Ed: Give us an inside scoop on what it’s like to be a pastor in the midst of the increasing spread of COVID-19 both globally and also here in North America.
Mitch: We are used to having our lives under control in North America, but a small bug is humbling the most powerful nations of the world. People are scared. Hand sanitizer can ’t be found, toilet paper and cleaning supplies are being rationed at stores, and Spam is out. And I love Spam. It is easy to seek an illusion of control by searching incessantly for more information on the internet. COVID-19 has exposed our illusion of control, and the loss of control sparks fear.
Ed: What measures has Wellspring taken to care for those in your congregation?
Mitch: First, we call for a posture of faith not fear. As our illusion of control is exposed, then we need to walk in faith-filled surrender before the One who is in control. Practically, faith does not entail foolishness, and we have encouraged common precautions like hand washing, cleaning, and protocols to protect the vulnerable as recommended by the CDC.
In addition, we have identified and modified common practices in the church that could spread the virus quickly:
- Instead of shaking hands, we are bowing, elbow tapping, or waving. We demonstrated this with humor on Sunday.
- Instead of passing an offering plate, we have a box in the back of the sanctuary and are encouraging more of our congregation to do online giving.
- Instead of taking the bread for communion from a common plate, we will have gloved servers place the bread in the hands of our people.
- For those who are sick or concerned about getting sick, we have a live-streaming option to worship online.
- Since the elderly who are most vulnerable may also be the least likely to know how to access this option, we are developing a calling chain to check in with them and see if they need help in this regard.
- Also for those in senior living facilities, we are working to see if we could set up a small group gathering to worship together with the livestream.
Ed: Addressing this pandemic takes both wisdom and faith. What does it look like to walk in faith in the midst of such a global health threat?
Mitch: As this virus brings the world to its knees, we as a church minister from our knees.Being humbled is a place where we can receive and release grace. Last night we spent an evening in prayer, praying for medical personnel, our community, and ourselves. We are learning from our international workers from around the world. We release blessing through prayer.
Faith goes hand in hand with modern medicine. The church in 260 was “heedless of danger, [and] they took charge of the sick” (Dionysius, Easter Letter); in 2015, the church in Guinea also took charge of the sick during the Ebola crisis, filled not only with hearts of love but also buckets of bleach through the Eau de la Vie Ebola team. Many did this at the cost of their own lives as villagers reacted in fear.
We also can step in with the love of Christ as well as buckets of bleach. We can help to set up live-streaming worship service options, or a phone call, or extra toilet paper, or a word of encouragement. Our primary posture should not be protection, but showing the love of Christ.
We do not overcome fear with information; fear is overcome with faith. A consumer society seeks to overcome fears by consuming information incessantly, even from unreliable sources. A church leader who endured the Ebola crisis exhorted us to stick to prayer, the Word and information from a couple of reliable sources.
Ed: This crisis can also be a witness opportunity. How can our churches begin to think about meeting people where they are at emotionally and spiritually as a result of what they are feeling/experiencing as a result of COVID-19?
Mitch: We need to have our eyes open to what is happening in our own communities. Our response may not look as dramatic as those of the early church in 260 AD. Yet we should keep our eyes open to the practical needs of people around us.
As college students return home prematurely from their campuses, we should step in to their grief with love, outstretched arms, and food. Lots of it. As international students in our communities may not be able to return home, then we can open our homes and hearts to them to be the family of God for them. If supplies of necessary goods run low, we can share our hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
Simple acts of love with great compassion have great power to show the love of Christ.