Churches, institutions suspend activities due to virus

Churches and colleges go online across U.S. and Canada as coronavirus outbreak grows

Mar 16, 2020 by and

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Mennonite churches and other organizations are finding new ways to operate or canceling activities to stem the spread of coronavirus.

A sign at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., on March 15 announces the cancellation of worship services. — Dale D. Gehman for MWR

A sign at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., on March 15 announces the cancellation of worship services. — Dale D. Gehman for MWR

Colleges are replacing in-person classes with remote classes. Mennonite World Conference canceled an international gathering in British Columbia. Spring relief sales supporting Mennonite Central Committee won’t take place. Mennonite Disaster Service is closing all projects. Personal care and nursing homes are restricting access.

On March 15, one week after Evergreen and Seattle Mennonite churches in the Seattle area canceled in-person worship services to gather virtually online, a wave of congregations across the United States and Canada did likewise, joined by others in Europe and Asia.

“We don’t make this decision lightly, and we do it with the deepest concern for the well-being of all in our congregation and in the broader community,” said Megan Ramer, lead pastor at Seattle Mennonite.

On March 15, among many cancellations of worship services across the country, at least two dozen congregations in each of Eastern District/Franconia, Atlantic Coast and Western District conferences canceled worship services.

Mennonite Health Services personal care and nursing homes have implemented strict entrance policies, limiting access.

“Each of our communities is responding to their state and local authorities, in addition to taking the necessary common- sense steps, to best ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and the communities they serve,” said Karen Lehman, president and CEO of MHS, a national association of 78 Anabaptist health and human service providers.

Every Mennonite Church USA and U.S. Mennonite Brethren college, along with Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, announced plans to switch from in-person to online classes and canceled events into April.

Bluffton (Ohio) University began online courses March 16 and is expanding its use of to-go cafeteria boxes.

Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., is using spring break March 16-20 to transition online and encouraged any student who leaves campus to remain away until at least April 5.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., canceled all public access to campus through at least April 3. On March 16 university officials requested students return home unless they receive special permission to stay on campus after a student with symptoms was taken to a hospital for testing. The student was receiving care in isolation on campus, and students who had been in contact were also in isolation.

Goshen (Ind.) College canceled international May term courses and summer Study-Service Term units.

Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., canceled classes March 16-20 ahead of spring break the following week, and announced on March 18 that classes will be online for the rest of the semester.

Hesston (Kan.) College canceled all college-sponsored spring break travel March 14-22, and students have the option of remaining home during the distance-learning period through at least April 13.

Relief sales canceled

MCC relief sales in California (April 17-18 in Fresno), Kansas (April 17-18 in Hutchinson), Idaho (April 18 in Nampa), Illinois (March 20-21 in Bloomington), Nebraska (April 3-4 in Aurora), North Dakota (April 3 in Harvey) and Pennsylvania (April 3-4 in Harrisburg) were canceled.

“There’s a better-than-average chance that most of the spring sales will be canceling or postponing until a safer time,” said Les Gustafson-Zook, MCC North American relief sales coordinator, on March 13. “Everyone is very concerned about exposing their volunteers to the virus, since many of the volunteers at the sales fit into the vulnerable category.”

Postponed renewal

MWC canceled its Renewal 2027 public event March 28-29 in Abbotsford, B.C., and Executive Committee meetings. Renewal 2027 is a series of annual global gatherings surrounding the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism’s beginning in 1525.

“We are cognizant of our global witness,” said MWC general secretary César García. “We are choosing safety by postponing this event.”

The Renewal event will now be held in 2022, and the Executive Committee will meet online to make the most urgent decisions.

MDS announced March 13 all projects are closing. MDS encouraged all volunteers to cancel scheduled travel.

Other COVID-19 impacts:

— Mennonite Central Committee is moving staff in Canada and the U.S. to telework from home as much as possible. Joint U.S. and Canada board meetings scheduled for March 20-21 in Winnipeg, Man., will take place online.

“We have limited all nonessential travel and are canceling, postponing or holding virtually any meeting or event that would pose a public health risk and are coordinating with our relief sale committees and other volunteer groups to do the same,” said MCC health coordinator Paul Fast on March 14.

— Mennonite Church USA postponed the Constituency Leaders Council meeting scheduled for March 26-28 in Kansas City, Mo., MC USA hopes to reschedule it in the late spring or summer. The Executive Board meeting scheduled for April 23-25 in Philadelphia is also postponed.

— The U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches canceled board meetings scheduled for the week of March 15-21 in Denver.

— Some congregations in Germany and the Netherlands canceled worship services, and the Association of German Mennonite Congregations is evaluating whether to hold a March 28 conference in Stuttgart.

— Mennonite Health Assembly canceled its March 18-21 conference in Greenville, S.C.

— LMC, a fellowship of Ana­bap­tist churches based in Lancaster, Pa., canceled its April 3-4 Leadership Assembly and Celebration of Church Life in New Holland, Pa. A portion of the planned program will be livestreamed.

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