Pastoral Letter from Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes

Dear Friends,

This has been a difficult time for all of us.  This being just the third time in history when the world has faced a pandemic, it is no wonder that the COVID-19 virus has swept through entire countries, all of which were grossly unprepared to meet the threat.  You and I have the dark “privilege” of witnessing and experiencing these rare events firsthand.

This letter is not about the Coronavirus, however – though I will publish a timeline of events at the end for those who have been asking what happened after I returned from Spain.  This is a letter of apology.  I am deeply sorry to all those who have been put at risk through my decisions – no matter how right or wrong they were – especially those who have been quarantined and their families.

It is strange how life gets turned upside down during a time of pandemic.  Decisions you make to protect the people you love can become the very decisions that put these very people at risk. 

I never would have guessed that my trip to Spain, which I undertook because I am uncomfortable leading people to places abroad that I have not been to myself, would put the very people who attended the Tri-Faith Spain Tour informational gathering last Wednesday night directly in harm’s way.

In a pandemic, many decisions you make with the best of intentions actually end up serving the opposite of what you intend. 

After learning that I was COVID-19 positive at 11 p.m. Friday night (not Thursday night – I misspoke in the sermon video) I was finally given clearance by the Douglas County Health Department to inform people on Saturday afternoon. My decision to inform the general public by posting my Sunday sermon video to 5,000 people on Facebook and speak with the media proved to be a case in point.

In the words of Jesus, “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32) I try to live by these words in everything I do, but I failed to recognize that timing is sometimes as important as truth-telling.  I should have waited to go public until after the congregation had been fully informed – not just those who happened to watch the sermon.  My truth-telling may have set others free, but it did not necessarily set you – the people I love and care about most – free.

Another thing I have learned is that in a pandemic you are suddenly asked to make dramatic changes in your social behavior.  Especially if you carry the virus, every mistake you make directly impacts others. 

When I returned to the office last Tuesday afternoon, I was hyper-vigilant about sanitation and social distancing until I self-quarantined on Thursday morning.  Yet, despite my vigilance, I wasn’t 100 percent perfect.  Each mistake, however small, created a risk and triggered a quarantine.

To all of you, I am sorry.

I know that you are a generous-spirited and forgiving congregation, which is why I am especially sorry for one more failure: In our online worship on Sunday, I failed to adequately acknowledge the pain you were experiencing. Whether or not you find blame in my decisions or actions, and whether you were helped or hurt by them, your world has been turned upside down just as much as mine has.  In my effort to acknowledge the brighter angles of the pandemic, I did not adequately acknowledge the darker ones.

I should have modeled how both the light and the darkness can exist simultaneously within each one of us, like a candle burning in the dark.  I hope that I am at least modeling that now.  Both light and dark are within me.  If you love the one, you will likely experience the other as well.  Within our congregation, I have always loved and accepted both the light and the darkness.  I hope you can do the same through your forgiveness of me and anyone else who is especially in need of God’s grace right now.

I also hope to make amends. In the coming days and weeks, I hope you will see, through my actions, that I continue to learn from my mistakes.

This Dark Wood experience has made me more cognizant than ever that, as a community, every decision we make affects others.  During a pandemic, it may be impossible to make decisions that have positive effects for everyone. Yet it most certainly is possible to be more sensitive to those who are suffering alongside you.

Grace and peace,



Timeline of Events:

Monday, March 2: Eric and Melanie Elnes leave for Spain. No travel advisories had been issued.

Monday, March 9: Eric and Melanie Elnes return from Spain at midnight.

Tuesday, March 10:

Noon: Eric returns to the office. No symptoms all day long.

6 p.m.: Attends Tri-Faith Board Meeting at Temple Israel until 9 p.m.

Wednesday, March 11:

9 a.m.: Eric returns to the office.

2 p.m.: Eric first notices a mild cough. Assumes his allergies are acting up.

6 p.m.: Eric goes to Temple Israel to help with the Spain Tour meeting until 7:30.

8 p.m.: Eric learns that Trump Administration has announced travel restrictions on those coming from 26 countries, including Spain. Becomes concerned.

Thursday, March 12:

7:30 a.m.: Eric’s cough didn’t go away overnight. Immediately self-quarantines and calls a Coronavirus hotline. They instruct him to get tested and remain self-quarantined.

9 a.m.: Eric informs church personnel and leaders he is getting tested, meets with staff via Zoom at noon.

1:30 p.m.: Tested for both Influenza and Coronavirus at Clarkson Family Medicine.   Quarantine continues up to present with Eric working from home.

Friday, March 13:

9:30 a.m.: Eric informed he has tested NEGATIVE for any form of influenza (flu).

10 a.m.: Eric informed that Coronavirus test results will take much longer.

11 p.m.: Eric informed he has tested POSITIVE for COVID-19. Given strict instructions to tell no one until Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) can contact him, create list of “significant contacts,” and inform them.

Saturday, March 14:

9:00 a.m. (roughly): DCHD makes first contact with Eric. Investigation continues throughout the morning.

2:30 p.m.: “A Message from Our Senior Minister” is emailed to the congregation announcing Countryside’s pandemic response, urging people to view his online message at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.

3:30 p.m.: DCHD has informed all parties deemed “significant contacts” at the time.

3:45 p.m.: Eric notifies church staff and leaders of his test results.

Sunday, March 15:

10 a.m.: Eric makes announcement of his COVID-19 test in online worship attended by 260 viewers.

1 p.m.: Eric posts sermon video to his public Facebook feed.