A Religious Response to Covid-19 from a Presbyterian Community of Faith Near Detroit

Item

Title

A Religious Response to Covid-19 from a Presbyterian Community of Faith Near Detroit

Description

This response documents the initial and early communications of a Presbyterian pastor to a congregation on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan, as the Covid-19 pandemic swept through this geographic region (March and April, 2020). Included in the documents are mail and email communications to the congregation, reflections on seasonal observances of the Christian church in light the pandemic (Lent, Holy Week, Easter), and a sermon specifically addressing personal and community and faith issues in response to the pandemic. Relevant demographic information of this community of faith: denomination, Presbyterian Church USA; size 1,200 members; location is largely affluent suburban community bordering Detroit; racial composition is overwhelmingly white. Context of pastor and faith community: pastor (white male mid-sixties) has served since November 2019 as the interim head of staff in a temporary position (pastor's experience includes 40 years as a Presbyterian minister); the congregation's senior pastor moved to another congregation June, 2019 and is in a transitional time between called pastors.

Date Created

March 2020

Community

Grosse Pointe Memorial Church

Denomination

Presbyterian Church USA

State

Michigan

Creator

Grosse Pointe Memorial Church

extracted text

March 12, 2020
Dear Grosse Pointe Memorial Church family:
All worship services, Sunday school gatherings, Middle Hour program, and the Choir Concert
for March 15 have been cancelled. This decision is based on the public health need to limit the
spread of the coronavirus in our communities and state, and in response to Governor
Whitmer's recommendation limiting gatherings of 100 persons or more.
The coronavirus infection and the resulting COVID-19 disease is a health crisis that demands
careful attention by governments, communities, and individuals. The issue is not one of faith or
fear, but of taking responsible action to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, of
our community, and of our families. Because testing has been limited thus far, a public health
assessment of the virus’s spread is unknown at this time. Without accurate information, and
given the proven community spread of the disease within our country and state, we are taking
prudent steps to contribute to the containment and mitigation of the infection.
This Sunday’s bulletin, with liturgy and prayers and information, will be posted on our website.
GPMC is working to stream the sermon if possible, or at least record and post it later. If we
have the capacity, we can include other liturgy and prayers in addition to scripture readings and
sermon.
At this time, committee meetings and other small events have not been cancelled. Those
cancellations will be publicized as we receive them. No decisions have been made about events
beyond Sunday, but we should expect an increasing need to exercise caution and take
precautionary steps as this crisis unfolds. Do not be surprised if more events are cancelled.
Any church members or friends of the church or staff who need care or assistance because of
self-quarantine or illness or any other concern are encouraged to call the church or staff. Staff
exhibiting signs of health challenges are encouraged to work from home.
We encourage you to follow recommended precautions and guidelines for hygiene and health
(as published here at church and through the CDC and other health agencies) as ways to care
for all.
Hear these words from the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always! Let your gentleness be
known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer
and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of
God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is
anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have
learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
(Philippians 4:4-9)
Grace and peace,
Mark Diehl, Interim Pastor, Head of Staff, Grosse Pointe Memorial Church
From the Desk of Mark Diehl, Interim Pastor
The leaders and staff of Grosse Pointe Memorial Church continue to find our footing as we travel
through the uncharted landscape of the coronavirus. A hoped-for quick resolution that would
provide relief to the suffering and to those meeting the medical and human needs of our
communities has not materialized. While the first peak of the pandemic may have passed in our
community, many here remain vulnerable, the next steps are unclear, patience is stretched thin,
and the economic toll is beginning to be counted. Other communities around our nation are only
now entering what we endured the past 6 weeks. Pray for them as they have prayed for us.
Returning to some semblance of normalcy is on our horizon as a congregation. Doing so requires
sensitivity to the vulnerabilities of our congregation and staff and community, an awareness of
appropriate public health protocols for this stage of the pandemic, and the needs and risks unique
to this particular community of faith. At this point, we do not know what the “new normal” will
look like at GPMC, or when we might arrive there.
What we can expect through the end of May (and possibly through the summer) is this:
• continuing to worship remotely with one service broadcast each Sunday at 9 am (and
available for viewing thereafter)
• providing youth and adult educational programs, as well as Bible studies and small
groups, remotely through Zoom
• exercising oversight of programs, finances, and administration through our councils and
committees
