Coronavirus (COVD-19) Information and Updates

As the rise and spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts our state, the Pennsylvania Conference is closely monitoring the news, working with pastors and principals in planning, preparing and decision-making for our churches and schools. Updates on actions the Conference is taking and its communications with our churches will be posted on this page.

We invite you to join us in praying for those affected, the healthcare professionals who are caring for those who are ill, and for all who are anxious and fearful about what happens next. Download a list of things to be praying for during this pandemic here.

Sign up for our eblast updates here.

Updates

March 26, 2020 – Summer Camp and Schools

Summer Camp

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our world and the expectation that this crisis could continue through July or August, Conference administrators have made the difficult decision to cancel plans for summer camp at Laurel Lake Camp.

“We were anticipating a great year for summer camp,” says Education Director Jeremy Garlock, who has been serving as this year’s summer camp director. “Registrations are the highest they’ve been at this point in the year. Several churches have already begun to send in names of children they are sponsoring from their churches and communities. Young adults were applying for positions on our summer camp staff. So the decision is an incredibly disappointing one to make, but it’s important to keep members and young people safe and do our part as a faith community to suppress the transmission of the coronavirus.”

Everyone who has already registered will receive a refund shortly. Thank you to churches who have sponsored young people, giving them an opportunity to discover a deeper understanding of God and enjoy the great outdoors at Laurel Lake. Those monies will be returned to church treasurers shortly.

New Youth Ministries Director Todd Casey is excited about next year’s camp program. “Camp is a powerful tool at the church’s disposal where children are introduced to Jesus Christ and decisions to follow Him are made,” he shares.

Education

In accordance with Governor Tom Wolf’s mandate, all Pennsylvania Conference schools will remain closed through April 6, possibly longer should the governor extend the state’s closure. Despite the closing of the school buildings, education is still happening. Each of our Pennsylvania Conference schools had a distance learning plan in place before students went home for spring break.

“The current pandemic is a true test of our education system,” states Education Director Jeremy Garlock. “I am proud to state that our education professionals are passing the test with flying colors!”

Elementary school and junior academy teachers are spending just as many hours educating students now as they did in the classroom. Each school designed a distance learning plan with their own students in mind, looking at technology available to students and children’s learning styles. Several teachers are doing double duty, teaching students online and also preparing packets, getting them to children, and connecting with them over the phone or email.

“It’s amazing to see the teachers using new ways and doing whatever it takes to do the thing they want to do—educate kids,” Garlock says.

Blue Mountain Academy staff prepared students for distance learning before spring break. Classes will resume on Monday, March 30, 2020. “Our staff is optimistic,” shares Principal Burney Culpepper. “Our administration is meeting together regularly. Our staff is organized and equipped for teaching online. The school year will continue. Academic credibility will be maintained. Diplomas will be awarded to those who complete the classwork.”

Blue Mountain Academy Alumni Weekend

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in accordance with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s mandates, Blue Mountain Academy and the Alumni Association have regretfully cancelled alumni weekend scheduled for April 24-26, 2020. We understand that alumni, especially honor class members, were excitedly planning to reunite with classmates here at BMA. We invite you to “reunite” on our BMA Facebook page and in other ways. We will be posting photos from yearbooks and encourage you to follow us on FB, look for friends and yourself. Share fun stories and great memories. Let’s unite together to connect with friends, catch up, and encourage one another.

March 22, 2020 Update — Blue Mountain Academy

Our world is constantly changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast to the anxiety pervading society, the Bible assures us we have nothing to fear because God is faithful and will never leave or forsake us. Praise the Lord for His promises!

One week ago, Tom Wolf, governor of Pennsylvania, closed all schools for two weeks. Blue Mountain Academy complied with this order and have been planning to reconvene classes on campus on March 30. Recently, however, other states have announced they are transitioning to online classes for the rest of the school year and we expect Pennsylvania will do the same. Consequently, BMA has decided to complete the year with distance learning beginning Monday, March 30. What does this mean for students?

