Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin gives us a fascinating read this week in Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard questions for the World’s Largest Religion. I actually read this over Christmas break and had outlined my blog post, making a marked, yet lively reference to Ryan Dunn of MTV fame. However, the recent COVID 19 news, and how the virus has caused so many people of faith to reimagine their communal life together, has made a shift in my thinking.
In the section entitled “Religion: A Miracle Drug” McLaughlin tells of a USA Today article written by Harvard professor Tyler Vander-Weele and journalist John Siniff entitled “Religion May Be a Miracle Drug.” Discussing the numerous health benefits for practitioners the authors “outline the mental and physical health benefits that are correlated with regular religious participation – for most Americans, going to church – even to the extent of reducing mortality rates by 20-30 percent over a fifteen year period.” Further, “research suggests that those who regularly attend services are more optimistic, have lower rates of depression, are less likely to commit suicide, have a greater purpose in life, are less likely to divorce, and are more self-controlled.”
The issue today is that currently for a good portion of the flock that I serve, gathering to worship God by “going to church” is NOT in their best interests. You see, due to COVID 19, commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, 56% of the church I serve falls into the demographic that the Center for Disease Control has labeled as at risk, or people who are 60 years of age or older. According to the CDC, people that have been deemed high risk, should not go out to large gatherings, opting instead to “stay home as much as possible.” This has caused quite the opportunity for clergy and church leaders to demonstrate . . . wait for it . . . leadership!
The church I served in New York has already cancelled ALL ministry and programming for the next four weeks. They of course are right next to a quarantine zone. The mood is so intense even the National Guard has been brought in to help “keep the peace”. But what they are doing is to still hold worship services through live stream. The current pastor and church organist will brave the travel restrictions and meet on Sunday mornings to still, “life every voice and sing” and proclaim the good news of hope and resurrection. Bulletins will be prepared but the worship order will be emailed to the congregation and posted on the church website. Online giving is a possible, tangible and faithful way for the community to fulfill their pledging and tithing. Though not the same, the community will still gather in this fashion, praying to live boldly into an uncertain future.
But not every church can live stream worship. For instance, the church I currently serve is not so equipped. Thus we are having to reimagine what “going to church” looks like. First, like so many others, we are experimenting with Zoom, Facebook live, and YouTube. Our test runs may not be pretty, but we do learn from them. Second, we have been told by many of the assisted living facilities in the area that we are unable to visit certain members and they are unable to leave the facility. Most of them do not have computers, but they do have phones. We have already put in place the old fashion phone tree – allowing the deacons and pastoral staff the opportunity to audibly touch most of that population within our church. Third, we are holding fast to what McLaughlin states on page 25, which is that “We Really Can be Happy in All Circumstances.” Honestly, the church I currently serve should have been webcasting our services already, and this crisis is poignantly reinforcing that argument. It is good that we have the ability to call quarantined folks and share our experiences, for even over the phone “where two or more are gathered in my name” still resonates. And to top it all off, I was scheduled to be researching for my dissertation with a group of folks on Friday, and when I called to confirm learned that the location we were meeting in, had been closed due to COVID 19. I would have been walking into a “Hot Zone” and am overjoyed to have learned to postpone beforehand.
Needless to say, so many congregations across the world are learning and discerning how best to handle COVID 19 given their own unique context and communities. We here have a long way to go, but hopefully the fervency of our Religion, can act like a miracle drug, calling us to more creative community, service, and hope.
 Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard questions for the World’s Largest Religion, (Wheaton, Illinoi: Crossway, 2019), 21.
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 21.
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 21.
 Presbyterian Church USA, “2018 Comparative Summaries Statistics,” accessed March 12, 2020, https://www.pcusa.org/resource/2018-comparative-summaries-statistics/
 Center for Disease Control, “High Risk Coronavirus Populations,” accessed, March 12, 2020, DC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html#who-is-higher-risk
 Bill Chappel, “Coronavirus: New York Creates ‘Containment Area’ Around Cluster In New Rochelle,” National Public Radio, accessed March 12, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/10/814099444/new-york-creates-containment-area-around-cluster-in-new-rochelle
 BBC, “Coronavirus: Troops sent to New York ‘containment zone,’” accessed March, 12, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51826317
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 25.
5 responses to “Confronting COVID”
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Love it! It is so true that we need to be creative in how we carry a hope filled yet compassionate perspective into the world at this moment. In suffering our true colours will show, and now is a time we must rise up! So what truths about your people and ministry are you learning through this season of ‘suffering’? What about the nature of church and how we might evolve from here?
This virus is even changing the way we have to blog for school! Praying for you and you church that you get up and running for Sunday. If nothing at all stream from a phone to your facebook page, but a good HD webcam + Zoom should work as well. You mention the age restriction above is your current church in older church? If so Imagine it is greatly affecting you guys.
Livestream has been tested and we are good to go!
Jacob, I love your response to your current reality. Thank you for taking the time to see those around you, for deploying the phone tree. I wonder what we can learn from this virus? Maybe we shouldn’t always be so quick to push through with business as usual. I appreciate your pastoral heart.
So good, Jacob. We have all experienced something that has required creativity and calm. Our denominational leaders have been musing about what will happen if we get back together and discover our numbers have grown and our discipleship has deepened as a result of this new “model” of doing church. I am hopeful!