• caring for the needs of our congregation through contact and communication that
minimizes isolation and helps to build support
• mobilizing outreach resources that will impact immediate needs in our community,
particularly for the hungry, homeless, and poor, as well as for first responders, medical
workers, and service providers.
The staff and Session are assessing responsible ways of reconnecting as a community of faith
even as we protect the most vulnerable among us in a time of risk as we seek the steps to a new
normal. That is our task over the course of the next many months. We need the Spirit’s wisdom
and guidance. Keep us in your prayers.
April 29, 2020
A Holy Week Message from the desk of Mark E. Diehl, Interim Pastor
This Holy Week is unlike any other in my memory. People all around
our community, our state, our nation, and our world are hunkered down
in efforts to prevent the spread of contagion, to secure the well-being of
the most vulnerable, and to protect our families. In the midst of deep
divisions ~ political, economic, social, racial, international, religious ~
we are united in a fight for life.
Let me suggest that the focus of Holy Week has always been, even if
unrecognized, a fight for life and a fight against destructive forces
afflicting the human family. Truth, grace, generosity, justice, love,
equity, healing, kindness, reconciliation, mercy, humility, self-giving,
forgiveness: Jesus embodied all of these and marshalled them in his
confrontation against crippling powers. Traditionally those damaging
forces and powers the church has characterized as sin and death. More
specific names can help us identify them in us and in our world: pride
and arrogance, indifference or a sense of privilege, egoism and grasping
for power, blaming and neglecting to take responsibility, profiteering
and lies, refusing to respond with actions easily within our grasp.
These are the forces and powers that put Jesus on the cross and continue
to assail the human family. All that is good confronted all that is evil on
Good Friday's cross.
A similar conflict is playing out in this season of Lent and during Holy
Week. The consequences are much too familiar as death takes its toll on
the human family in the midst of self-sacrifice and love. During this
Holy Week I encourage you to meditate on this cataclysmic encounter,
on our present circumstances as life and death clash, on the source of our
hope and help, and on how we can be instruments of healing and mercy.
March 25, 2020
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In this season of Lent and this time of pandemic, every day brings deepened challenges that
require new decisions and strategies to address developing realities. What we hoped for and
planned a week ago have changed at least 5 times since.
Here is the situation at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church as of this date.
The church facility and all our offices are closed through April 13. Prior to the state order
restricting all gatherings, our staff had self-quarantined because of possible exposure to Covid-19
(one of our staff families is quite ill). After the state order, we extended our in-place staff
quarantine to close all offices and the facility to comply with state orders and to do all we can to
mitigate virus spread. The closing of the facility and offices will be reevaluated as the situation
warrants.
Worship: The past two Sundays, worship was provided through live streaming on our website
(Sundays at 9 am); it also is available recorded (you can find it on our website homepage). Our
intent was to extend the online worship experience to include more music and singing and
liturgy. Unfortunately, the escalating impact of the pandemic has undermined our plans. Our plan
is to continue streaming online live worship service (and offer it recorded) even if it is more
basic than we had hoped.
Bible Studies, Youth and Children’s Programs: The Logos program was cancelled for the
remainder of this Spring term. Lisa Turner is communicating with families and their children,
and is providing resources for Christian Education at home. Seekers, LIFE and TUXIS have
shifted their meetings to online (tech-driven) opportunities. Sarah Godbehere coordinates those
events, gatherings, and studies. Susan Mozena is facilitating adult study groups with Zoom
gatherings and phone-ins. If you want to join any of those adult groups through technology,
contact Susan by email or leave her a message.
Pastoral Care: Our deacons (and other volunteers) are contacting every member of the church in
the Detroit vicinity (by phone preferably, or by email if necessary) to determine their wellness, to
make sure they are connected to family and friends and to the church, to assess any need they
may have and how we can address it, and to let them know of our love and God’s love. Special
attention is being paid to any member socially isolated by infirmity or disability. This is a
tremendous and necessary endeavor and I am so grateful to the deacons and their leadership for
implementing this strategy (which will remain ongoing during this crisis). Anyone needing
pastoral care can contact one of the pastors or use the pastoral care line on the church’s telephone
system. A daily or weekly phone-in and online devotion and/or prayer will be implemented soon.
Outreach and Mission: Due to the unprecedented nature of, and dislocation caused by, the
pandemic, all mission activities must be reassessed for viability in the present context. That
reassessment includes reexamining priorities in light of new challenges related to the pandemic,
how to assemble teams to work on projects and fresh ways to do mission in an era of social
distancing.