  1. Academic credibility will be maintained and diplomas will be awarded to those who complete the classwork. Staff and students are fully prepared to make this transition.
  2. Class schedules will be optimized for distance learning and will be sent next week to all students. While school hours will approximate normal BMA times, they will be shorter.
  3. A special schedule will accommodate students living in China and Korea who have a 12+ hour time difference.
  4. There will be adjustment to FACTS and financial statements for students who are no longer boarding or eating in the cafeteria. This will be reflected week after next.
  5. Parents may arrange with BMA administration to pick up their child’s dorm possessions. The Conference camp meeting in June is cancelled, so belongings can remain safely in the dorm for some time.
  6. Should the governor lift the school closure, BMA will let parents and students know on-campus classes can resume. The BMA staff would love to have students back on campus, hearing their laughter, seeing their smiles, and joining them in praise, prayer, and worship.
  7. BMA hopes to be able to open the campus in time to conduct graduation May 22-24. If not, they will consider pushing it into June. We want the seniors and juniors to celebrate this amazing school year.

We understand this coronavirus disruption is unsettling for students and parents. Please know that the BMA staff is fully committed to serving parents and students during this last quarter. They stand ready to assist families in any way they can. parents and students can contact BMA with questions and concerns at 484-662-7000 or at info@bma.us.

Thank you for your prayers and patience as we work to turn adversity into triumph through the powerful grace of our Lord. Let us echo King David in Psalm 16:1, “In You, I have put my faith.

With continued faith in Christ,

Burney Culpepper, principal

March 20, 2020 – Pennsylvania Churches and Camp Meeting
Churches

On a conference call with pastors, volunteer lay pastors and church leaders last night, President Gary Gibbs recommended that all churches close their doors effective immediately and move Sabbath worship services online or join the worship services provided by the Conference leadership beginning Sabbath, March 21, 2020. This drastic measure is urged in an effort to keep members safe and do our part as a faith community to suppress the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. (A separate press release announces the Conference office is transitioning to a virtual office on Monday, March 23.)

Camp Meeting Update

Conference administration is regrettably announcing that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty in the length of the virus’ impact, camp meetings are cancelled for June. Due to the virus crisis, camp meeting speakers were also cancelling. President Trump announced earlier this week that the United States may be managing the outbreak through July or August.  Health experts expect that the country will be fighting the virus for months. We have been looking forward to camp meeting and this news is disappointing as we each face many changes in our plans, calendars, and lives. Conference leadership will continue to work with our pastoral staff to provide opportunities for worship, prayer, spiritual growth, and fellowship as we navigate the days ahead.

Everyone who has already registered will receive a refund shortly.

Stay Connected

It is important that churches continue to connect with members and their communities. Our brick and mortar buildings may be closed, but the ministry of the church has not stopped. The hope and courage that God, His Word, and worship brings is needed even more now in this moment of crisis. Church is not a building or something we do on Sabbath. Church is the people. We can continue to be the church, worship together, and impact our communities.

  • Many churches are offering online worship services. For those who are not, our office team will offer adult SS lesson study at 10:00 am and Sabbath morning worship at 11:00 am service with President Gary Gibbs each week through our Facebook page, facebook.com/PennsylvaniaConference. Simply go to our Facebook page (there’s also a link on the home page of our website which will take you directly there) and look for the post to pop up at 10:00 am and then again at 11:00 am. These services will remain online so that you can access them later in the day or in the week.
  • Pastors will continue to meet with Ministerial Director Tim Bailey and their regional team for prayer, updates, and encouragement via Zoom on a weekly basis.
  • Resources and options for innovative ministry through digital platforms, conference calls, and other means that will continue to connect churches, members, staff are being collected and shared with our pastoral team to help churches find new ways to “meet” together.
  • Ongoing communication will be shared with members through:
    • Our Facebook page, facebook.com/PennsylvaniaConference
    • Our website, paconference.org
    • Through eblasts—if you are not currently receiving our eblasts, please sign up at https://paconference.org/email-update/
  • Church buildings may be closed, but the financial responsibilities continue. Members may continue to support their local church and Conference evangelism and ministries through several methods:
    • AdventistGiving on your local church’s website or through the Conference website (if you are unsure how to use AdventistGiving, we have tutorial videos in both English and Spanish on our website at https://paconference.org/treasury/)
    • Mail your tithe and offering to your local treasurer (your pastor can provide the information needed)
    • Continue to write your tithe and offering check, placing it in your tithe envelope and holding it until we return to worship in our church buildings if you are unable to mail it, but note that your church will continue to pay bills during this time
  • Members and friends are invited to unite together in prayer at 8:30 pm each Monday evening by calling 605-472-5260 and entering code: 662834.

