COVID-19 & LORD'S DAY PUBLIC WORSHIP
The pandemic was the great disruptor of 2020, and it continues to present challenges in 2021. Many, like my family, have experienced heartbreaking personal loss from the virus. Things have also been extremely difficult for the Christian Church. In general, pastors are burned out, giving is down, and believers are anxious, disconnected, and spiritually despondent. The pandemic has led to the isolation of "at risk" church members who have serious co-morbidities, and generated fear in many who do not. Moreover, the pandemic has generated scores of divergent opinions about how best to manage our lives in response to it. The highly polarizing U.S. General Election didn’t help, as both parties weaponized the pandemic for political ends.
Wading through all of the divergent opinions of the experts on Covid-19 isn’t easy. There is so little agreement between qualified medical professionals, and so much hypocrisy, indecision, and heavy-handedness among state officials. For these and other reasons, it’s really challenging to lead a school, church, or business at this time. The session of elders at Christ Church has certainly felt this tension. It has been a topic for discussion and prayer in our monthly session meetings.
We, the elders, decided last summer (after the lockdown) to have in-person / mask-optional Lord's Day worship service. Some may wonder why we’ve left it up to individual conscience to choose whether or not to wear a mask? Because the overall health risks from the virus are very low, but the spiritual and emotional risks from not gathering for weekly Lord’s Day worship services are very high.
A recent Gallup poll shows that anxiety and depression are at all time record highs. Suicide rates have skyrocketed. People are isolated, fearful, and depressed. When folks do get out, most with whom they interact are wearing masks. Faces are covered. Human expression is veiled. Whatever role masks may or may not play in public health (and there is robust debate on the issue), they certainly have a kind of dehumanizing effect. They place limitations on healthy social interaction. All of this has added to the rapid decline of mental health in America.
It should be no surprise to us, however, that (also according to Gallup) individuals who attend weekly worship services have maintained the best emotional health. After all, there is a mind, body, spirit relationship. Moreover, here we are powerfully reminded that God’s people need the means of grace, and we need each other. When we gather for public worship on the Lord’s Day our faith is nourished, our hearts are encouraged, and our minds are illumined by the Word of Christ. We need the preaching of the Gospel, the fellowship of the saints, the holy sacraments, and prayer (Acts 2:42). We are the ecclesia, the church [the “called out ones”]. We are called out of this world and called into fellowship with Christ and each other. Livestream worship may be necessary in extreme emergencies where there is immediate physical danger or a shroud of mystery around a particular viral outbreak. But live-stream services can never replace the spiritual and emotional dynamic of the gathered church.
In this fallen world, it has never been perfectly safe to gather for worship, though in our present context it is close to it. Unlike our brothers and sisters in China and North Africa, who literally risk their lives every time they secretly gather for worship, in America we can worship publicly without risk of incarceration or death. But what about the pandemic? Shouldn’t Christians stay home from church until the Covid-19 virus is gone? Or in the event of attending worship, shouldn’t compulsory mask-wearing, strict social distancing, and limited fellowship be normalized until the virus is no longer a threat? Perhaps this should become the new standard since the virus is unlikely to ever go away? Isn’t it too dangerous for Christians to gather for worship like the church has done for 2000 years? The answer is no.
Statistics from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) reveal that 99.95% of individuals between the ages 50-69 who contract the virus will survive. The percentage is even higher for those who are younger than 50. For 0-19 year olds the survival rate is almost perfect — 99.997%. Seniors over 70 who get infected have a high survival rate of 94.6%. Nevertheless, they are in a more "at risk" category, and certainly need to take more precautions. Indeed, I want to make clear that for those "at risk" (of any age) or for those in occupations that necessitate more safeguards we encourage every precaution, including masks, when attending church functions. The elders have considered all of these points when making decisions for the church, and we are grateful to report that since we commenced our in-person worship in June not one person in our flock has contracted Covid-19 as a result of attending our “in-person” services. In a Ref21 article by Rev. Adam Parker (PCA Minister from Oregon), he states:
“It can and should be argued that doing reckless, unreasonable, or unnecessary things which carry high risk for others can be considered immoral, but it also has to be acknowledged that the terms ‘reckless,’ ‘unreasonable,’ ‘high risk’ and the like are by their nature subject to interpretation and context. Asking someone to do something that carries with it a 50/50 chance of dying simply so that one can be amused for an hour seems to qualify as unreasonable. Asking members of society to risk a 0.3% chance of dying so that one can do necessary activities is not prima facie unreasonable. The mere existence of risk (even to others) is not enough to make attending church something that one is morally obligated to forego. How that judgment works out will vary from person to person and by situation.”
Thankfully, our dear church family has moved into our newly renovated 8,000 sq. ft. facility at 486 Wando Park Blvd — a marvelous and undeserved gift from God! At our new location we have a much larger meeting space for worship. Special requests can be made for socially-distanced seating, with priority seating given to those who are “high risk.” We sincerely hope to see our church family together again in our new building, though we fully understand that some of you who are in the “high risk” category will choose to wait a little longer. We totally understand. We love and miss you.
Please keep in mind that if you or a member of your household are showing signs of Covid 19 — fever, extreme sluggishness, loss of taste or smell, etc. — then you should stay home from worship services and take advantage of the livestream. Also, please remember that a healthy diet, hydration, adequate sleep, exercise, fresh air, and sunshine are all key to good physical and mental health.
Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne
To request socially-distanced seating or to make known other needs you or your family require in order to worship with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to accommodate you.