Discovering the best way to protect a faith community in the midst the Covid-19 outbreak.
How do you respond to the Coronavirus as a church congregation? It wasn’t an issue I expected to confront when I moved from New York to Florida in January to serve as interim pastor of a Presbyterian church.
But last week, there we were, facing the reality of Covid-19 and what it meant for worshipping together. The leadership team wrestled with the issue for several days. Board members were divided on whether to have Sunday worship or suspend the in-person gathering.
Several felt this was a time for the congregation to come together and for members to not be alone. Others believed it was in the best interest of the health of the community not to gather as a large group. But in the end, the votes were in favor of meeting on Sunday.
I wrote an email to the congregation explaining how we would worship. We would practice social distancing in the pews. We would not shake hands. In passing the peace, people would place their hands over their hearts and offer a blessing. But there was no pressure to attend. I strongly recommended the sick to stay home. We would livestream the service for those who did not attend.
Less than 24 hours before Sunday worship, I received a memo from our Presbytery—the larger body of the church. The subject line said, “It’s Time.”
All pastors were urged to suspend in-person worship and other church activities. The memo went on:
Suspending in-person gatherings is not about fear, but about faithfully claiming pastoral authority and being accountable for making the wisest decisions as pastors as you lead and guide the witness of the communities where you live and serve. Have courage. Just do it. For the love of the One you serve.
Those words clarified things for me. We were not choosing fear over faith. We were protecting our congregation, and we were showing courage by taking the necessary steps—all because we loved God.
That Sunday we ended up livestreaming the service with a crew of two plus myself. The pews were empty, but no one was in harm’s way. And at home, our congregation continued to worship the Lord.
This might go on for some time. But our choices are clear. And someday, we will look back and be grateful we made them.