We encourage members to stay connected to each other. Call, Facetime, Skype, and check up on one another. Text and email are great, too, but it’s important that we have real conversations. Meet for prayer as a church family like our office team is doing through a free conference line, video group meeting, or a Facebook group. Connect with your neighbors, co-workers, and family through ways that allow you to show your care and keep social distancing at the same time.

God Will Give Courage

This is a time when many be anxious and even fearful. It is important that we remain and strengthen our connection with God. Spend time in scripture. Get outside and enjoy the beauty of spring and breathe fresh air. Eat healthy and get rest. Take breaks from the news and digital devices. Spend time with your family playing games, talking, reading books, and enjoying each other.

Encourage one another with God’s faithful promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. He’s with us in this difficult time and will guide us through this pandemic. He has promised, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NKJV

Our office team is praying for our members, students, pastors, teachers, and our communities. Let’s unite together and fulfill the mission of reaching everyone, everywhere especially in this time of crisis.

March 19, 2020 Update

Due to the rapidly changing situation with the COVID-19 Pandemic and it’s growing impact across our country and our state, the Pennsylvania Conference office will transition to a virtual office beginning at noon, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Conference administrators will reevaluate the situation each Thursday and determine if virtual operations need to be extended.

All efforts are being made to ensure that day-to-day operations will continue without interruption. Some of these include:

  • Pastors, teachers, members, and others will continue to reach our office team by calling the office at 610-374-8331 during regular office hours, 7:30 am-5:30 pm. If you’d like to talk to a specific person, simply call, and say their name when the auto attendant prompts, and the call will immediately be transferred to them. You can also stay on the line and our receptionist will take your call and assist you in finding the information or person needed.
  • Our office team will meet each morning at 8:30 am via Zoom for worship, prayer and to touch base about ministry and needs during our work week.
  • The office team will offer adult SS lesson study at 10:00 am and Sabbath morning worship at 11:00 am service with President Gary Gibbs each week through our Facebook page, facebook.com/PennsylvaniaConference.
  • Pastors are continuing their monthly regional meetings via Zoom.
  • Resources and options for innovative ministry through digital platforms, conference calls, and other means that will continue to connect churches, members, staff are being collected and shared with our pastoral team.
  • Our schools are currently closed for spring break in guidance with the governor’s mandated closure. Schools will reopen either in the classroom or through distance learning plans already in place for each of our schools, including Blue Mountain Academy, depending on the governor’s decision. Our educational team is organized and equipped to enable students to continue with their classwork and graduate at the end of this school semester.
  • Ongoing communication will be shared with members through:
    • Our Facebook page, facebook.com/PennsylvaniaConference
    • Our website, paconference.org
    • Through eblasts—if you are not currently receiving our eblasts, please sign up at https://paconference.org/email-update/
  • Church buildings may be closed, but the financial responsibilities continue. Members may continue to support their local church and Conference evangelism and ministries through several methods:
    • AdventistGiving on your local church’s website or through the Conference website (if you are unsure how to use AdventistGiving, we have tutorial videos in both English and Spanish on our website at https://paconference.org/treasury/)
    • Mail your tithe and offering to your local treasurer (your pastor can provide the information needed)
    • Continue to write your tithe and offering check, placing it in your tithe envelope and holding it until we return to worship in our church buildings if you are unable to mail it, but note that your church will continue to pay bills during this time
  • Members and friends are invited to unite together in prayer at 8:30 pm each Monday evening by calling 605-472-5260 and entering code: 662834.

