Every day news reports of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lead the headlines, and with the added presence of social media, there is, not surprisingly, a lot of confusion, and for some people a gathering sense of fear and even panic. For us as a Diocese, a family of churches up and down New England, on mission together, I see three key questions that need our prayerful attention.
How do we best love our people? How do we best love the wider community we are called to serve? How might we creatively love our people and the wider community if we are unable to physically gather for worship on Sundays? Based on a recent article by Communications Strategist, Adam Bouse and other reliable sources, I would like to offer the following guidance.
How to Communicate in Love to Our People and the Wider Community
Let’s communicate calmly and with clarity. We need to be a constant, reassuring, non-anxious presence that is grounded in our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to encourage our people not to binge on unhealthy social media sources and rely instead on trustworthy, official sources such as:
Your local health department
The CDC’s COVID-19 newsletter. Go to their newsletter subscription page, click “Subscribe Now,” enter your email address, and under “Manage Subscriptions,” choose the newsletter entitled, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
Johns Hopkins (a website that monitors the progression of the Coronavirus)
Posters to print and hang in your church:
At all costs, avoid sharing sources, through social media or through email, that are opinion-based, political or controversial.
Let’s grow in love, empathy and grace. Some people have a predisposition to have a more fearful response to this situation. We all carry emotional scars from the past, and the current health situation has the potential to trigger past pain or grief. Let’s not dismiss another person’s anxiety rooted in their own history. Whether any of us are in a high-risk population or we know someone directly impacted, our mandate to be Christ’s comfort and bring His peace does not change.
Clergy, wardens, vestries or individual members our church families, should not take on the burden of being the local health expert. Our role is to communicate clearly how the current public health circumstances are impacting how we minister to each other and to the wider community.
Suggestions for General Prevention of the Spread of the Virus
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the manner of transmission of the disease appears similar to that of other respiratory viruses, including Influenza via respiratory droplets. These droplets are in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes without containing their cough or sneeze (such as into their inner elbow or tissue paper). You can take the following steps to help minimize the spread of this virus and any other contagion:
- Encourage anyone with symptoms of a cough, disease or a fever within the last 24 hours to stay at home.
- If available, provide several containers of alcohol-based (60%-95%) hand sanitizer around your congregation in visible and accessible areas. Make sure there is a container available for people to use before taking Holy Communion. However, communicate to your congregation that hand sanitizer is no substitute for washing their hands, as it is most effective against bacteria, not viruses.
- Ask your church family to wash their hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Do so after using the restroom, before and after eating and after touching their face, especially when coughing or sneezing.
- Remind children and youth to wash their hands before entering the children’s space. Children should also wash their hands prior to being served any food at snack time.
- Provide boxes of Kleenex and facial tissue in the sanctuary so that people who are coughing and sneezing can safely cover their mouths and noses.
- Provide empty waste bins in the sanctuary so that soiled facial tissue can be disposed of safely.
- Consider asking people to avoid hugging or offering handshakes at the “Passing of the Peace.” Instead, do fist bumps. Have fun and get creative!
- Suggest that the welcome team greet people with a smile but do not shake hands, and allow each person to pick up their own bulletins.
- Consider regularly cleaning surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, etc., using bleach (1 part bleach to 100 parts water) as recommended by the CDC.
- As a clergyperson, lay visitor or as someone visiting a loved one, take care of yourself during pastoral visitations. Follow all infection control measures in place at hospitals.
Practical Ways to Love our Neighbor
Here are some practical ways we can reach out in love as some social institutions close temporarily:
- Acknowledge and give to Jesus your own fear and the temptation to turn inward and confess the Lordship of Jesus over your own soul and body.
- Encourage elderly and immunocompromised friends, neighbors, and family to stay home AND make it possible for them to do so.
- Set up a meal train, go grocery shopping for them. If they are followers of Jesus, offer to bring them the reserved sacrament and pray for them.
- Offer to help families by watching their children who will be staying home from school, or offer to help them pay for in-home childcare so parents can continue to work.
- Offer to do housework (including the provision of meals) for families who will be overwhelmed by having their children home all day.
- Invite your neighbors to tea or dinner at your house and invite a medical professional to do some Q&A (See Father Len Cowan’s story on ADNE Facebook). Let your neighbors know that you follow Jesus and that you’ll be praying for your neighborhood and offer a prayer to close.
- Initiate a telephone or text ministry – especially, to check in with older members of your church family.
- Invite college students who are staying home because of class cancelation to serve with you.
- Always observe good hygiene, don’t complain with folks, demonstrate confidence in Jesus.
Should you Cancel Sunday Worship or Other Larger Gatherings?
It is possible that either as an appropriate and reasonable precaution or at the direction of official recommendations from your local or state health officials, your church will not be able to physically meet for Sunday services and other large group gatherings for a period of time.
