Love Thy Neighbor...from 6 Feet Away: How (and Why) Your Church Should Follow COVID-19 Safety Precautions
Today was the first day I went back to my church’s temple as part of the worship team since the coronavirus pandemic started. Like many others, I’ve been attending service virtually for months out of concern over COVID-19’s contagion rate. If I’m being honest, at times, my concern turned paranoid.
While I would’ve preferred to stay online, I knew my church needed their drummer back. That’s why I was glad to see that my church is taking serious precautions due to the pandemic. There’s hand sanitizer and masks available at the entrance to the temple. Everyone’s required to wear a mask except for the singers, but even then, only when they’re at their respective microphones. Plus, not only are they 6 feet apart from each other, but they face away from one another as well.
In addition, the only people allowed in the temple in the first place are those working either as part of, or with, the worship team. The rest of the congregation joins virtually and even those who are present are encouraged to tithe online.
The fellowship hall is also closed except for the use of bathrooms or the kitchen, though the latter is mainly for the preparation of communion. The Associate Pastor wears gloves as she prepares individualized communion in separate cups and hands them out prior to the service.
During the service, everyone scatters throughout the room to watch the Pastor’s sermon. We either sit in every other pew or stay at our stations, such as behind the piano or in the AV corner. Finally, both before and after the service, everyone is responsible for cleaning their assigned locations.
It’s tedious work, for sure, but it’s worth it after all the horror stories we’ve heard about. The news is plastered with tales of churches who haven’t been taking the pandemic seriously in the United States and the negative results. We definitely don’t want to end up like them.
For example, Kobes Du Mez (2020) shares how evangelical pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested after keeping his megachurch open, encouraging his congregation to still shake hands with one another despite social distancing rules. Televangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth also berated pastors who closed their churches because of COVID, even suggesting that using hand sanitizer is weak and feminine (Kobes Du Mez, 2020).
Whelan and Silverman (2020) remind us about CityReach, a church which started a chain reaction of positive COVID-19 tests in their local area after reopening for in person services. They’re not the only ones as the New York Times has found that “[m]ore than 650 cases of the virus have been traced to places of worship” (Whelan and Silverman, 2020).
According to the Pew Research Center (2020), “Evangelical Protestants express the most support for giving houses of worship more flexibility” when it comes to COVID-19 safety regulations. Similarly, Catholics are also more likely to remain fully open (Pew Research Center, 2020). Both are in comparison to “mainline Protestants and members of the historically Black Protestant tradition” (Pew Research Center, 2020).
Ashamed of my fellow Christians, I was desperate to have my faith in humanity restored. So, I made a point to research what churches are actually following COVID-19 safety regulations and, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
Despite the bleak news I just shared, there are more churches taking the pandemic seriously than the other way around. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey found that 79% of Americans believe houses of worship should be held to the same standards as businesses when it comes to social distancing (2020). Out of American Christians, almost 75% have taken the same stance (Pew Research Center, 2020).
Even amongst the Evangelical Protestants and Catholics who want more flexibility for their houses of worship, most agree that there should at least be some level of restrictions because of COVID-19 (Pew Research Center, 2020). Out of active church attendees, most advocate for “precautions such as requiring people to stay 6 feet away from each other (51%), requiring masks (44%), limiting the number of people in attendance at any one time (41%) and limiting communal singing (29%)” (Pew Research Center, 2020).
In fact, it’s “only 13% [of Americans who] said their house of worship should be open to the public just as it was before the outbreak” (Pew Research Center, 2020). Of the active church attendees, only “6% say their congregation is open to the public in the same way it was before the coronavirus outbreak” (Pew Research Center, 2020).
However, only 12% of American adults in general actually went to services in person during the month before the survey was conducted (Pew Research Center, 2020). In contrast, 72% of monthly attendees attended worship services virtually (Pew Research Center, 2020).
Encouraged by these statistics, I’ve reflected more on my Pastor’s sermon today. She talked about how the building we were in was just that – a building. She reminded us that we, the congregation, are the actual church. We’re the body of Christ. As McCaulley (2020) points out, “The church’s absence, it’s literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location. The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered.”
McCaulley is right when he explains that the sacrifices we make now, like his daughter’s piano concert being canceled, means the possibility of more lives being spared (2020). It means more time together for elderly couples, more holidays for children to spend with their families, and more chronically ill youth living longer lives (McCaulley, 2020).
As Christians, we talk about following Jesus as our savior and role model. Jesus continuously teaches us about the importance of sacrifice, but he didn’t sacrifice other people. Jesus sacrificed himself. Likewise, instead of sacrificing the lives of others just so we can congregate in a building or get back to normalcy, we too can make personal sacrifices. We can sacrifice conveniences in our own lives and unnecessary gathering whenever possible.
What about you? What is your church doing to practice safety guidelines against the coronavirus? Please share in the comments!
Kobes Du Mez, K. (April 2, 2020). Some evangelicals deny the coronavirus threat. It’s because they love tough guys. The Washington Post. Retrieved on August 23, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/04/02/conservative-evangelicals-coronavirus-tough-guys/
McCaulley, E. (March 14, 2020). The Christian response to the coronavirus: Stay home. The New York Times. Retrieved on August 23, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html
Pew Research Center (Aug. 7, 2020). Americans oppose religious exemptions from coronavirus-related restrictions. Pew Research Center. Retrieved on August 23, 2020, from https://www.pewforum.org/2020/08/07/americans-oppose-religious-exemptions-from-coronavirus-related-restrictions/
Whelan, A. and Silverman, E. (Aug. 21, 2020). After Philly’s first church-linked COVID-19 outbreak, pastors urge prayers for the sick. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved on August 23, 2020, from https://www.inquirer.com/news/tacony-church-covid-outbreak-philadelphia-20200821.html