Seven Months In – The Church’s Response Today to the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, October 8, 2020

Last weekend brought the COVID-19 pandemic into new limelight, as the President became ill with COVID, and many in his inner circle were also infected with the virus. At this writing, the President has returned from hospital to the White House, yet the risk to his health is far from over. COVID is still very much with us and doing great harm among us, despite politically-driven claims that its reach and severity are ebbing.

The 224th General Assembly called the church to respond to the pandemic with prayer and action. It adopted a resolution crafted by Pittsburgh GA Commissioner Elder Mark Roth and his spouse the Rev. Carol Divens Roth. Among other things, the resolution urges the church to make Reformation Sunday, October 25, a day of special prayer and response related to the pandemic. Mark and Carol have prepared the following reflection to guide us in responding at this time to the ongoing pandemic siege:

We are living in a world where the Covid-19 pandemic has sickened our president, killed more than 200,000 Americans, and infected nearly 35 million people worldwide.

The coronavirus has laid bare our nation’s many challenges. It has shown our lack of public health preparedness; the vulnerability of our essential workers, many of them Black and Latino; the danger to our loved ones in nursing homes and prisons; the inequalities facing our schoolchildren; and the economic risks for millions of citizens who face the loss of their livelihood.

Our common mission as children of God has called forth a response of countless initiatives to help our most vulnerable neighbors, discernment of what truly matters to our life together as Christians, and creativity and flexibility in how we worship.

The 224th General Assembly met by Zoom in June, because the pandemic meant we couldn’t gather in Baltimore. As they pondered how to deal with the issues of Covid-19 and racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd, commissioners on the Committee on Business Referral felt strongly that they needed to speak to both crises. We were privileged to write the draft of a resolution responding to the pandemic. The Assembly approved the resolution, which expressed a movement from lament to hope.

The resolution calls for churches to set aside Reformation Sunday, October 25, as a day of prayer for “our whole church to commit to continuous discernment of how to meet the social justice, economic, and spiritual challenges of the pandemic.”

In that spirit, we offer this litany for any churches who wish to include it in their services for the day of prayer. It can serve as an accompaniment to the downloadable bulletin insert on reformer Ulrich Zwingli’s plague prayer from 500 years ago, prepared by the Presbyterian Historical Society. His words remind us that trust in God, especially in times of deepest crisis, is a bedrock of our heritage. There is also this reflection on the 1918 influenza pandemic by the Rev. Francis J. Grimke, pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC. He has powerful words to offer about racism and the 20th century pandemic.

We encourage you to adapt this litany for your own worship context. It is based on the resolution adopted by the 224th GA: On Responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic. It begins with the GA theme scripture.

Rev. Carol Divens Roth
Elder Mark Roth




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