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Dear ones,

 Last night on a conference call for Houston's religious leaders regarding the novel Coronavirus COVID-19, Dr. Peter Pisters (President of MD Anderson), Dr. David Callendar (President of Memorial Hermann), and the Greater Houston Partnership made the recommendation that in addition to heeding Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo's encouragement to cancel large gatherings, to cancel all group meetings of 10 or more people in the interest of public health. This afternoon Dr. Marc Boom (CEO of Methodist Hospital) and Dr. Ashley Drews (Infectious Disease Specialist) affirmed (even pleaded) that churches and institutions could do an enormous amount to stem the tide of this disease by practicing social distancing (avoiding large groups, staying 6 feet from other people). Your staff and leaders have been working on a plan to get our church through this time. This is still a very fluid situation so all is subject to change but this is where we will start moving forward together.

[ Worship ]
We will not worship face to face in our sanctuary for at least the next 3 Sundays. Do not come to St. Mark's for worship or Sunday School. While I grieve this, and will desperately miss seeing your faces and hearing your voices, we believe that the Gospel calls us to make decisions based on the common good and protecting the vulnerable. Right now, experts tell is that our outcomes of this outbreak will improve if we can "flatten the curve" of new infections by distancing ourselves to prevent so many people from getting sick at once, putting a strain on our healthcare system's ability to keep up. St. Mark's has always valued being good neighbors and faithful, responsible community partners. We believe this is the best way to do that now.

On Sunday morning at 10AM, we will send an email out with a link to our YouTube channel.  This week will not be a live stream, but pre-recorded. This will likely shift in coming weeks.  It's our long term plan to livestream via YouTube so this will help us all get practice!

[ Church Activities ]
As of today, all church activities, including our Children's Development Center, are suspended through the end of the month. However, your staff and church leaders met last night and this morning on Zoom to make plans for how we can worship, pray and connect together virtually-- there will be no events at the church.

[ Ministry Continuity ]
Our staff are all equipped to work remotely and will be doing so- you can still call the church during office hours, or contact us via email or our cell phones. Many in our community are experiencing income disruptions and we do not want that to be the case for our staff. Our plan will be pay all staff, including childcare and musicians in this season.

We will also still be responding to the needs of the community:
+ The Houston Food Bank has asked for volunteers to pack quarantine kits ( click here to sign up).
+ Wesley Community Center will be keeping its Food Pantry open to support families with kids out of school and are asking for volunteers 9am-3pm Tuesday through Saturday at 1235 Lorraine St. 

+ If you would like to donate food or supplies, the HIM Food Pantry is remaining open and would be glad to receive those donations ( himfoodpantry.org). 

If you have any symptoms of illness or have traveled out of the country in the past 2 weeks, please do not sign up for these opportunities until you are assured of your health.   We are grateful to our partners for helping protect our neighbors who are vulnerable to both health and economic effects of these cancellations.

[ Giving ]
Because we want to keep continuity in this time, we still need your financial support. Our main source of income comes from passing the plate in worship.  While we are unable to do this, the easiest way you can help is set up online payments (you can do one time or recurring) by clicking here.

 If you prefer to send a check the best thing to do is send it to our secure PO Box. The address is PO Box 30419 Houston TX 77249. While we are remote working, the box will only be checked once a week, so please allow a bit of extra processing time.

[ Community ]
I feel the palpable anxiety around us, friends. The last thing any of us need is more isolation, but unfortunately, that's what we have to do right now. We are working hard on ways to connect virtually and hope that you all will too. Check in on each other - let us know if we can help your Sunday School class find a way to connect virtually (Zoom, Webex, Google Hangouts and more are great options for that). We'll have morning and evening prayer via zoom and links will be sent for that as well. Our youth and children will be hearing from their leaders about online engagement for fellowship, prayer and continued learning. 

[ Prayer ]
Pray for our congregation, especially those who are already ill, homebound or in nursing care, immune compromised and at higher risk levels. Pray for those experiencing the economic and emotional impacts as well. Pray for our city and county that the spread of the virus will slow and our will be able to handle what may come.
Pray for our country and world that God's hand would guide its leaders to steady and decisive action that will reduce harm.
Pray for all our healthcare workers: doctors, nurses, first responders, researchers, administrators - we have many in our own congregation, and all will face difficult days ahead. Pray that God would sustain them and give them wisdom and strength for the days to come.
Let us know how can pray together using this form: 

We talk a lot about showing courage and love in action. This is a strange time because we believe our greatest courage and love will be shown through INaction. We can best love our neighbors right now by staying home, taking care of ourselves and our loved ones and finding creative ways to connect with each other. We love each other by washing our hands for 20 seconds (the Lord's prayer is a great timer for that!). We love each other by remembering and reminding that God is with us and is faithful in all things.

 With love and hope,

Pastor Emily Chapman

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