The Interim Committees: Both the History-to-Our-Story Team (HOST) and the Mission Study
Team (MST) were just beginning their work when the pandemic swept through our area. Both
teams’ work has been suspended until we get our bearings personally and institutionally. They
will be restarted as soon as possible.
Staff: The directive to staff is that if they are sick, their priority is taking care of themselves and
getting well. If they are well, they are asked to work from home to the extent they are able to do
so. We are exploring new avenues to accomplish and discharge our responsibilities in ways
faithful to our calling and the needs of the church. In the midst of all that is going on, some staff
are sick, some are caring for family members who are ill, and all are shouldering the extra
burden of anxiety and our concerns for the church, our families, and one another. Please keep the
staff in your prayers.
Leadership: The Session has approved the necessary steps the staff has suggested for GPMC to
follow, and continues to be apprised of the situation in our congregation.
Finance: The staff have been asked to anticipate the financial consequences of wide-spread
unemployment and economic dislocation for our membership and our society, and the budget of
GPMC. Staff will suspend any non-essential major purchases that were planned for this
programming year, and reassess the need for other spending throughout the remainder of the
budget year. Financial decisions for the year will be reevaluated as warranted.
Stewardship: With worship only available online and the offering plate not being passed, a
typical avenue by which we receive contributions has disappeared. For those who are able,
please keep current with your pledges and gifts and offerings. Your contributions are so
important at this time.
Lenten Practices: Who knew that our Lenten theme would be so relevant to our situation today?
“A Whole and Holy Lent: Loving God, Loving Others, Loving Self” As I mentioned in the
March Carillon article on Lent, “The shallowest spiritual practice we will ever engage is that
which attempts to insure our own personal well-being/salvation without concern or thought for
the well-being of others.” Addressing the compelling needs of the pandemic have required us to
think beyond our own convenience or preferences or safety since what we do impacts everyone
around us.
Someone remarked, “I had no idea I would have to give up so much this Lent!” To that I would
say, “I had no idea how much I could contribute to my community and nation and world by my
simple acts of care and thoughtfulness. So much is in our (clean) hands!”
I am grateful to share with you the burdens and opportunities of ministry in this time. Please pray
for all those on the frontline in the fight against this pandemic.
Grace and peace,

Mark E. Diehl, Interim Minister
Page 1 of 7

Hope and Truth in the Midst of Covid-19
Psalm 10:1-18; Romans 8:35-39
Who of us is not consumed by the new reality of the COVID-19
pandemic? Schools cancelled, gatherings prohibited, food and
product shortages, every sniffle examined for symptomatology,
each ache raising anxiety, tempers shortened, and long stretches
of unstructured time with no place to go. Uncertainty and fear
characterize this moment.
The sermon I had planned for today has been tossed aside in
favor of this one. I think you would have preferred the one you
are not hearing. In preparing for this sermon and weighing a
message to communicate, I was torn between two very basic
human needs: hope and truth. The needs of hope and truth
resonate with, and are particularly suited for, communities of
faith in this moment of time. I believe you cannot have one
without the other. Hope and truth are intimately and inextricably
connected. Rosy predictions of America being spared the
ravages of an epidemic have left us unprepared and vulnerable.
When statements are made unrelated to truth, we are given false
hope. You and I don’t need more of that in the guise of religion.
The values we have pursued and extolled for decades we find
hollow in the present moment: political power at the highest
levels of government, fame and celebrity, sports stars and the
lifestyles of the super-rich. None provides protection or
salvation in this moment. The superheroes of today are the ones
who have always been here, but we ignored:
• care givers and nurses,

