Wow, talk about a loaded question! Unless you have been living in a proverbial cave, it’s no secret that we are living through, probably, the most life altering crisis we have ever seen In our lifetimes. Many in our grand country are locked in a debate over how much of this crisis is health and how much is hype. It probably depends quite a bit on where you are located and the situation where your church is. According to the Wall Street Journal, over one half of the states in the U.S. are under some form of “Stay at Home” order potentially affecting 100 million citizens. New York, as of this morning, has 33,000 total cases and records about 366 fatalities. My state, (Ohio) on the other hand, has 700 total cases with only 11 fatalities. One death is one too many but the numbers do vary from state to state.
I have heard and read so many theories on this outbreak that it makes my head spin. Some are declaring that the end of the world is upon us while others are saying it is a plot by a secret society to cull the population. Honestly, I don’t know when the end of the world will be or when the Lord will come back. I do know that Jesus admonished us as a bride waiting for her groom to be always ready, so I’m trying to keep my focus on the task at hand.
I also try really hard to not be emotionally swayed, but if you’re in one of about 7 states with COVID-19 cases totaling less than 100, to you, this may be a nothing burger as you may be having church as usual. However, if you’re from New York, Washington, Louisiana or California, then this is a crisis of epic proportions and you wouldn’t think of public services….or would you? I’ve talked to and heard reports from some of the pockets of elevated numbers of cases in ICU’s in larger cities and their stories of watching and caring for the worst cases will break your heart.
So, regarding church services, we have a constitutional right to free speech and to meet in our churches as we see fit, do we not? It may not be that cut and dried. Not having read the different orders, I can’t give commentary on the requirements of each state regarding churches whether or not they can legally have public services. In my state, churches have not been explicitly forbidden from public services, weddings or funerals.
I’ve read some pastor’s defiant statements regarding services that sounded like a reaction to a decree to make Christianity illegal. That is not happening……just yet. I’ve also heard some others, that at the hint of social distancing, closed their church doors. So what should we do? Well, I’m not going to tell you what you should do. That’s not my place. I will tell you that if I thought for a moment that there existed some nefarious plot to close churches, I would be acting quite differently. I’ve been to China numerous times to teach and encourage pastors and we had to take special precautions while gathering, having our meetings and dispersing, so I know what it’s like. It is much worse there now and we’re not even close to that.
Let me tell you that I am the last person to be motivated by fear or hype. I like to do my due diligence. There certainly is a lot of hype but there are also a lot of infections. I know it’s not as much as the influenza that we’re all accustomed to, but this is a different situation. You may have read the story of the church in Arkansas where 30 of the congregants contracted COVID-19. I am also one who thoroughly believes in the power of God to heal and protect. I have seen it many times. Personally, I have no problem traveling to difficult spots in the world to preach the gospel, but I certainly wouldn’t ask my wife, Diane or my grandkids to join me. I’m an adrenalin junkie, even in my mid 60’s and still thrive on adventure. But not everyone is like me and I respect that.
When the church I am privileged to pastor was working through whether or not to have public services, there was only one question I said we needed to answer and that was, “What is the right thing for us to do, in our situation and for the people we serve?” It wasn’t about flexing our church muscles or the opposite, cowering in a corner. In addition to being the Sr. Pastor here for over 23 years, I am also a Police Chaplain and serve on our regional SWAT team as a crisis negotiator and drone pilot, so fear and cowering are not words readily available in my vocabulary. However, I fully understand that operating from concealment and cover is a life preserving tactic.
That being the case, for us, it was about shepherding. The first Sunday of social distancing, we gave our congregation the choice whether or not to attend church and about half attended. The following Sunday, after the “stay at home” order, even though churches in our state had not been forbidden to meet, we felt that in light of everything that we had a moral obligation and responsibility to not meet. We decided, instead, to have live services online, probably like many of you. That really stretched us…in a good way. You see, I believe in faith and works. God has given to every one of us the measure of faith and He has also given us a brain to make wise decisions.
Like you, we prayed and our decision may have been different from yours or others in our community. Without telling you what to do, I would encourage you to put your emotions aside and simply, prayerfully, answer the same question we did. “What is the right thing for us to do, in our situation and for the people we serve?” And how can we continue to serve our flock given the situation? Personally, I don’t think we can go wrong from there! We have a BIG God and we are on his side! I will not fear what man or virus can do to me, but I will wash my hands…often. For more on the struggles of pastoring go to: PastorJohn.net
John C. Adams, New Life Church, Sandusky, Ohio