We would anticipate the decision to cancel Sunday services and / or mid-week events to be made at the local level with the input of recognized health authorities. However, the Bishop’s office will continue to monitor the situation across the Diocese and may offer more specific guidance as needed.
If you elect to cancel weekend (or mid-week) services, communicate with clarity which specific dates and times are affected. If possible, communicate a date for when services will resume–or at least offer a date when you will reassess resuming services.
Even if you are not canceling weekend services and there are no confirmed cases in your immediate area, people will still have questions and concerns. Be proactive and communicate with the full congregation and the local community. Let’s build confidence by telling them how and why the church is anticipating this situation. Offer them a way to get more information from reliable sources (see above) – and let them know if and when there will be additional updates going forward.
If you do need to cancel services be proactive and over-communicate when cancelations are put in place. Also communicate the programs, scheduled events, and ministry that will not be affected, or at least not canceled. Because Sunday gatherings are so central, it will cause some to think the church as a whole is shutting down for the same amount of time. Reiterate and over-communicate what ministry and organizational functions will continue. Also, be considering creative ways and be open to new opportunities to share the love of Jesus.
In the Event that Sunday Services Must be Canceled – be proactive now in making plans for online worship opportunities.
While having online services available in recent years, not all of us are set up with the technology or ministry support to make this possible.
If you don’t already have live stream services, consider doing a Facebook Live stream or pre-record a sermon or devotional and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo. You can then distribute it through social media, your website and your email lists.
An online service can incorporate:
- Liturgies from Our Book of Common Prayer http://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/
- A sermon or teaching
- Worship through music
- Intercession (see Prayers of the People below)
- Signing up for events to serve the community
- We appreciate that many people have strong feelings about receiving Holy Communion each week. We need to reassure them that in these unusual circumstances the exhortation that we feed on Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving is a faithful practice in which the Lord will meet us.
As the Priest don’t imagine that you have to overcome all of these challenges on your own.
Identify what it is you want to continue providing on a weekly basis. Determine what is both important and sustainable for you to maintain over the course of time you aren’t meeting in person.
Leverage your ministry-specific email lists to send out children’s resources, written devotional content and anything else that can help individuals, families and small groups continue to be encouraged and supported. If they do not do so already, encourage your congregation to sign up for the Bishop’s Daily Watchword devotionals.
As a church family, be ready to encourage the technically-confident to help those who are less comfortable with technology.
A Guiding Thought
The Body of Christ is no stranger to times of uncertainty and fear caused by war, famine, or plague. A societal panic due to a lack of confidence is always met with a different response from the followers of Jesus, and we have demonstrated, and society has noticed, our response for millennia. No doubt, as the diagnostic capacity of the medical community increases, we will see that the disease is more widespread than previously thought, but no matter what, outbreaks of fear must be met with greater outbreaks of love. We are called to be salt and light. Jesus warned there will always be seasons where wars, rumors of wars and social upheaval prevail and yet His people are to interpret information through the lens of our counter-cultural confidence in God’s Kingdom, and the certainty of our own resurrection. At our best, the followers of Jesus have never run away, but instead, care for each other and our neighbors.
In His great love,
Prayers of the People (for Coronavirus)
Heavenly Father, we lift up to you the epidemic of the coronavirus now affecting many countries around the world, including our own. We pray that, in your great mercy, the virus might be brought to an end soon.
Holy Spirit, we pray for an increase of wisdom, faith, and compassion in your Church around the world. Teach us how to be beacons of love and hope in the midst of suffering, fear, and panic. Give us wisdom in knowing how best to respond as the Body of Christ in our local situations.
We pray for those who have contracted the virus, especially those who have been hospitalized. Give them comfort and a sense of your loving presence in the midst of their distress. Heal them in body and in spirit.
We also pray protection for doctors, nurses, and hospital workers. Shield them from illness and give them encouragement, strength and wisdom as they serve others.
We pray for health organizations and governments in our own country and around the world as they seek strategies to contain the spread of the virus. May they have the wisdom and the resources they need at this time.
Compassionate Lord, bring to our minds those around us who may be in need of special loving care at this time, such as elderly neighbors, those battling cancer or other long-term illness, parents needing help with children, our own aging parents. Help us be sensitive to ways we can reach out to them with your love. Give us hearts with fierce and fearless love that by our actions can help break through the atmospheres of fear, anxiety, and isolation.
Gracious heavenly Father, you teach us not to be fearful, but to put all our trust in you, knowing that our lives are perfectly secure in you. Ground us in an unshakeable faith in your love and goodness. Assure our hearts that there is nothing that can separate us from your love, so that we might share with joy the love you have poured out in our own lives.
(wait 5 seconds)
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.