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• technicians and researchers in medicine and in technology,
• school teachers and workers on production lines,
• custodians and sextons cleaning streets and businesses and
homes,
• moms and dads, and caring neighbors,
• cashiers at grocery stores and pharmacies,
• restaurant cooks and staff preparing food.
Up until this moment we have showered the wrong people with
too many accolades while underpaying those who make our
world work. The Church is at fault as much as anyone. Now
human connection and caring and sacrifice and hard work and
knowledge and love have taken center stage. This pandemic has
laid us bare and tossed our shiny but worthless values into a
crumbled heap.
Before the advent of the Coronavirus, every person I know had a
plateful of challenges and stressors and desperations. The
pandemic only complicates them: aging parents who need
assistance, chronically ill children or spouses, meeting payroll
deadlines, making tuition and housing payments, putting food on
the table for kids, initiating new business ventures or executing
business plans for the next six months, finding brief vacation
respites from the unrelenting pressures of life.
And now add to all of that the Coronavirus, with its
complications and its demands and its uncertainties and its
limiting of how life can be conducted. This acute crisis overlays
the chronic and long-suffering concerns all of us had prior to its
arrival.

Page 3 of 7

I don’t know about you, but I am tired and worn out, and this
nightmare has just begun. Do we have the resilience and
patience and stamina for the long haul? I turn to the scriptures
for help and to listen. Maybe there I will find hope and
encouragement, maybe some light will shine upon the shadowed
path of the present moment.
And in the voice of the psalmist in Ps 10, we hear these words:
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself
in times of trouble?” That is not happy talk, it is not the
language of positive thinking. Can’t I find something more
comforting? Instead I hear in those words the same desperation I
feel.
And shockingly, its message does not distress me. Perhaps I am
too overwhelmed to be disquieted. I find comfort in the words.
A person of faith from millennia past knew my experience and
in the face of his or her own desperation felt no need to reach for
easy reassurance or glib words or cheap grace in the midst of
tragedy.
Easy assurances that “eventually all will be okay” do not sit
well. In the 14th Century, “all will be okay” was true about the
Black Plague. And 7 years after its beginning, indeed the plague
did subside. We would rather not know that it left 50 million
dead in its path of destruction.
Words intoned by the pious, “Fear not,” glibly offered because
the speaker is in a state of denial, or their circumstances are
decidedly different than yours and mine: they have all the

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resources in the world available to them. If they knew the reality
in which many of us live, with jobs lost and bills to pay and
bank accounts empty and health insurance gone, they would be
afraid.
Please do not offer cheap grace to us in a time of crisis. It only
makes us wary of the sources from which it comes.
For thirteen verses the psalmist vents his spleen at adversity and
unfairness and injustice. Could the psalmist not sum it up in two
verses instead? Move to hope and resolution for God’s sake! But
for God’s sake and ours the psalmist will not.
For 400 years, the children of Israel endured increasing
oppression in Egypt. For 40 years, they wandered in the
wilderness. For 70 years they existed in exile. For generations
they waited for the Messiah to appear. In our attentionshortened, media driven world, what do you and I know about
resilience and patience and stamina? If we want to learn about
such things, we should turn to communities of color with their
deep and long experience, who in extended periods of trouble
have learned love and forgiveness and keeping on in the face of
injustice and prejudice and depravation. Yet today those same
communities from which we should learn will more likely be
demonized and scapegoated as the reason for our troubles.
For the psalmist, only after the hard realities are faced and the
doubts are aired and the truly guilty are fingered does complaint
give way to hope. Be sure that a reckoning will finally come.

