Winter was pretty mild this year, but it seems every year there is a Sunday or two that I know most churches in our area are going to cancel services. I understand on those days that our already small crowd is going to be even smaller. Yet, every year, I find myself out there shoveling snow, salting the sidewalks, and assisting people across the street in order to (hopefully) get them inside the church building and to their seat safely.
If you trust the weathermen, you would think that every time it snows we are just about guaranteed an accident if we choose to leave the house… and so many don’t. Some are worked up by the sensationalism of the media, some just want an excuse to stay home and binge watch Netflix, and some honestly are just concerned for their safety.
The truth is, every winter in the U.S., an average of 1,836 deaths and 136,309 injuries are attributed to conditions on icy and snowy roads. Obviously not every American is equally at risk. Not every state has icy conditions in the winter. Some states have worse winters than others. Some people are better at driving in icy conditions than others. Some cars are better equipped than others when it comes to handling these conditions… but at the end of the day, there will be wrecks, injuries, and even fatalities.
Now mind you, this is only in the winter time! However, every time you get behind the wheel, you are risking your own well-being and the well-being of others. The statistics are enough to scare you into giving up driving altogether, but let’s be honest - the majority of us are going to take our chances.
As a pastor, I know there are dangers out there. When I have an elderly member who says “I’m afraid to drive on the ice,” or “I can’t see very well at night and don’t think I should come to the night services,” I certainly don’t get mad at them. I may offer them some transportation, or I will encourage them to just stay home and be safe.
So, my take on the whole coronavirus scare is very similar. This year, something like 23,000 people died from the flu, and every time we left our house or pushed a shopping cart, we were at risk. I realize the coronavirus might be way more contagious and maybe even deadlier if not controlled. I know that we are risking harm to ourselves or others (much like we are every time we get behind the wheel... especially when it is icy). I know some parts of the country are at higher risk than others. I know some people are more likely to die if they contract the virus...
For all those reasons, I’m not against people choosing to shut down their services, nor am I against people choosing to stay home if the services continue. That is their prerogative, and I trust they are trying to do what they believe is the safest for their congregation or themselves.
At the same time, I personally have seen God do some amazing things among a handful of people that meet together in spite of the extra challenges or risks they took to assemble together in difficult times. To some folks, the few times we meet together with one another is more important to their well-being than going out to the grocery store to buy some more toilet paper and Clorox wipes. To some, it means more to come in and be fed from the Word of God than to go inside a fast food restaurant and order their food to go. To some, it means more to continue giving out the Gospel in these times than it does to raise money for distributing masks and latex gloves to the community.
Quite frankly, I AM concerned about the government forcing a church to shut down or pay a fine and/or face jail time. That doesn't sit well with me at all, but I'm not looking for a fight with the government. The very nature of separation of church and state is "I'll stay out of your business, and you stay out of my Father's business." If they want to limit how many kids can be in a daycare at one time or how many workers can be in one particular place of business or another... fine with me.
My policy for keeping the church doors open is the same as it has always been. I always plan on having services if I can at all make it, but I won't try to coerce anyone to make it who does not feel it is safe to come. With all that being said, here are some policies I will try to enforce during this time:
- If anyone is running a fever or has a cough, you are encouraged to stay home.
- We understand that our elderly members and those with health problems are the most at risk, so we encourage them to take extra precautions to keep themselves from infection.
- We are going to avoid shaking hands, hugging, or talking too closely with one another in order to play it safe.
- We are paying extra attention to disinfecting surfaces that are more likely to be touched.
- We record our services, so if you miss a service, feel free to ask us how you can watch or listen.
- For those who use social media, we are trying to offer live streaming of our services online.