The Coronavirus is creeping its way around the world. It is not nearly as dangerous (yet) as the common flu, but it is causing havoc everywhere: universities, stock markets, airlines, events and festivals, and certainly cruise ships!
China, Korea, Italy, and Iran continue to be the centers of concern, and this draws my focused attention because my only daughter Sarah Kate is living in Italy at this very moment, since January 6.
When she is coming home, neither she nor we know. I am watching those developments closely, but I am also thinking about something else—
Is my church ready for the Coronavirus?
Is YOUR church ready?
We need to protect our people—those who come to worship, study, eat, and work. Here are some of the ways other congregations have embraced this need: provide clean hands protocols in every way possible; intensify cleaning and disinfecting everything, especially door knobs, kitchen and bath facilities, and other surfaces often used (offering and communion plates, for instance); discontinue shaking hands, holding hands, passing the peace, and using cash; tighten administration of communion (or suspend altogether); and give people permission (or even direction) to stay at home, a difficult task for those in traditions that emphasize counting heads!
We need to serve our communities—the people who live around us who may not ever attend any church anywhere anytime. The Coronavirus (and other volatile things) can disrupt normal routines, much like blizzards or hurricanes. In such times, people need to connect with people: friends, neighbors, strangers, stranded travelers, especially the very old and the very young. This opens up fresh opportunities to reach out to those around us, especially those who are old, isolated, or infirmed. Who knows what good gospel work can arise from such an unusual community situation!!
We need to adapt our churches. It is one thing to post sanitizing centers throughout a church campus; but it is another to operate in the midst of an official “Do Not Gather” order, such as are in effect now around the world and in some places in the United States. As festivals cancel, colleges dismiss, and meetings reschedule for a latter date, we need to ask: how can we maintain our ministry if we are not permitted to gather. Perhaps it is time to adjust to the real world of the 21st century! There is more than one church needing this gentle nudge to just that! And this is where that marvel of modern media comes to the rescue.
Yes, the old technologies of radio and television will be in play; but here is a wide-open opportunity to embrace the new media: email Facebook, Facebook Live, websites, podcasts, YouTube, Zoom, and a host of established and emerging platforms already being commandeered for gospel use by other forward thinking pastors, teachers, and evangelists.
Perhaps nothing a church can do is quite as flexible as owning and using an organizational app, that powerful little tool for the smart phone. Design it to support all the functions of the church: connecting with people wherever they are: disseminating information about the organization; receiving news, reports, and (prayer) requests from anybody; sustaining financial operations (giving, counting, spending, saving); soliciting opinions (through automated surveys) and votes (showing election officials how it can be done!); organizing people according to needs, interests, or responsibilities; even connecting them with important resources far away from the congregation.
Nothing will replace the coming together of believers, as the apostles knew so long ago: “Let us not neglect our meeting together …” one of the wrote in what we now call the Bible. This is especially true when loneliness is already an epidemic in our culture; the “Do Not Gather” only intensifies the need to stay connected to people. Some are urging that large meetings in religious buildings be replaced by small gatherings in homes and shops, and this may be a solution–an organized scattering of the people of the Way. But modern media has demonstrated that cyber assemblies have a power all their own, able to connect people and create communities in ways not possible with either bricks and mortar or pulpits and pews or even couches and coffee.
One thing is for sure: it is the message of Good News that needs to travel like a heavenly medicine, from one person to another, carried along by the touch of care and community. The declaration of pandemic adds yet another layer of anxiety upon a global population already unsettled by wars and rumors of wars, wave after wave of refugees, eruptions of racism and tribalism, unsettled markets, and unstable leaders. The announcement we need to hear is some version of that most-oft repeated command of God: Do Not Fear! Through media old and new, in gatherings large and small, from apostles lay and ordained, we need to spread the always welcomed word of trust in a time of doubt, peace in a sea of uncertainty, and hope during these days of disease. This is our calling for these times. This is the announcement we are sent to proclaim.
God with us, let us give thanks!