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Only then is certainty expressed that God does indeed see and
God no longer hides, and when God sees, salvation will come
and healing will flow and injustice will be righted and good will
prevail.
Yet the church remains shortsighted. Already I hear leaders in
faith communities bemoaning the loss of Holy Week worship
and Easter celebrations. I have spoken similar words. Now
pastors hope-against-hope that Christmas will not be interrupted
this year. We sound more like retailers desperately trying to
salvage our bottom line than people of faith preparing to join the
battle against this pandemic.
The present reality presses us for a better hope based on the
truth. Hope and truth are in this moment in time, not some
unknown time in the future but now when we embody the love
of God. Hope and truth are reflected today when our actions
embody life in the face of death. People of God, we must not
wait four weeks to live into the reality of the Easter
proclamation that Jesus lives and brings us life. People of God,
we must not wait until December for the incarnation of Jesus to
take form in the way we respond today. Either today is our
Christmas incarnation, and today is our Easter dawn, when faith
encounters our world in its present crisis, or our faith is as
hollow as the values that guided us astray.
And many are not waiting. Tables are being set up in streets
with groceries for people to take. Restaurants in many towns are
providing lunch for every cancelled school day of the week, to
any child regardless of income. Bars and diners are providing
meals for out-of-work hospitality workers. Breweries are now

Page 6 of 7

making hand sanitizer. The auto industry is looking to retool
production lines to manufacture ventilators. Small businesses
and groups and individuals are sewing surgical masks for health
care workers and hospitals.
People at Grosse Pointe Memorial are stepping up. They are
volunteering to check on the isolated, to provide care and
groceries to those quarantined or sick. Some of our members
plan to take any governmental funds that they may receive and
direct it to others in dire financial situations. Others are
organizing grocery and food distribution. Some are examining
ways to assist the homeless and hungry in our community.
Their actions are tied directly to the hope and truth demanded by
the reality of this moment in time. They are the incarnation of
Christ in this world now, they are life overcoming the forces of
death today. They are not thinking of Easter and Christmas in
the future. No, they are being Easter and Christmas today.
And when I see hope and truth marshalled together in such a
fashion, I am assured that God sees, and healing and salvation
will come to the orphan and widow, and to all God’s people, and
to this world that God holds precious and loves.
As we move through this time, people will find many avenues of
healing and salvation to utilize. We will rediscover the wellworn paths of old that have lifted and sustained the human spirit:
music and song, poetry and all forms of writing, art and dance,
nature and its majesty. We must resist dividing the human
family into squabbling camps, we must stay unified together.

Page 7 of 7

In all of this, hope and truth will lead us to experience salvation
in this difficult time.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Mark E. Diehl
Grosse Pointe Memorial Church
Grosse Pointe, MI
March 22, 2020
Precautions and Guidelines for the Congregation Regarding COVID-19
In this time of heightened concern about the spread of contagious diseases such as the flu and
COVID-19 (the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus), GPMC is taking precautions to
protect the health of our members and visitors and staff. Please help us protect the health of all
(and especially those at high risk for serious complications) by proper hygiene and protective
measures that mitigate the spread of these viruses.
Precautions being taken at GPMC at this time (as of March 4, 2020):
• Hand sanitizer will be available at all entrances into the building and sanctuary, and in
every room.
• The sexton staff will implement more extensive and frequent cleaning and sanitizing of
surfaces in common areas of the facility.
• Our “Passing of the Peace” liturgy in worship will exclude physical contact (handshakes
or hugs, fist bumps or elbow touches) while including spoken greetings and gestures of
peace (waves, peace signs, nods, bows, clasped hands to one’s heart, etc.).
• Communion by intinction will not be observed until further notice.
• The church will follow recommended protocols and best practices for health as directed
by the CDC, NIH, departments of health, and medical experts.
Guidelines to mitigate the spread of disease while at GPMC:
1. If you are sick, have a cough or fever or runny nose, please do not attend services or
come to meetings or provide food services for gatherings at the church.
2. If your children are sick, have a cough or fever or runny nose, please do not bring them
to services or Sunday school or other church programs.
3. If you are medically fragile or vulnerable, consider staying away from large gatherings to
limit your exposure. Sermons are presently available on GPMC website and bulletins are
posted the Friday prior to Sunday worship. We hope to provide entire services of
worship through the website soon.
4. If you need care because of sickness or other need, please contact any of the staff.
5. Wash your hands frequently and do not touch your face with your hands.
6. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer between washings.
7. Keep a tissue with you to sneeze or cough into; then throw the tissue away and wash
your hands.
8. If you do not have a tissue to sneeze or cough into, direct it toward your bent elbow.
9. Say “hello” and “goodbye” with words and other non-physical expressions of warmth
and love and care (such as waving, nods, bows, clasped hands to one’s heart, etc.).
10. Pray for the wellbeing of all, and particularly for those most exposed because of their
contact with the public: medical and emergency personnel, staff, volunteers, care givers.
You can contribute to the good health of all by following these guidelines as we exercise care
for one another and take appropriate precautions!
March 18, 2020

