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Coronavirus forces widespread cancelations, adjustments

3.16. 2020 Written By: John Longhurst, Tim Huber and Sheldon C. Good

Photo: A sign at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on March 15 announces the cancellation of worship services. Photo by Dale D. Gehman


With the COVID-19 outbreak disrupting day-to-day life for millions across the United States, countless congregations canceled in-person worship services March 15 and provided livestreaming or other virtual worship options and resources in an unprecedented effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Meanwhile, colleges have replaced in-person classes with remote classes. Mennonite Church USA has postponed Constituency Leaders Council and Executive Board meetings. Mennonite World Conference has canceled an international gathering in British Columbia. Mennonite Disaster Service has closed all projects. Mennonite Health Services has canceled its annual conference, as many of its member organizations—including senior services, behavioral health services and intellectual and developmental disabilities services nonprofits—have implemented health and safety measures such as strict visitation policies. At least 33 states have closed schools, including many members of the Mennonite Schools Council.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Here’s a list of what and who we know has been affected as of March 17:

Mennonite organizations

Everence is closing all of its offices to the public until March 27. The majority of Everence employees have been instructed to work from home; staff and office contact information is available on the Everence website. Credit union members may access their accounts anytime through online banking, the mobile app and ATMs, and through Everence Federal Credit Union drive-thrus during regular business hours. Everence has developed an informational sheet (in English and Spanish) to help churches and other groups respond to and manage issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mennonite Central Committee instructed staff to work from home if they can and to postpone or cancel travel where possible. MCC relief sales in Illinois (March 20-21 in Bloomington), Nebraska (April 3-4 in Aurora) and Pennsylvania (April 3-4 in Harrisburg) have been canceled.

Mennonite Church USA postponed the Constituency Leaders Council meeting scheduled for March 26-28 in Kansas City, Missouri. 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. MC USA shared a list of resources for responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mennonite Disaster Service announced March 13 all projects are closing. MDS encouraged all volunteers to cancel scheduled travel. “It’s not a decision we ever expected to make,” said executive director Kevin King. “But given the rapidly changing situation with the virus, we needed to do it. The health and safety of our volunteers, and of the people in the communities where we are serving, is our top priority.”

Mennonite Economic Development Associates instructed staff to use their discretion for nonessential travel.

Mennonite Health Services canceled the Mennonite Health Assembly conference scheduled for March 18-21 in Greenville, South Carolina. In a note to conference attendees, MHS noted its members “serve the most vulnerable populations and we believe that it is our priority to do everything we can to minimize as much risk as possible.”

Mennonite Mission Network canceled the Sent Conference scheduled for April 24-26 in Philadelphia. An update from MMN said it has “hopes of rescheduling in the fall.” The Mennonite Voluntary Service staff and local unit leaders gathering March 27-28 will now be held virtually.

Mennonite World Conference canceled its Renewal 2027 public event scheduled for March 28-29 in Abbotsford, British Columbia, along with Executive Committee meetings. The Renewal event will now be held in 2022, and the Executive Committee will be meeting virtually.

Mennonite colleges and universities

Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, canceled classes March 16-20 to prepare for what is anticipated to be online, not face-to-face, courses after spring break March 23-27. Students can decide whether to stay on campus or temporarily return home. Athletic activities and all indoor gatherings of 50 or more people are canceled or postponed.

Bluffton (Ohio) University canceled in-person classes, implementing remote classes March 13 to April 13.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, moved classes to online instruction March 17 to April 3, in addition to canceling all public events and public access to campus through April 3. EMU students were asked to return home March 16 after a student exhibiting flu-like symptoms was taken to a hospital the night before for testing. The student is receiving medical care in isolation on campus, and students who have been in contact are also in isolation on campus.

Goshen (Indiana) College is canceling all classes for the week of March 16 and resuming March 23 online. Students are being transitioned off campus. A college statement said Study-Service Term students in Tanzania and Ecuador will return to the United States “at the earliest possible time,” and summer SST units and international May Term classes will not be offered. Large gatherings and public campus events are being canceled. The spring athletic season is canceled.

Hesston (Kansas) College canceled classes March 13 to transition to online classes through at least April 13. After spring break March 14-22, during which all college-sponsored travel was canceled, students have the option of remaining home during the distance-learning period, or returning to campus where they may be placed in isolation for a period of time.

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