It is upon us. Both the COVID-19 coronavirus and the fear of it have descended upon the world—and upon our nation. The unprecedented decisions to limit travel into the United States will send shock waves all over the globe.
At the time of this writing, tens of thousands of people are symptomatic and several thousand have died. It is a terrible illness. And the insidious thing about this virus is that the carrier is fully contagious before the carrier knows it.
These are times when the church should show leadership. Every congregation should see themselves as an active center of hope, ministry, and encouragement. The time we live in is unique to us, but it is not unique to the church. And, the fact that this time of crisis in our world intersects with the season of Lent should not go unnoticed. Effective preaching and teaching about the Providence of God is always as comforting as it is true.
Ten Suggestions for Your Church
I would like to offer a few ideas for each congregation to consider or implement right away. You may find some of these measures to be extreme, but they may allow the members of your church to continue meeting together for praise and worship. (Hebrews 10:25).
1. Get Prepared.
I think the next season in our country will require a robust communication effort on the part of every congregation and diocese. Attendance patterns will be disrupted. Giving patterns will change. People will worry about their jobs. People will need their church to step up and take a spiritual leadership role in their lives. Silence will not the right response. In order for communication to work well in your church, it has to be easy. Be sure your database is up to date and that you have as many current addresses as you can. Collect every cell number that you are able to find.
Consult this helpful resource: Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute has put together a helpful guide for churches: Coronavirus Resources for the Church. It includes a Coronavirus Church Planning Template and a manual.
Have plenty of soap and paper towels in your public bathrooms as well as hand-sanitizer stations, pump bottles, or standing dispensers. Those should be placed in obvious places. Also, it is important to tell your congregation that you are taking obvious precautions.
3. Link to Resources
Encourage people to follow the guidelines from the Center for Disease Control. The government of the US and Canada will be the best, first place to find information. Carry these links on your website.
4. Initiate a Telephone Calling Ministry
One of the realities of these fearful days is that people are fearful. This will be especially true of older members of your church. I think a church could start a ‘telecare ministry’ for all members, particularly the older members. A weekly cell call or text from a designated group of volunteers would be well received. “What can we pray for?” “How are you doing?” Every church should be reaching out to its members with greater intent and frequency.
5. Liturgical and Worship Changes
- Ask people to NOT embrace or offer handshakes or hugs at the liturgical “Passing of the Peace”. Give up the human to human contact during the time of The Peace altogether. (Recently I was in a place where employees were asked to not shake hands with their customers. Fist-bumps only.)
- Read up on “Communion Under Both Kinds” or “Communion Under One Kind”. The former is the stated practice of the Anglican Church. (See Article 30 in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion). The latter is permitted in special circumstances (like hospital visits). Should your church offer Communion in One Kind only? Your bishop will have something to say about this practice. Any action that you take regarding communion should be clearly communicated as being done ‘out of an abundance of caution’.
- Read The Great Litany and the Supplication in the Book of Common Prayer. There is no better summons to prayer in times of anxiety that this. The Supplication would be appropriate every week. Here’s The Great Litany and the Supplication as they appear in the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer:
- Consider using the Prayer Book service of Morning Prayer and making use of the great canticles and psalms through it. For centuries the Office of Morning Prayer was the main liturgy for Sunday worship.
- Read Psalm 91 week by week. Psalm 91 bears repeating and memorizing. Is there a better Psalm for this time? Perhaps the one just before it. Psalm 90 is very strong. Consider singing the paraphrase of Psalm 90 by Isaac Watts: O God, Our Help in Ages Past.
- Rewrite the Prayers of the People so that they address the specific concerns and anxieties that everyone in the church is living with. Emphasize hope and the faithfulness of God. Remember always Psalm 103:8: ” The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (This might be the best time in the service for the Supplication.)
- Add a clear pastoral prayer by the Rector or Officiant at the end of the Prayers of the People. Clergy, take the time to write out a prayer of supplication, hope, and confidence in God for all the nations of the world. Extemporaneous prayers during heightened times do not often carry the weight of the moment.
6. Facebook Live your Service
We know that people will be skipping church. In some cases, especially for older members, it is advisable to stay home. But the technology of Facebook and a mobile device makes it possible to live stream the service. You will be surprised how many ‘extra’ people you have coming to worship!
7. Announce an Assistance Fund.
There will be people in your church who will be unemployed and might need financial assistance. Ask your members to give to this fund as they are able; ask a few trusted leaders to help administer the fund as appropriate for the sake of needy people in the congregation.
8. Website Updates
Post any medical alerts or liturgical changes on the website. People will want to know that you are taking these things seriously and are making needed changes. Encourage your people to always check the church website for prayer updates and medical alerts.
There will be significant financial fallout because of this virus. It has already begun. Be prepared in many ways. These last few suggestions are purely practical. Every congregation will need to strengthen the body in times like this. Do not neglect the more mundane but still needful aspects of the life of your congregation.
- Be sure your giving portals are up and easy to navigate. Use all easy ‘text-to-give’ features.
- Encourage people to continue to give for the work of the church. Giving in these times strengthens faith.
- Email your congregation ways that they can continue to give and support the ministry of the church.
10. Over Communicate
Times like this require robust communication by multiple channels. Use email of course. But send important updates and pastoral letters via USPS. In addition, collect every mobile device phone number that you can and update congregation records. Use texting to stay in touch.
In addition to all of these communication efforts, I would strongly encourage pastors to write pastoral letters for their members trying to help them understand the circumstances and the obvious theological challenges of our day.
The times we are in are not new.
The church has faced circumstances like this generation after generation. In fact, times of disruption, concern, anxiety, worry, and fear are the norm for the people of God.
Leaders have an amazing opportunity in these days to remember the faithfulness of God and ask people to put their confidence in him and him alone.
If anyone has other ideas, please let us know in the comments below!