Virus & Church Future
We are all getting tired of the Corona Virus. Most of us long to go back to "normal”. With Memorial Day now observed, traditionally summer would have begun, a season of vacations and outdoor fun. Graduations in one form or another are over, and our graduates are moving on to future plans of college. Yet we still face dire health warnings, and feel like we are prisoners to an uncertain future. It is difficult to make any plans because we don’t know what “the Virus” will do. Indeed we have begun to talk about “the Virus” as a personified enemy almost out to attack us personally.
In truth, “the Virus” is a new pathogen like many before it (the plague, the flu, cholera, smallpox, polio, HIV, SARS, MERS, Hanta Virus, and Ebola). Each of these caused panic and made people shelter in place, keeping away from neighbors who might have it. But this one has new qualities, and has spread far wider than any of its predecessors (except for the “Spanish” Flu of 1918, which experts think originated in the Midwestern US, was carried by our soldiers to Europe, then brought back in much larger numbers by returning soldiers). It also keeps surprising the experts as it doesn’t respond in ways its close relatives do. The world-wide spread and the unpredictability are what have frightened so many people about Covid 19.
We need to remember that we have eventually learned how to live with the previous pathogens, either by finding the cause, and reducing its prevalence, or by finding a vaccine that has virtually eliminated the disease. Cholera was originally thought to be an airborne disease, until it was discovered that the cause was drinking contaminated water. Scientists found ways of testing the water and eliminating bad sources, as well as some new treatments. Both of these took decades. With smallpox and polio, vaccines were discovered that provided lifelong immunity and by intensive worldwide campaigns to vaccinate large portions of the population these diseases have been virtually wiped out (though polio has had a resurgence due to the anti-vaccine movement). With the flu no vaccine providing absolute immunity has been discovered, because the virus keeps mutating, but annual shots can lessen the severity of an infection, and protect against the most prominent strains each year.
We have become used to science finding ways of treating or preventing diseases. We forget that it sometimes takes decades to find those solutions. So when this new virus started spreading last winter, we somehow expected science to come up with an immediate answer. The medical community has been busy treating the seriously ill and trying in various ways to ease the suffering, or even find a cure. Nothing has yet proven effective.
Many of us feel let down. We had trusted in science to save us. But as Christians we know that God is our only Savior. Science can help guide us, and in many cases can provide solutions to problems. But it is only God who has the final answers. Any honest scientist will admit that there is much more that we do not know about how the world works, than what we know. This disease has proved that. We should always listen to the facts and evidence Science provides, but it must never be allowed to become an idol.
It is God who is our refuge in times of trouble. It is God who is our strength and help in time of need. It is God who is our comforter, and who provides us peace in every turmoil we go through. It is God who has given us life and will continue to provide for us. It is God who has a plan for us and whose love helps us discover that plan. It is God who was there in the beginning and will be there when all else ends. The first Sunday of June is Trinity Sunday, when we remember how little we truly understand an infinite and omnipotent God who also wants a personal relationship with each one of us. On that day we remember that God meets us where we are, and meets us in love and grace.
It is also true that God calls on us to love one another as God loves us. This means that we are called to be God’s church by looking out for the least and the lost. We are also called to look out for others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything,’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good but the good of others.” (NIV)
I was reading an article this week by Rev. Alex A. Shanks, a Florida pastor. He talked about decisions about reopening churches for worship. He made the statement , “Churches need to open their campuses faithfully, not just safely.” That hit me, because I had been considering primarily balancing safety concerns with a strong desire to meet together as soon as possible. He continued, “Instead of returning to the same church, we should be relaunched as a new church!... We should remain focused on being the church and not just having church worship and ministries on campus… This is not a time to focus primarily on what we may be sacrificing by not gathering, but how we are serving and loving all our neighbors...”
What have we learned through this time without gathering physically? We are still the church. We are still in prayer for one another. We are still keeping up with our brothers and sisters. We are still reaching out to the hungry. When we gather again it will be different whether we are meeting outside on the new property, or in the sanctuary, because to show our love for one another, science tells us we will still need to keep some distance and wear masks. We won’t be able to use hymnbooks, and even singing is more likely to spread the virus than speaking. So do we sing together? How do we do communion? (A single loaf of bread would be dangerous. Would we be comfortable using prepackaged filled cups with a wafer?) What is most important about our gathering in person that we need to preserve? How do we continue to reach out to our neighbors? How do we continue trying to reach those who are not able to join us physically because of compromised immune systems. How can we best make disciples for Jesus in a post-Covid world? How is God calling us to be His hands and feet and voice at this time?