What’s a pastor supposed to do now? “Social Distancing” has taken a toll on just about every church. Some canceled services, some have gone to on-line services, some have canceled all activities. Some are still meeting, only to find out that congregants are practicing “social distancing” themselves.
I am pretty action oriented, especially when faced with a problem. But I find myself feeling paralyzed when everyone from the President, the Governor, the CDC, and health care professionals seem to be saying, “Stay home.”
Church, by nature, is social. The Church lives and thrives off of togetherness. There are a number of Bible passages that talk about us being “together.” Most notably Hebrews 10:25 which says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Social distancing runs contrary to our nature.
Yet at the same time, we also bear a responsibility to our society at large as well as to our own people in the pew. In a number of churches, the most vulnerable to COVID-19 are the very ones that are determined to attend church services. For many of these people, they have lived through The Great Depression, many recessions, war, and some other tough times that life flings our way. For them, Jesus has been the faithful and true Shepherd that guided them through those valleys. As natural as it is for a baby to cry for his mother in times of distress, faithful believers have a natural desire to run to Jesus during these times of anxiety. For many, coming to church - singing songs of faith, seeing others of faith, experiencing a spiritually moving message of hope - is vitally important.
Yet, I am reluctantly convinced that social distancing, even when it comes to church, is the right thing to do. I hate it. I hate it with a passion. But I am even more passionate about the safety and well-being of the people in our congregation. I wouldn’t let a killer loose in my church service on Sunday mornings. I see this virus as the same thing.
As the news of what is happening in Italy and what is going on in other parts of our nation seem to be growing more and more dark, we really need to be light. People under normal conditions can find ourselves in a hole. But if you add on a global pandemic, the darkness of anxiety and fear can easily be overwhelming. And if we were to be truthful, even some of the most committed Christians can get down by the helplessness nature this virus brings.
It’s hard to rally volunteers when we are told to stay home. It’s hard donate money with a questionable economy. There’s no hill to charge, no beach-head to claim, no army to defeat. Yet, every official encourages that “we will get through this together,” (by all of us staying apart).
As I mentioned earlier, I am convinced that “social distancing” is the right thing to do. I, however, am not a fan of isolation. Therefore, we need to be connected. We live in a wonderful time where technology allows us to talk, visit, and check on each other. We can even make a “phone” call and look at each other.
As I have called people, I am encouraged to discover that many others are calling and checking in on each other. No one needs to go through these times alone. Care is given, stories told, jokes exchanged, and connection felt. I am encouraged by the people of Pontotoc looking after their loved ones up and down their street, up and down their family line, and up and down their church pew - all by phone. Come to find out, we are doing this together.
I recognize that times are tough, and may get tougher. But I also recognize that greater is He that is in me, than any virus that is in the world (my application of 1 John 4:4).
They will write books about this virus. They will make documentaries about how this virus gripped the world with fear. And then they’ll mess the whole thing up by interviewing some folks from Pontotoc. One will say, “Yeah, I remember going through that as a child. We mostly played ball with my parents.” Another will smile and say, “When I was a kid, we gathered around the computer screen and had church in our pajamas. It was so much fun.” Some other will say, “My folks and I went by and ran errands for the senior adults on my street. They all seemed so grateful.” Another will say, “My mama learned to cook and my daddy learned to clean.” And the smiles on our faces due to endearing memories from a slower and simpler time will make the rest of the world jealous that they didn’t ride out the Corona virus of 2020 in Pontotoc.
Yeah, we’re going to get through this thing. And we will do it together.
Dr. Ken Hester