Changing How the Church Approaches COVID-19

On Monday, July 13, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that, due to increased transmission of COVID-19 across the state and rising hospitalization numbers, California would begin taking additional action to slow the spread of the virus. Effective at the time of the announcement, California would again restrict some indoor business operations statewide and additional indoor activities in counties that are listed on the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) monitoring list, available online here. This second group of closures includes religious gatherings.

Religious gathering closures are being handled on a county-by-county basis, determined by three factors currently monitored by the CDPH: elevated disease transmission, increasing hospitalizations, and limited hospital capacity. When a county experiences increases (based on 7-day averages) in those areas of monitoring for 3 days or more, that county is placed on the Monitoring list and must follow additional restrictions, including discontinuation of indoor worship services. A county must show decreased rates for three consecutive days to be removed from the list.

Based on the CDPH Monitoring list at the time of writing, almost all FMCSC churches are within counties that are experiencing significantly elevated transmission with many in counties that are experiencing increases in COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

With increased infections, daily numbers of deaths rising, and the life-altering, long-term impacts of COVID-19 becoming clearer, it’s easy to become disheartened. Add to that the fact that many of the counties that are experiencing increases in infections had public agencies that openly ignored safety guidelines, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine a day where we will be able to safely worship together again.

Do not lose hope!

Every Person Can Make a Difference

We can make a difference in the lives of individuals by taking simple actions:

  • Refrain from indoor worship gatherings.
  • Follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks while in public spaces.
  • Continue to abide by safer-at-home restrictions.

And just in case you’re wondering… yes… that’s a pretty Biblical way to approach an infectious disease! (See Leviticus 13)

Providing Needed Leadership

During this time, many people in the church have quoted a portion of Hebrews 10:25: “…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” while leaving out the rest of the statement that gets to the heart of discipleship:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25

It’s time to change the conversation.

So much of the current discussion of COVID-19 is focused on numbers: daily infection rates, case fatality rates, percent positive rates… it’s easy to forget that every single number is a life impacted by a disease we still don’t fully understand but has shown itself to have impacts that stretch far beyond the initial symptoms. As ministers of the gospel – a calling to people, not statistics – we are in a unique position to make a difference, give hope, and encourage the people within our scope of influence to do all the good they can in all the ways they can.

With a disease like COVID-19, there are no easy or quick solutions. But this is certain: each one of us must take an active, thoughtful role in how we respond to this virus. It’s time to embrace being responsive to the changing landscape of operating restrictions and carefully and confidently lead our people through the experience of starts and stops, not making promises we can’t keep based on circumstances out of our control. It’s time to be committed to saving our neighbors from needless suffering by doing the hard work of adapting to the current reality beyond gathering in person and creating new opportunities to serve. It’s time to be the church: walking together, sharing in this burden, and caring personally for one another with the love Christ has given us through the Spirit. Be smart, be safe, and lead courageously knowing that you are in the company of great spiritual pioneers who boldly followed the Spirit of God into new ways of thinking and ministering when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The Church is not closed. It never was and it never will be.

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

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