Let me start by saying that I am an expert in absolutely nothing. On top of that, let me admit that I was on the slow end to take this coronavirus epidemic as seriously as I should have. Regardless there many opportunities for me to be learning how to lead in such circumstances. These are simply my reflections on an impossible choice that myself and so many other leaders were forced to make.
At this point in time the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control, and state governments have asked that people wouldn’t meet in groups larger than 10. The truth is that they’d rather people not meet at all and everyone stay home so that the spread of COVID 19 would slow. In response to these requests most churches have obliged and moved to online services or canceled services all together. In the last week many articles have been written on weather or not the church should be responding these ways or if we should continue to gather and partake of the worship service together.
So how should the church be responding? At this point I do not have an answer but can share how I have responded. I am the lead pastor of a small house church network that ministers in a community filled with immigrants and refugees. I share this because context matters to our response. Blanket statements about how to respond to any situation are bound to miss the point. Both the physical and spiritual aspects of the people we serve are important to consider. It was a tough decision to tell our gatherings leaders that they had the choice to cancel or not. My heart said, “Demand that the leaders still hold meetings!” My heart was misguided. Our first house church to be put on pause is one that reaches children who often come with runny noses and nagging coughs and without eating a meal that day when they come. But all it would take is one child carrying the virus and thirty kids and adults would be taking it home to their families and within one day hundreds of people could be infected.
Those advocating that public gatherings should continue have suggested that anyone who is sick be advised to stay home. Rarely does this work with our children who come on their own. Yes, we could sanitize our hands and theirs, and use the opportunity to teach sanitation (we already encourage hand washing in our children’s gatherings). The problem with this virus is that it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to be showing. However, this does not mean that suspension of all church gatherings is the right answer. With adults we can keep six feet from each other, it is harder to maintain this with children.
Because of the incubation period our leaders decided that we would pause all gatherings, we simply felt that we had too many at risk people that we served, and too many people who were not able to stop working and had no way of self-quarantining themselves outside of our church gatherings. Crisis is always the hardest on those who are the most marginalized, pausing our house churches felt like an additional blow that I was responsible for. Neither choice felt like the right choice to make and I may never know if I made the right decision. There is so much that goes into making a choice to cancel or place on hold church gathering. I urge you to give grace to those of us who need to make these choices, we do get them wrong sometimes, but I hope that we learn both from the right choices and the wrong choices. Until we see the aftermath in our churches we will not know if we have responded as we ought to have. Both choosing to meet and choosing not to meet can be done out of fear. Weather it is fear of the sickness itself, or fear that our parishioners will become spiritually sick if they are unable to gather, both are fear, neither of which should guide our decisions. We need to be lead by the Holy Spirit as we move forward with this crisis.
I’ve much more to say about the state of the church in the season of COVID-19, expect another post on the mobility of the church in the face of crisis in the coming days.