First, a note of confession: I am not currently pastoring a church nor do I have any official leadership responsibilities. My support is with those of you who are currently pastoring or leading and who are trying to navigate these turbulent and unknown waters. My prayers are with you daily and you have my admiration. With that said, though, I feel compelled to offer some thoughts on how we can be most faithful as God’s people:
Let me not bury the lede: The effects of this pandemic are going to get much worse before they begin to slow and ultimately get better. This will not happen in the next two weeks. It will only happen, according to those who know based on the best science, at the end of April at the earliest (that is why an increasing number of governors are closing states’ schools through April).
But such lessening of the effects will not happen unless all of us do our part do what scientists say is the most important thing: social distancing. And churches simply cannot guarantee that they can do that. Our Sunday gatherings are joyful noises to the Lord precisely in part because of the way we show our love and care and joy in one another through our closeness, our hugs, our handshakes.
But now is the time to love those just as much “on the outside” as those on the “inside.” Purportedly “safe” communion practices are not enough; attempts at requiring folks to sit apart and to not touch will fail; often the most frail will insist on being in worship at their own and others’ risk. How do we truly love both those “in” our own flock as well as the world God calls us to love? Precisely by doing those drastic things that slow down the spread of the virus: true social distancing, which, by definition, means not gathering together.
Why? Well, we’ve all likely seen by now the “flattening the curve” graphic that shows that social distancing can flatten the peak of infection so as to not overwhelm our health care system and its dedicated providers. But take a look at this other amazing graph that shows just how much the exponential power of the Covid-19 virus can be harnessed against itself: If we can avert ONE case tomorrow, that means over 2000 cases averted a month from now! (Read the whole article HERE)
Micah 6:8 famously reminds us that what God requires of us is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. To act justly is to seek to regard everyone – not just those close to us – as our siblings. To love mercy is to know that sometimes that means denying our desires for intimacy. To walk humbly is to not have the presumption that somehow we can be an exception to scientific wisdom.
We can’t do everything. But we can witness again panic and hoarding and fear-mongering. We can witness for acting in accord with the best scientific wisdom. We can insist that our officials make as much provision for “the least of these” as for the well-off and privileged.
But at least for right now, the very best thing we can do for ourselves and for those whom God loves is to cancel our church gatherings, hard as that seems. For not to do so is to knowingly trade the sickness and potential deaths of some people for our own desire for intimacy. And I truly do not believe that, understood that way, we want to do that.
So let’s work hard at staying in touch in other ways. Let us care in new ways for those in our flock who are isolated and vulnerable. Let us figure out how to worship together even while apart. Let us continue to trust in God, the One who is our life and in whom we live, move, and have our being, and from whom nothing can separate us.