It was one of the first cities to feel the huge impact of COVID-19. Seattle, Washington, is still in the midst of the battle with the virus. The latest statistics out of the city indicate more than 500 people have died and there are approximately 10,000 who have been diagnosed with the disease over the last several weeks.
Despite the numbers, there are reasons for optimism as city officials report that the number of newly diagnosed cases continues to drop, a testament to social distancing. The states of Washington, Oregon, and California are also shipping unused ventilators to East Coast hospitals to deal with shortages there.
The Presbytery of Seattle continues to reach out to pastors and congregations to ensure they are taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and provide resources where needed.
Co-executive Presbyter Scott Lumsden says they are doing as well as can be expected right now, adding that churches have done a good job of adapting to their circumstances.
“There were days when things were changing hourly,” said Lumsden. “I remember a day in the office, a Wednesday morning, we were talking about whether we would cancel events and by two o’clock, we wondered why we even considered it in the first place. It seemed like the morning discussions were a year away, that’s how quickly things changed.”
Lumsden says that despite the surrealness of the situation, the churches have done a fantastic job of adapting the way they worship, communicate and reach out to each other.
“It’s been fascinating to watch how we pastor churches in this time of isolation. For some, they’re getting back to phone trees. For others, they’re relying on online worship,” he said. “The regulations changed weekly for a few weeks. It’s been interesting to see how different the response has been and theologically how churches are thinking this through. For some, it’s a wilderness experience; for others, it’s an exile and there are those that see it as a new way to connect with each other.”
Lumsden says he holds weekly Zoom meetings across the presbytery each Wednesday to see how everyone is doing and to learn of the blessings and challenges of ministry now.
“Everyone says how important it is to check in with each other. I get a little bit emotional to hear how necessary it is for leaders to interact, just to see someone’s face and hear their voice,” he says. “Recently, I led the meeting and we had a check-in. I asked them how they’re doing emotionally. It’s an affirmation of how helpful this is.”
One thing the experience of the last several weeks has taught Lumsden is that everything has changed.
“I feel as if it’s almost like a reset, like we’re in a new beginning in a strange way,” he said. “I’m convinced that we’re not going to be the same when we get back together again. Things we took for granted and things that we thought mattered, priorities have changed, and other things have risen to the surface.”
Lumsden says he’s also picked up the first acknowledgement of compassion fatigue among pastors and other church leaders.
“I can sense it myself and things can’t be status quo anymore. I can’t have a new meeting to talk about plans we made six months ago, I just can’t do it,” he said. “I think that’s the hard part of what we’re going through, recognizing that the old status quo is gone and we’re trying to hold on to it, but we won’t get it back.”
Lumsden anticipates another month or so of staying at home and he’s concerned about how church leaders will be able to get back and pick up the pieces of what COVID-19 has disassembled.
“I pray that there won’t be too much damage done. I trust God will get us through, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some very hard things to face when we get back together,” he said. “As people return to their offices and sanctuaries, meetings, it’s going to be very hard.”