Through this time of crisis, join our team in praying for our members, our communities, our churches and schools, those impacted by the virus, healthcare workers serving their communities, researchers as they learn more about the virus and work to end it, our Conference, church, and government leaders as they make difficult decisions, and those who are facing this pandemic without the hope and peace that trusting God brings. Jesus promises peace no matter what is happening in the world around us or in our lives, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27 NKJV) Let us keep our eyes on Him and look for opportunities to speak His words of courage and peace to those around us.

March 17, 2020 – Pennsylvania Churches

Click here to open the PDF update sent out today with information for churches and members about what to do regarding church services during this pandemic.

March 13, 2020 Update – Blue Mountain Academy

In response to Governor Tom Wolf’s announcement that all K-12 schools in Pennsylvania will be closed for ten days, Blue Mountain Academy will move their regular spring break to March 16-29 to coincide with the mandated closure. Parents may pick up all domestic students at BMA on either Saturday evening or Sunday, March 14 or 15. BMA will also provide our usual transportation home, on Sunday, for those who need it. The schedule for drop-offs will be sent to parents on Saturday evening in order to give staff enough time to gather data. International students may stay on campus as is often customary.  If parents need to make other arrangements, please contact BMA immediately.

BMA is requiring all students to take their books, computer, and schoolwork home with them. If needed, they are fully prepared to do classes online until the schools open again. Students have been preparing for this and learned how to access online classes this week. We will keep you informed of developments as they happen. Right now, students should plan to return to campus on March 29 for classes on March 30.

March 13, 2020 Update – Pennsylvania Adventist Schools

On Friday, March 13, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf announced that all K-12 schools in Pennsylvania will be closed for 10 business days due to the coronavirus.  The closure is effective Monday, March 16, 2020. Pennsylvania officials will continue to monitor COVID-19 and will reevaluate at the end of the 10 days to determine whether schools should remain closed for longer.

As a result, all Pennsylvania Conference elementary schools and junior academies will also be closed beginning, Monday, March 16. Education Superintendent Jeremy Garlock is carefully monitoring the situation and is working with principals and staff. During the closure, schools will be thoroughly cleaned. Students will return to the classroom when the governor and officials deem it safe and reopen schools.

Like Governor Wolf, one of our top priorities is to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities. We invite you to join us in praying for our students, their families impacted by the closures, our educational team, all those impacted by the virus, healthcare professionals caring for those ill, and government officials dealing with this crisis.

A Message from our President

March 12, 2020

Dear Pastors, VLP’s and Church Leaders:

As the coronavirus crisis expands, its impact on our Conference is also evolving. Be assured that your Conference officers are monitoring the situation closely and will communicate any actions needed to keep our members healthy. During this crisis, we appreciate your cooperation and leadership as we work together to minimize risk to everyone. While some people may feel that organizations are overreacting, others may feel the opposite. The important thing for us to remember is that we are God’s people and that United Together, We Fulfill the Mission.

Here are today’s latest developments in our rapidly changing area:

  1. Philadelphia officials have legally banned public gatherings of over 1,000 people for the next 30 days. They are also urging there be no gatherings of more than 250 people—this includes churches. They closed 63 schools today because of staffing shortage with staff who live in Montgomery County unable to come to Philadelphia to work.
  2. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has closed all schools, universities, gyms, entertainment venues and community centers in Montgomery County for 14 days, starting Friday, March 13. Governor Wolf also asked all non-essential retail stores to close. UPDATE: On Friday, March 13, Governor Wolf closed all schools for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16.
  3. Ohio’s governor is closing all schools for the next three weeks.
  4. Maryland is closing its schools for the next two weeks. They also are prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 persons, including churches.

