In the last 24 hours, mass response to the spread of coronavirus, has exponentially increased. The NBA shut down its season. Tom Hanks announced that he has coronavirus. Italians are talking about the dire situation they are in and the grave decisions doctors are having to make. Public event are being cancelled and churches are choosing not to gather in person.
I am not a medical professional, and am no expert in any of these matters. But as a pastor of a small church, primarily with elderly folks, and somebody who has worked with vulnerable populations (the homeless, incarcerated, etc.), I am mindful of the ways that our response in these times must fight to uphold the dignity of ALL people, while also being prudent. I have (somewhat obsessively) been reading to learn what I can, and here are some of the helpful resources that I’ve gathered.
A few thoughts on some ways churches can respond:
- Preach social distancing: One of the most important things I’ve been reading about is social distancing- and the ways that choosing to stay away from others, regardless of how personally vulnerable YOU might be, is one of the most important ways to stop the spread of coronavirus. This article about “flattening the curve” was helpful, and this article was an important reminder that we need to be mindful of all who might be impacted, not just ourselves, in the midst of this outbreak. Learning more about what’s happening in Italy right now is extremely sobering, and everyone in Italy is telling Americans to take as many measures to prevent the spread as possible. Please encourage your church members to practice social distancing, as much as they are able.
- Inform people on preventative and preparedness measures: Go to sources such as CDC and WHO for accurate information. Check sources for articles you see on the internet. And as per CDC guidelines, share with others that it is essential for us to keep distance between each other and stay home if we are sick, cover our coughs and sneezes, wash hands with soap and hot water as frequently as possible, use hand sanitizer when water and soap are not available, wash clothes frequently, and clean high-touch surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, and even phones. In order to stay healthy, it is also important to drink water frequently, eat well, and get enough sleep. For more info, you can read the CDC guidelines here. Also, here are some tips for how to get a household prepared.
- Seriously consider cancelling your church services: While it is important to have faith and be praying in this time, it is also important to be wise and practice precautionary measures for the good of the public. Alameda County published a guide for mass gatherings, that has helpful guidelines. If you do gather, please encourage folks not to make contact with each other and keep their distance, to wash their hands, and to stay home if they are sick. And keep services as small, short, and spread out (people density) as possible. Having faith and exhibiting foolishness that has implications for others are not the same thing. Also, here is a guide that the PC(USA) put out for churches in the midst of a pandemic as well.
- If you are moving online, consider these important factors: This article has some helpful things to consider if you are trying to stream your service or move things online. Particularly, it is important to note that streaming most CCM worship songs requires you to have a license that actually permits streaming. Also, consider ways to still maintain a sense of community and connectedness, even in the midst of the distance. Create a way to share text responses during the live stream, build in moments of interaction, form a phone tree, etc.
- Create a health response team and a plan: This guide walks you through how to create a comprehensive plan for your church, by forming a health team. This team should think through a range of responses, from communication streams, to how to modify church services, to doing pastoral care for your congregation. Consider reaching out to local public health officials for help and guidance, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel or figuring out resources from scratch.
- Consider the needs of the most vulnerable: In times of crisis, the Church has an important opportunity to respond- with self-giving love instead of hoarding, with kindness instead of suspicion, with community instead of isolation. Consider creative ways to serve the most vulnerable in prudent ways: Start meal trains for those who are sick and homebound. Start a fund for those who may lose income due to taking time off work. Redistribute resources to entities like Poor Magazine in Oakland who are serving encampments. Advocate among local officials for showers, handwashing stations, and restroom access for the homeless. Remember those in prison and advocate for their rights
- Remind people to practice self care: While people feel panicked and overwhelmed, it is important to encourage congregants to practice self care. Encourage folks to stand outside and feel the sun or watch the sunset. To take deep breaths. To cook themselves a healthy meal. To have meaningful connection with others via phone calls and video calls while they may be at home. To even turn off the news or social media at certain times of the day may be healthy and important!
- Pray: Taking time to remember who we really are and who God is through prayer can be important. Here is a short prayer guide I wrote for our church last week. Feel free to use and share.
What other resources have been helpful for you?