Through the Valley of Shadows

(Đọc tiếng việt, Baca dalam bahasa Indonesia)

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Shalom Mutual Aid Fund*

Steve Kriss

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

My last article was about 10 days ago. We were beginning to glimpse the seriousness of the coronavirus.  We slowly began to reconsider and reschedule events.

To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the rapid change in the situation that would mean that nearly all our member congregations, from California to Vermont, wouldn’t physically gather. Then, I wrote that I’d still get tacos and pho and go to the gym.  For now, those of us who live in Philadelphia can still get take-out, but, with non-essential businesses closed, I’m doing my workouts in the basement at home.

Leadership is tested in changing situations.  We continue to prioritize localized decision-making across our Conference that is responsive to the needs of the community, emphasizing love of God and love of neighbor.  Pennsylvania Governor Wolf said that our commonwealth has not seen this kind of disruption since the Civil War.  Yet God is with us and the Spirit empowers us to be and share the Good News, even when the best thing we can do is to remain in our homes as much as possible.

In the meantime, nearly all our energy is going into bracing for what might come, honoring our government’s suggestions on best practices around gathering and distancing.  Financial needs have emerged quickly among vulnerable individuals and communities in our Conference.  We will need to act together to share our resources well in the weeks and months ahead.

Across our Conference, we are still meeting.  Many congregations are finding ways to use new technology (like Zoom and Facebook) as well as renewing older technology (like phone calls) to stay connected.  We really do need each other in this time, both to make it through and to maintain hope that there will be life after the crisis.  Conference staff are gathering pastors virtually to dialogue together in English, Spanish, and Indonesian.  We are gathering for prayer weekly and are offering online equipping as well.  We are in this struggle together.

Yet Asian American neighbors are experiencing acts of aggression and racism in this time.  We cannot be people of fear but rather people of love who speak and act in ways that don’t allow racism to flourish in our midst.  I am committed to ongoing accompaniment and advocacy for the Asian American members and communities across our Conference: the peace of our land is dependent on the recognition of God’s imprint on each person.    I encourage all of us to choose our words and actions wisely and sensitively so that we are people of healing and hope.

While many of our Conference Related Ministries have shut down, our human service providers are experiencing higher degrees of need.  Our retirement communities are especially vulnerable and operating at high levels of vigilance.  We will do well to remember Frederick Living, Living Branches, and the Community at Rockhill in prayer.   Ripple Community Inc in Allentown has committed to remaining open and accessible to those people who need food and accompaniment; they’re looking for partners to prepare sandwiches and to help supplement the sudden influx of needs in the community center there.  Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia has also seen an increase in needs, particularly for food.  As a long-term ministry presence in the Fairhill neighborhood, Crossroads has credibility to provide resources during this time. Together as a conference community, we’ll look for ways to support both of these urban ministries in the coming weeks.

The familiar words of Psalm 23 have become a guide for me in these days: “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil …. Surely goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  We trust in God’s care, even in this overwhelming time, and we look for ways to express our trust in God while extending God’s love and care for our neighbors.

Watch the video of Executive Minister Steve Kriss on Facebook Live Tuesday, March 24, talking about living our formational, missional, and intercultural priorities in a time of crisis.

*The Shalom Fund supports pastors, congregations and ministries in direct response to the Coronavirus and the ensuing economic crisis.   We will seek to respond to the most vulnerable within our membership and neighborhoods by empowering local ministries to meet real needs with Christ’s love and generosity in a time of fear and anxiety.