You can see that each state is taking drastic measures to stem the transmission of this virus. In the Pennsylvania Conference, we need to do our part to stop COVID-19. Therefore, we are asking all our churches to help our communities in the following manner:

  1. The Conference now has a COVID-19 webpage on https://paconference.org/virus-updates/ with the latest information and resources for our members. This page will contain links to sermons the Conference will provide for those who must stay home on Sabbath and links to other Conference churches who livestream their services.
  2. Churches should plan to stay open unless the government orders they be closed. Those who are immunocompromised can join your livestream or access one of the livestream sermon options that the Conference is posting on its COVID-19 page.
  3. Churches need to assess their individual risks. Churches that are in the eastern part of the state, in urban areas, and that have exposure to New York City where the virus is having a large outbreak, are at a higher risk. These churches need to consider how to lessen their risk immediately. Things to consider: members who are elderly or immunocompromised can join the church service via livestream; some members who work in NYC (who might be at a higher risk of transmission) may self-choose to join the worship services via livestream so they lessen the risk for others at church; take the other measures mentioned below.
  4. The Conference is urging all churches cancel fellowship meals, communion services, outreach events, and all other gatherings besides church services until May 1.
  5. The Conference is cancelling or postponing all its sponsored events beginning Monday, March 16 through Thursday, April 30. Events will be evaluated and possibly rescheduled later. (This includes: God’s Girls Gala, the Geography Challenge, Hispanic Evangelistic meetings, Western Youth Rally, and Lay Leadership Training. We are working with the hotel that is hosting Women’s Retreat to determine the future of this event and will announce accordingly.)
  6. Pastor’s regional meetings will move to Zoom until the first of May when everything will be re-evaluated.
  7. The Conference is postponing Global Youth Day (March 21) until Sabbath, May 2.
  8. Pathfinder events are cancelled including the Union PBE scheduled for March 21, 2020. Alternate arrangements may be made and announced later.
  9. BMA is assessing what additional actions they may take, and an announcement is forthcoming.
  10. The Conference is asking that all churches use the following stages to determine their future church services and activities. (The message below can be shared with our members.)
Pennsylvania Conference Coronavirus Plan for Churches

 World governments are learning that the only way to stop the COVID-19 coronavirus from spreading is to limit travel and human-to-human contact. This is why entire countries and continents have taken drastic measures to stop travel and group gatherings. Local governments and institutions are following similar containment procedures. For example, on March 12, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf ordered the closure of schools, universities, gyms, entertainment venues, and community centers in Montgomery County starting Friday, March 13. Maryland also announced they are closing schools for two weeks.

Likewise, as the COVID-19 crisis evolves, the Pennsylvania Conference is diligently working to provide guidance to our churches so that they can keep our members and communities healthy and safe. The following three-staged plan for local churches identifies which actions your church should take to limit virus transmission in your church and community. Please note that we are calling for all churches to implement Stage 2 actions this Sabbath, March 14, 2020.

Because this situation is rapidly changing, Conference leadership may need to adjust the action items below. As the situation develops, local church leaders will be notified and the news will be updated on the Conference website.

