We finally did it; we canceled our Sunday school and worship service for this Sunday. This was a difficult decision for our staff, especially us old guys. Our senior pastor is 69, and I (the teaching pastor) am 70. We were reluctant, really resistant, to cancel services. We have not had a reported case of COVID-19 in our county, so the crisis, while certainly real, did not seem immanent to us. We wanted to keep worshiping as long as we possibly could.
When we became aware of the virus, we discussed our response as a staff. From the beginning we felt torn between continuing to worship, as commanded in the Scriptures, and being a responsible community organization. Of course, we want to do our part for promote public health, but we felt obligated to lead our church in public worship. On Saturday, March 14, the staff met with the deacons, and the combined group approved a protocol that I wrote. One part provided information about protection from the virus (hand washing, etc.), and the other part set forth our church’s response. A key item specified that we would continue to gather for public worship until ordered to stop by our town or county government. We met for worship the next day. We only had one senior citizen, but we had a good attendance. Two families with young children joined the church.
Normally, we have staff meeting once a week, but this week we’ve had a staff meeting every day. We’ve ploughed the same discussion ground again and again. The younger staff urged that we cancel worship, while us two old guys resisted that. Yesterday, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, banned all meetings of more than ten people. That order triggered our protocol response, and we’ve canceled worship. We won’t have any activities on our campus for the next few weeks. (We pray they are few.)
The response of many churches has been to live stream their worship over the internet. My daughter attends a contemporary (!) church near us. They live-streamed last Sunday morning, and my daughter reported that they had more people view that service than they’ve ever had in attendance. Well, we cannot do a live stream. Our church does not have the necessary equipment. Beyond that, the internet speed at our church is too slow for streaming. I’m sure lots of churches, especially smaller ones, find themselves in the same situation. Instead of streaming, we shall video the different parts of the service and then edit them into a worship service that we’ll post on our website and make available through Facebook Premier. (I do not understand anything about the latter, so there is no need to ask.) Our two music staff members are doing the filming using i-phones. The quality of the video and audio is remarkable good, at least to me. We’ve also been sending out emails daily with Bible verses and encouraging words, as well as announcements. I learned yesterday that FBC of Kaufman, Texas, will have drive in worship this Sunday. The people will remain in their cars and watch the worship on an outdoor stage. The sound will be provided through FM radio. How creative is that!
Another item in our virus protocol called on our members to devote themselves to service to others. We’ve already received two distress calls at our church office. Both families needed supplies they could not find in stores (toilet paper and hand sanitizer). Thankfully, we were able to meet those needs immediately. We plan to organize a Care Corps to deliver food and medicine to those in self-isolation and quarantine. Surely, this is a time for churches to step up and serve their communities.
I’ve taught church history courses many times. In 252 A.D. a terrible plague struck Italy. The Roman officials fled to their country estates, but the Christians remained in the cities. The Christians buried the dead, nursed the sick, and cared for orphans. The ministry of the churches impressed the people so much that there was a mass turning to Christ. Perhaps the COVID-19 crisis presents us with a similar opportunity.
We finally did it; we canceled public worship. Now, we’ll turn to public service.