I did not want to write about the coronavirus, primarily because I’m already tired of it.
It has taken over the news; it has taken over my grocery store shelves, which are largely barren; it has taken away sports. It has also resulted in my husband and I working from home for the foreseeable future, and it is all – literally all – that anyone wants to talk about.
But I feel that I must write about it especially given the debates I see shaping up about the virus in various corners of the Christian world.
Most churches and denominations have canceled services in favor of online livestreams for the time being; my church is one of them. Still others, as I understand, are railing against such cancellations and cessation of church activity. The church should never close, this line of thought dictates. And believers should never let fear dictate their lives. I recently heard about a man who railed that he’d just as soon be dead of the coronavirus in the pew than not enter God’s house on a Sunday – though I wonder if he asked others he might be endangering what they thought about it. A pastor I know recently preached that believers who self-quarantined weren’t faithful – that God would protect those who had the faith to make themselves available to Him.
I’m not really interested in having a discussion about how serious or not serious others perceive the coronavirus to be. But I am interested in pointing out a few key truths:
- The proclamation that faith will protect you from the coronavirus, or from any sickness – if only you have enough of it and demonstrate it properly – brushes up against prosperity gospel teaching that says believers who believe enough will only ever receive good things. I’ve got news for you: good Christians get sick. Good Christians have and will get coronavirus. Good Christians have and will die from diseases. Believers are not spared on this earth from trial, tribulation, struggle, suffering, and sickness.
- It’s true that a livestreamed service is not the same, for many reasons, as a face to face one. It is also true that a livestreamed service is better than no service at all. I’m grateful that my congregation is offering them! It has been strangely touching to gather with my husband around a little candle and our screen and recite the Lord’s prayer and listen to a sermon, knowing that our unseen faithful brothers and sisters are doing the same.
- In many areas, church closures are results of governmental orders and/or denominational dictates. In this case, I think it might be useful to consider the Bible’s thoughts on submitting oneself to the authorities—especially when there remain options to congregate together, albeit virtually. This isn’t a temporary state of no church – it’s a temporary state of different church.
- The church is not the building. The church is not the building. The church is not the building.
- We should share God’s love with vulnerable populations and those in need of comfort. Before she passed away, my aunt was profoundly immuno-compromised from her cancer treatments. For a brief period, even catching a cold could have meant serious complications for her. During that time, loving her meant things like keeping a healthy distance, not requesting her availability at gatherings where others might be sick, and giving her the opportunity to isolate as necessary. Likewise, we should lovingly serve the elderly and the ill—and consider how we can minister to them, even from a distance. Moreover, for those who are genuinely anxious about the virus and in need of comfort and reassurance – whether believers or nonbelievers – I’m not sure that scoffing, “Hah! Well I’m not afraid because God protects me and I have faith in the Lord!” and then shouldering past them through the church doors is the most benevolent response we could offer.
And setting all of this aside, arguing about how serious we imagine COVID-19 to be and whether or not churches should be closed is a few miles beside the point at this stage. In our current times, Christians have a real opportunity to minister to others, and I wanted to offer the following thoughts on how you might be able to do it:
- Don’t hoard supplies. At our grocery store, the shelves are constantly running bare of pretty fundamental supplies. This is not because there are none, but because hordes of panicked shoppers are fleeing the grocery store with 17 packages of toilet paper each. It’s bad enough here that our store has placed a limit on the purchase of certain items. Trust that God will supply your needs; please don’t hoard above and beyond what you reasonably require. Be generous in leaving items for others. (And if you’re angry because your church is closed because of the coronavirus and you believe we shouldn’t be ‘living in fear,’ and you are one of the people I saw carrying 17 packages of toilet paper out of my local grocer, you need to make sure all of your behaviors are aligning properly with your espoused theology and doctrine).
- Attend service remotely. If you’re a believer, like my mother, whose church does not have the capacity or the desire to livestream and yet might be closing, take advantage of another church’s livestream! Many are available online to all. In fact, along with my normal Sunday service, I was able to enjoy an Anglican prayer service the other day, too. It was a nice experience. In my area, our local Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist churches are all gearing up for the online experience. You have options!
- Pray! Prayer is the ultimate remote ministry. Why not get back in touch with your prayer life in a serious way?
- Remember reaching out needn’t be in person. Call! Send a card! Send a text! Email!
- Give generously to those in need. My husband and I are making every effort during this period to support small local business by ordering from them and giving tips above and beyond what we normally might. Small local businesses are most likely to suffer during this period, so patronizing them remotely as you can is helpful. Additionally, keep an eye out for families and invidivuals in need in your neighborhood and community. Many don’t have the ability to work remote and are simply out of work; many are run ragged trying to work remote and care for children. Your church needs your tithes now more than ever. Give how you can.
- Remember who you are. I have been genuinely startled by a lot of the panic and uncertainty I’ve encountered in work colleagues. Some of them are genuinely fearful of the virus and everything it portends; some feel isolated, sad, and uncertain due to the social isolation. Being a source of joy, and peace, and comfort to others is the privilege of believers: being able to share the rich pleasure and beauty of life with others is deeply meaningful right now. Don’t lose the opportunity. Trust that God will provide for you, and take a moment to rest in the wonder that no matter what occurs, our future and our hearts are secure in God’s love.