Notice: Due to the murder of George Floyd, I delayed this particular post and substituted one on George, late Friday. I also have added thoughts at the end of this post about his death.
This is not a Game, Lives are at Stake
This virus is nothing to PLAY with, yet our President wants to use the church as a pawn as we re-open. He tossed around that he would override the Governors if they did not comply with his ‘orders’. This is in the midst of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 surpassing 100,000 on 5.27.20! When I last spoke about the churches (see Failing the Flock) there were just about 100,000 total cases. We are approaching 2 milIion total cases. Now the discussion arises again.
The President has labeled churches as essential. He feels it is unjust for abortion clinics, liquor stores, restaurants, and stores to be open, but not churches. Places of worship are indeed essential with so much stress and strain from the unnecessary murders and COVID-19 deaths. We all want the places of worship to open when it is safe, as they serve a vital role for our overall physical and mental health.
“Each Church is their own entity so leadership will do what’s best for them, but for me and the flock the Lord calls me to shepherd, I believe we need to take our time.”Pastor Cureton, South Carolina
Why is the President Demanding That Churches Open now?
Lord Have Mercy! I needed to get some green tea thinking about this. We all know that this is an election year and the opening of churches is more political than pious. Holding up a Bible doesn’t prove otherwise. It is merely a prop for the propaganda. You know what I’m saying– the pretense that religion is important when all his actions are contrary to the doctrines.
COVID-19 has smashed a pie in the President’s face and he’s still trying to wipe it off. White evangelical Christians have long been the most loyal supporters of the President. So in essence, he is pandering to his base. They want to have control over opening their churches. Yet, they don’t mind the President using his influence to get the end result.
Church/ Communities of Faith and the Stay Home Orders
The country has been divided on the issue of churches, synagogues, and mosques being opened or closed. There was mixed compliance among the churches when the order was in place. Some were reluctant but supported shifting to virtual services. Some churches were openly defiant, others mildly compliant. There was illness and some leaders and church members suffered death. Consider the well respected and faithful Bishop from Virginia, Bishop Gerald Glenn. He did not feel closing the church was necessary. In fact he preached in a sermon, “I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. “ At the end of March he died from COVID-19. After his death his family urged people to understand that this virus is real and serious!
Real Time Cases of Infection and Death at Churches
The CDC provided two case studies of a couple of churches that were stomping grounds for the virus. The Washington church choir had 65% of those attending rehearsal get infected. At an Arkansas church the pastor and wife were infected and spread it to 35 out of 92 church members plus 26 affiliated community members. There were some deaths in both of these cases.
Across the Nation at least 33 church leaders have died due to coronavirus according to ABCnews.com. Mother’s Day worshippers were also infected with COVID -19 at various churches.
Do YOU think it is Time for Churches to Open?
What About Re-opening
2020 hindsight, should remind us to continue to be vigilant as re-opening efforts begin. This virus was not taken seriously at the highest level for weeks, if not months and here we are with 6 figure death rates. There can’t be business as usual. However, the President’s mandates may force pastors to make a move quicker than they would like as their flock starts applying pressure.
We have to do what is right for our people. Several pastors and groups of pastors have encouraged leaders to delay opening. Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. in a NY Times article says it well, “The moral, safe choice is to wait.” He recommended that his Church of God in Christ affiliates not re-open until July. His explanation is that, “we don’t think now is the time and neither do scientists and doctors.” Also, a coalition of Black religious leaders and prominent civil rights organizations urged churches to remain closed.
“People are dying. We are inclined to follow these doctors’ advice.”Reverend Jesse Jackson
The Reverend Jesse Jackson along with roughly 12 other faith leaders from Chicago asked churches in the state to remain closed. During a session they conveyed that medical experts should determine when it was safe to open and not the President’s demands.
A couple of churches (Georgia and Houston) did re-open and subsequently have closed back down when leaders and members tested positive for COVID-19.
What is Unique About Church Relative to Other “Businesses”
Churches are the centerpieces of many communities, especially the Black community. They are places of worship, fellowship halls, and community hubs. They are wonderful places to be in a crisis. However, large gatherings are ripe for contracting COVID-19.
