Some churches are keeping the usual Sunday morning practices of shaking hands, hugging and sharing of physical items like hymnals to a bare minimum while providing lots of hand sanitizer. Others are urging members to watch videos of sermons online rather than showing up in person. And the governor of Kentucky has even gone so far as to ask the state’s churches to consider closing this weekend.
How is your church responding the threat that the coronavirus poses?
Christ Church Georgetown, located in Washington, D.C., was co-founded 203 years ago by Francis Scott Key, the composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But its rector, Rev. Timothy Cole was diagnosed this week with the virus. And what’s worse, he had participated in distributing the Communion elements – grape juice and wafers – at one of the three services the previous Sunday. Although he had sanitized his hands prior to offering Communion, a member of the congregation was later diagnosed with the virus. All services for the next Sunday were canceled.
The Seattle area was among the first places in the nation to experience confirmed cases of coronavirus. The regional body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) recommended that its churches in that area cancel large group gatherings, including Sunday morning worship. One larger church, Doxa Church, canceled its services but instead held an online service.
Many churches provide some kind of online services, either live-streamed or recorded for later viewing. These alternatives favor large churches with budgets that permit a vibrant online presence.
Smaller churches may not have sophisticated cameras, computer servers and the tech that larger churches do, but in the age of social media, nobody gets left behind. For example, the University AME Zion Church in Palo Alto, California may only have 300 members, and its sanctuary was nearly empty on March 8, but they were all able to watch a pre-recorded video of their pastor’s sermon on Facebook. And 80% of the church’s donations are already digital, so shutting down the building temporarily will not threaten its existence, as such a shutdown may have done before the digital age.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s suggestion/recommendation today that the state’s churches cancel worship services this Sunday indicates the level of heightened concern the virus is causing.
One megachurch I’m familiar with in the Lexington, Kentucky area is Southland Church. It’s taking an “all of the above” approach. It’s posted a notice on its website informing its members and the public that: it will have worship services on Sunday; its facilities team will be continuously cleaning high-contact surfaces during those services (i.e. bathrooms, door handles, etc); the church will forgo its weekly communion time and urges everyone to partake at home; volunteers and staff should stay home if they’re feeling unwell; greet people without shaking hands; and if you still have concerns, take advantage of the online church and giving links available on its website.
A little extra precaution is wise. But it’s also not a sign of panic. Churches already protect their members from health risks. Are your church’s nursery and toddler classrooms filled with wipes, sanitizer and cleaning protocols? Does any pastor recommend you come to church when you have the flu? The coronavirus has merely stepped up the precautions being taken because of its potential to spread and even cause death, especially among the older members or those fighting illness already.
Please pray that God would protect all of us and that He would end the virus’ destructive pattern. And may this reminder that we are all vulnerable and weak and in need of God’s grace and mercy drive us all into the arms of Jesus.