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, the body of Christ here in this particular place, continues to
function as the hands and feet and voice and love of Jesus Christ. Much of the Apostle Paul’s
ministry was conducted from the “quarantine” of house arrest, yet the gospel message and the
Spirit’s work continued to impact the world for good and for God. To some, it appears that the
words and deeds and ministries of our congregation and the church at large are hobbled by the
threat of the pandemic and measures required to limit the spread of infection. I want to offer an
alternate perspective.
Our love of God and love of neighbor place an obligation upon the faith community to exercise
public health measures proven to reduce the spread of infection which helps to keep our health
care system from being overwhelmed and collapsing. To the degree that we pursue such
strategies, we contribute to reducing risk for our entire society, and particularly to those
most vulnerable to infection and for those facing other medical emergencies. As I John 4:21
reminds us, “The commandment we have from God is this: those who love God must love their
brothers and sisters also.” At this moment in time for most of us, the love of God and neighbor
will take the specific forms of social distancing, self-sequestering, the exercise of enhanced
hygiene, the use of technology to maintain connections and care, and the classic disciplines of
prayer and scripture reading and meditation and almsgiving.
A great challenge for the church in a time of social distancing is to build bridges and find
alternate measures that mitigate isolation and maintain community. The staff and leadership of
GPMC are working diligently to accomplish this, and are exploring technological solutions that
enable safe connection. In his “quarantine,” the Apostle Paul communicated through letters that
brought his message to the young church. We expect to broaden our outreach as new
communication strategies are implemented. We too, will utilize all communication avenues,
using email, our website, Facebook, telephone, and the US Postal Service as necessary.
A reality confronting American society will be the suspension of jobs, increasing unemployment,
and financial dislocation for industries. This will impact GPMC. The staff has been instructed to
reduce or eliminate elective budget expenditures and to review all expenses for the remainder of
the year. As the staff does their part to prepare for possible financial shortfalls, it is important for
those of you who support our ministry to maintain giving as much as possible.
Accompanying this letter is a list of present actions of staff approved by the Session that are
being implemented in response to COVID-19. This involves the cancellation of all in-person
public services of worship through May 10 (unfortunately including Holy Week and Easter). An
online service of worship each Sunday at 9 am will be offered live (and available later recorded)
through our website. We want you informed of these present actions, and to be aware that at a
moment’s notice our response may require further restrictions due to medical or governmental
requirements. Please consult GPMC’s Facebook page and website for the latest updates.

2
Much is left unsaid here, such as developing caring outreach to the sick or quarantined in our
congregation and community. More opportunities for ministry to others will present themselves
over time. As we see them, the faithful saints of GPMC will seize those opportunities.
Thank you for your continued prayers and your partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Mark Diehl, Interim Minister, Head of Staff

This item was submitted on May 3, 2020 by Mark E. Diehl using the form “Tell us about your religious community's response” on the site “Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive”: https://pandemicreligion.org/s/contributions

Click here to view the collected data.