Here are some characteristics that may be more unique than other settings:
- Length of contact time- most church services last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours.
- Difficulty physical distancing due to space limitations- some churches have small spaces but many members. There isn’t enough room to be 6 feet apart.
- Disproportionate number of older people- a Pew study has shown that regular church goers tend to be older. Can’t say the same for Walmart, beaches, and others.
- Singing- not only is the choir singing but the entire congregation is singing. Studies have shown that the percentage of airborne droplets generated by singing is 6 times that emitted during normal talking and is equivalent to the amount released with coughing. Speech causes a greater release of particles than breathing.
- Loud talking and preaching– this may occur at the greetings before and after the service. The preaching is often at high octaves and some members are within 6 feet.
Patience, Faith, Hope
Keep in mind that a true place of worship is never closed. It is the people not the building that make the church.You can tell from my messaging that I favor a delay or at least a phased in return to the physical church. Connecting in a physical space can be healing when it is safe, especially with everything that is going on in our Nation right now- deaths, unrest, divisiveness. For now mostly lean on your church leaders through phone calls and virtual services, especially if you are older or have chronic diseases.
These three words for me encapsulate re-opening – Patience, Hope, Faith. If we are patient regarding return to live services we will have the best outcome. There is hope that we will overcome these challenging times. Being hopeful, ministers delivering hope-filled messages, and all complying with the recommendations can help. Continue to have faith. Be still and know that our faithful God is the same yesterday as today and will always be there for us.
What do you think is needed to safely return to church?
What to do on Return to Church to Limit the Spread of COVID-19
First and foremost, unless you have medical reasons, please wear a mask. Even if you don’t plan to sing or utter a word, wear a mask. This isn’t just theory. The COVID- 19 case studies show what can happen. Also, Dr. Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, recently shared that the evidence is in, masks work. She says, “masks are critical to protect people.”
Check in with your Pastor to see what things have been put in place to make sure the congregation is safe. There are several guides to assist churches from HHS guidance for churches , CDC new guidelines and Christianity Today which offers a step by step guide.
Some of the areas to pay attention to in your Pastor’s plan:
- Is there a plan to phase in return to church? (i.e. fewer people per in church service, more services to increase capacity while limiting number of persons per session, hybrid arrangement with virtual and in person)
- Is the church ready to open so the building doesn’t have to shut down again?
- Shorter church service
- Disinfection before services and in between services(physical spaces)
- Hand sanitizer readily available( bring your own to make sure)
- Forced distancing such as blocking off some of the pews/chairs
- Elimination of high contact surfaces like hymnals, collection plates, mats
- Restructuring of singing and choir to eliminate chances of emitting infected droplets
- Care calls to touch bases with some members that can’t get out
- Caring for the mental health of the members
Decide What is Best for You
Churches will do what they can or need to do. Church members can decide what is best for them. Jesse Jackson, tweeted, “Churches, convey this message to your members, please. Whether playing or praying, working or worshipping, inmates or prison guards; COVID-19, the killer dwells in congestion. It loves crowds. Let’s honor physical distancing. Choose life over death. Shelter & pray at home.”
Shelter and pray at home until we see that the curve is sharply downward or an effective vaccine has finally been developed. Stay safe.
Postmortem: George Floyd
I stumbled upon an article in Christianity Today about George Floyd, BigFloyd4God. He was a disciple working the ministry in Houston’s Third Ward prior to going to Minnesota. He was a mentor and encouraged the young men to embrace the fact that God trumps street culture- choose Jesus instead of the streets. This video tribute accompanied the article.
A Merciless Death
George Floyd’s death was merciless and this racist crime perpetrated by Police, will not go unpunished. Once again the horn blares beckoning for criminal justice reform. This has been a festering wound for a long time and there hasn’t been enough effort to take care of the root causes- systemic racism. The judicial outcome will determine whether this country goes to hell.
No weapon formed against us will prosper! George Floyd’s JUSTICE will not be denied! AMENTweet
What does justice look like?