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Coronavirus Response

Posted: March 10 2020 at 05:27 PM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


As we approach another first Sunday communion in April (most United Methodist churches observe communion on the first Sunday although some serve communion every Sunday) and we draw closer to Holy Week, we continue to find ourselves in the midst of the coronavirus. We need to reflect with each other about how to be faithful in our times.

First, a few lessons from history. Author Diana Butler Bass, a well-known church historian, tells about the Plague of Galen 165-180 CE (dear Lord, please don’t let the coronavirus go on that long!). She reflects: “Christians proved their spiritual mettle by tending to the sick.” (A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story, p. 59)  Hundreds of thousands of people were affected by the contagious disease and dying in the streets.  

It was the Christians who stayed in the city and cared for the sick, held the hands of those whose families fled, and showed compassion on strangers, friends and family alike. What was truly remarkable and impressive to the people at that time was that the Christians showed no partiality in terms of class, religion, or any other markers of discrimination. As a result, Christianity demonstrated a love for neighbor that gave witness in deed, not just in word, to the culture around them.

How can we give witness to our faith during this time of the coronavirus?

In an article titled “Pastoral Care in the Later Middle Ages” by William J. Dohar (which Rev. Doug Sibley supplied to me), the plague in England was thought to be a result of sin. The Archbishop of York in 1348 issued a pastoral letter that said as much: 

Therefore who does not know what great death, pestilence and infection of the air hang about various parts of the world and especially England these days.  This indeed is caused by the sins of people who caught up in the delights of their prosperity, neglect to remember the gifts of the Supreme Giver. (p. 169)  

When assigning sin, fear and scapegoating easily take over. People increasingly acted in such rebellious and violent ways so that “more or less the whole population turned to evil courses.” (p. 182)  And unfortunately, that reaction didn’t exclude Christians.

In our pandemic, people have turned against Asians in general, boycotting Chinatown for no reason and shunning others for no reason except that they are Asian.  

Jesus told us to love our neighbors. We need to pull together and not against each other. He didn’t mean that we love our neighbors “except in adverse times.” He meant to literally check on your neighbors (and now we have so many ways to do that through phones, email, Facebook, etc.) to make sure they’re okay, especially elderly neighbors. We need to reach out to the elderly who might be more isolated during this time with phone calls and notes.

Christians have risen to the occasion in such circumstances and at other times, fallen victim to the spiritual diseases that linger long past the last microbe of physical disease.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving hymns is, “Now Thank We All Our God.” 

Now thank we all our God, With hearts, and hands, and voices.
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom the world rejoices.

Yet this traditional hymn was written during the 17th century in a little town in Germany that had been taking in refugees from the 30-Year War.  The town became over-populated and, as a result, little food was available and the people became susceptible to the plague. 

The Rev. Martin Rinkart was the only surviving minister in the town and he would daily bury 50-100 people, including his own wife and loved ones. Finally in 1648 the terrible war ended and a decree went out to have services of thanksgiving.  Rev. Rinkart wrote this hymn for his people who had suffered so much. 

As Christians, we give witness to our faith by caring for others, even as we keep ourselves safe.  We change our practices based on scientific, not ideological, information.  And we continue to send a message of hope and thanksgiving in the midst of it all.

Below are some resources for the best physical practices for churches, based on pastors who are in the “eye of the storm” in Washington State. But in a nutshell, let’s focus on these:

  • Hold worship services until/unless public health authorities say to do otherwise.  
  • Give clear direction to the congregation at the time of passing the peace so it’s not awkward and people know what to do—an elbow bump, a bow, or whatever.
  • Be very careful with communion, making sure that there are individual cups and that someone with surgical gloves has cut up the bread as well as just one or two people who sanitize their hands (and maybe wear gloves) pass it out.  
  • Elderly or physically compromised people should assess whether or not they should be in crowds at church, including Easter. And if they come, be sensitive to their concerns.
  • It’s even recommended in affected areas that people come forward down the aisle in an “African style” of placing the offering in a basket at the front rather than passing (and touching) the offering plate.  
  • Regularly clean the toys and other objects in Sunday School rooms.
  • Always provide and use tongs/spoons for picking up food after services or at potlucks.
  • Wash your hands at every opportunity. Soap and water are still preferred but hand sanitizer is good, too. Wash your hands after being on any form of public transportation (like when you get to church or work), after you get home, and throughout the day. This still remains the number one preventive measure.
  • Consider livestreaming and online giving to reach those who are homebound.
  • Pray for all those who have been affected by the coronavirus around the world along with healthcare workers and those working to stop the spread of this disease.

“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.”  3 John 1:2

~Bishop Sally Dyck

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