from the entire Elder Team, written by Erin

On Wednesday evening, March 11, my Twitter feed was blowing up with news about the Coronavirus:

  • Many colleges (including several in Iowa) are switching to online-only classes after their Spring Breaks next week.
  • The NBA just suspended all games until further notice.
  • President Trump has banned all international travel (except to the UK) for 30 days.
  • The NCAA has announced that only coaches, players, some family, and essential staff will be allowed at upcoming championship games (men’s & women’s basketball, as well as wrestling). (3/12/2020 Update: all NCAA tournaments were completely canceled.)

And that was all in one evening. Why so many cancellations all at once? Because on March 11…

  • …the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
  • …over 126,000 people in 114 countries had contracted the disease (half of whom had already recovered).
  • …more than 4,600 people had died globally.
  • …Italy had seen over 2,300 new cases and over 200 deaths in a 24-hour period.
  • …Germany expected 70% of their population to eventually be infected.
  • …the U.S. had over 1,300 cases and had seen almost 40 deaths.

(If you want to see up-to-date statistics, head here.)

Closer to Home

When I have been out in the community and this topic inevitably comes up, I have heard strong opinions.

  • I’ve heard some say this issue is being blown completely out of proportion and “it’s really no big deal.” They’ll quote statistics about how many people have died of the flu, or pneumonia, or even diarrhea – and it’s always more than the number of people who have died from COVID-19.*
  • At the same time, others have admitted they’re scared (usually scared for an elderly loved one). The lack of toilet paper at Walmart this past Monday would confirm the fear many people have.

So should we be scared? Or is this really no big deal? Here is where we, the Elder Team, are at concerning this issue:

1. We don’t need to be scared.

Why not be scared in the face of such daunting statistics? Scripture teaches us to not fear, but rather trust God.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe (or Trust) in God; believe (or trust) also in me.” (Jesus in John 14:1)

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Do not be anxious 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

2. We do need to be wise.

While we are not to be ruled by fear, we have been given minds by God, and we believe He expects us to use them. It does not seem wise to to ignore what multiple governments and scientists are reporting or to sneeze into our hands and then shake hands with everyone we possibly can to try to prove some point.

So in our desire to be wise, yet not cower in fear, we have put together the following “plan”:

Infectious Disease Policy

1. Stay home if you are sick.

Some people feel like God will love them a little less if they don’t show up on Sunday, or that the church body will judge them as bad Christians for not coming on a Sunday morning. Rest assured, we will not judge your spiritual health if you stay home due to a lack of physical health! We try to have our sermons uploaded on Sunday afternoons, so if you don’t feel well, stay home and catch up online.

This suggestion aligns with what already exists in our Kids Creek policies. In Section 2A of the Parents section of the Kids Creek manual, we say:

If a child is sick or has been sick within the past 24-hour period before church services or events, we ask that you NOT bring your child to church. Please adhere to the 24-hour fever rule, where a child needs to be fever free without medication for a 24-hour period before attending church. Children with the following symptoms may be contagious:

  1. Fever of 100 degrees or higher
  2. Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  3. Yellow or green nasal mucous
  4. Severe coughing, strep throat
  5. Any untreated rash, skin infection or open lesion
  6. Head lice or nits in the hair

Thank you for helping keep other children healthy!

In case you didn’t know, symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. But we encourage you to “love your neighbor” by staying home on Sunday if you have a bad cold or any type of flu symptom, not just the symptoms of COVID-19.

2. Wash 20 seconds and/or use hand sanitizer

In case you haven’t noticed, we have hand sanitizer in strategic locations at Droste Hall. We hope to get more (especially a dispenser on a stand to place by the main door) but panic over COVID-19 has made this resource incredibly scarce.

Far more effective than hand sanitizer is plain old soap. The CDC is recommending people wash their hands for a full 20 seconds. For churches, it is being recommended that people recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing the first verse of Jesus Loves Me as both of those take about 20 seconds to complete.

This coming Sunday, you will notice signs at all sinks reminding you to wash your hands for the full 20 seconds.

3. Communion Changes

We plan to continue serving communion every week. For now, we will not be passing the elements (which I (Erin) will personally miss as I enjoy taking communion together as one church family), but rather have the elements at “stations” like we do most Sundays. We will also be doing our best to spread out the elements so it is easier to pick up a cup or piece of bread without touching other cups or bread pieces.

4. Giving Changes

We will also put a pause on passing the Giving Bags at the end of the Worship Gathering. Rather, we will set up the Giving Box (normally found on the Give & Grow table) on the high round table, and ask you to put your Connection Cards and financial giving in the box.

With that said, we highly recommend setting up recurring giving online so that even on the Sundays you can’t make it (or so you don’t have to worry about stopping by the Giving Box), you can still support the mission of Riverwood and worship God through giving of your finances.

5. Handshakes

One of the biggest compliments I hear about Riverwood from first-time guests is just how welcoming all of you are. Please keep it up! But when you greet people, don’t be offended if someone chooses to not shake your hand. Or if you would prefer not to shake hands, acknowledge the awkwardness of breaking cultural norms, but verbally let them know you are still glad to meet them.

6. Pray

Lastly, pray for:

  • protection
  • those who have been infected
  • grieving families
  • those living in fear
  • wisdom for our nation’s leaders
  • the Church to love well during these times
  • God to draw people to Jesus through these events

7. We won’t stop meeting on Sundays, unless…

…the State of Iowa or the federal government bans public meetings. God calls for us to submit to the government, so if they tell us to stop meeting, we will. If that day comes, we’ll figure out a way to still gather online (through something like Zoom) and do what we can to encourage you to continue to follow Jesus. Until then, we will happily keep gathering to worship the Triune God each and every Sunday.

Conclusion

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of the elders. Our contact info is always on the back of the Sunday Handouts, or send an email to and it can be forwarded on to the appropriate elder.

We love you all. We are praying for you weekly. And we trust that the Riverwood family will continue to grow spiritually and numerically during these uncertain days of coronaviruses, new buildings, and election years because God’s gospel won’t change a bit!

*In the last full flu season, the flu infected 35.5 million Americans, killing over 34,000 of them. This equates to a 0.9% death rate. As of March 11, COVID-19 has only infected 1000 Americans, but globally it has a 3.4% death rate (but that is expected to fall as more and more countries get ahead of the disease).