northam has indicated that churches may reopen as of May 15, 2020, but with a restriction of 50% capacity of the meetinghouse’s certificate of occupancy. COVID-19 is spread from person to person mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This reality raises health concerns related to choirs, congregational singing, foyer fellowship time, and committee meetings, even with physical distancing. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is best practiced by following the recommendations of public health officials, such as these from Virginia health officials:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people. Avoid non-essential travel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new dimension to the sanctity of all human life. As Anabaptist Mennonites, we have always applied the sanctity of human life to our opposition to abortion, capital punishment, murder, and warfare. Reviewing the Confession of Faith in A Mennonite Perspective, Article 22 Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance, there is an important statement: Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

News outlets report that the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19 are older persons, persons with chronic respiratory illnesses, diabetic persons, and those with high blood pressure. Demographically, the African-American population has a higher percentage of illnesses and subsequent deaths than others. It is also reported that folks with a high school diploma have a higher rate of unemployment than folks with a college degree. As you may guess, a case can be made that COVID-19 could contribute to race and class conflict.

It is important for our faith community to recognize the medical challenges of COVID-19, but also the justice aspects as well. In this sense, our communal responses to COVID-19 can be tied directly to the sanctity of human life. If we fail to take the necessary precautions for the sake of others, the most vulnerable and those at risk, we diminish their value as a person and their potential for continued life. It is therefore with utmost caution that we navigate this “dimmer switch approach” as the Commonwealth of Virginia begins to reopen. (See versions in English and Spanish.)

This weekend Conference Council is meeting in a Zoom meeting on Saturday, May 16. One of the agenda items is to review the plans for the virtual summer Conference Assembly that will be held on July 18, 2020.

Updates from Agencies

Highland Retreat has made a decision to cancel the Summer Camp Program for this summer. As pastors, you may want to consider the way in which faith formation can occur for children and youth this summer in the absence of this cherished program.

VMRC has provided an update.

Final Thoughts

I am encouraged by the psalmist who acknowledges that in difficult times our help comes from the Lord. May God continue to guide us in these difficult times as we make necessary decisions that impact the lives of people we love.

PSALM 121: 1-8

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Clyde G. Kratz