Stage 1: Warning
Indicator: Confirmed cases in the United States
Actions for Local Churches to Take:
  • All worship, ministries, and meetings in churches remain active. All schools remain open.
  • Extra sanitation and cleaning performed in all facilities—schools, churches, office, etc.
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs, and other forms of physical greetings.
  • Encourage handwashing and use of hand sanitizer, making soap, water, towels, tissues, and hand sanitizer available in all areas of the church, school, or office.
  • Encourage those who are not feeling well to stay home for church services, from school, and from work (office, church or school.)
  • For those uncomfortable attending church in person, provide online worship options. (Our Conference website has links to churches offering live worship services as well as sermons by our Conference president, Gary Gibbs. https://paconference.org/virus-updates/)
Stage 2: Alert
Indicator: Confirmed cases in Pennsylvania
Actions for Local Churches to Take:
  • Church services continue on Sabbath.
  • People with any illness remain at home.
  • Greeters will welcome people but not hand out bulletins or hugs. Bulletins are on a table for people to pick up on their way in.
  • Cease all fellowship meals, communion services, outreach events, and all other non-Sabbath worship gatherings.
  • Tithes and offerings should be collected at the back door of the sanctuary as members leave; offering plates are not to be passed in order to limit the spread of germs. You still share the offering appeal and video as a regular part of the service.
  • Extra cleaning and disinfecting before and after worship services and Sabbath school.
  • Pastors greet people after the service as usual, but no hugs or handshaking.
  • All members or staff who contract COVID-19, or ordered to do so, are quarantined at home and do not attend any church functions.
Stage 3: Critical OUR CURRENT STAGE
Indicator: Confirmed cases in our churches, schools, academy, or upon the advisement/mandate of the local, state, or federal health officials or governor
Actions for Local Churches to Take:
  • Churches in impacted areas (or across the Conference if mandated by the governor) will be closed and services moved online. For those churches unable to stream services, a list of links to live worship services and sermons by President Gary Gibbs will be on our website.
  • All giving will move to each church’s online giving via their website or with checks sent to the local church treasurer. Members can also give through the PAConference.org website’s Giving/Online Giving page. Since expenses will continue during this crisis, members are encouraged to unite together to support the church.
  • All church and/or school facility use and events will be suspended until further notice. Church and school board meetings will move to conference calls through services like https://www.freeconferencecall.com/.

We will continue to monitor information released by the CDC and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and make necessary adjustments. We will release updates on status changes through the Conference’s Facebook page and website. Our hope is that these actions will keep our church and community members safe, while doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help avoid overwhelming medical facilities.There also may be measures taken at the Conference office that affect our normal business hours. For example, the Conference office may need to close if the governor issues an order to shut down businesses in our area or if a staff member contracts the virus and it is spread to the building. If this happens, we are prepared to work from our homes to continue Conference business. Also, our officers and department leaders may need to reassess their Sabbath speaking appointments if there are church closures. Each speaker will work directly with their scheduled churches on an as-needed-basis.

My friends, the world around us may feel anxious and fearful, but you and I can rest in the knowledge that God is able to see us through whatever comes. (See Romans 8:35-39 for very encouraging words.) Our Heavenly Father has not abandoned us. This is an opportunity for us to share words of hope, encouragement, and the gospel with our neighbors. People are looking for something to bring peace and assurance. We have that message. Let us unite together to fulfill the mission of reaching everyone, everywhere with the hope-filled Advent message.

Sincerely,

Elder Gary Gibbs, president

Blessing the Local Church

While some may choose to worship from home temporarily, there is also the potential that Governor Wolf may mandate closings of churches and group meetings in some areas, like in Montgomery County, and possibly across the state should the outbreak continue to grow. It’s important that we stay connected as a church family during this time of crisis and concern.

We encourage members to continue to support your local church in a variety of ways:

  • Pray for your church, your leadership, members, and the community around your church–for health, calmness, peace and trust in God.
  • Stay connected to members who are not able to attend at this time because of their health. Call, text, email, send a card. Let’s not allow this pandemic to disrupt our friendship, fellowship, or caring.
  • Create ways to stay in touch and pray together. Live stream worship services, start a prayer call using a Free Conference line like this service, use Skype, Zoom, and Facetime in order to talk in real time and almost face-to-face.
  • Check in on older members. They may already not attend church, but they, too, are hearing the news and may have fears about what’s going on. Check out these ideas from Jeannette Dare, Adventist Community Service Director, for helping members in tangible ways.
  • Continue to support your local church financially. Churches will continue to have bills and expenses even if they are unable to meet, worship and give members the opportunity to give. You can give online through your church’s AdventistGiving.org account or send your offering to your local treasurer. Contact your pastor for information.