COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Impact on Communities of Faith

The COVID-19 Pandemic continuous to have a tremendous impact worldwide.  It may forever change how we interact with one another. While federal and state officials announce the reopening of various businesses, spiritual leaders are formalizing plans to ensure the safety of their parishioners. For most Believers, fellowshipping and worshipping in a church sanctuary is vital. While some spiritual leaders have long embraced spread the Gospel through social media and live platforms, others did not.  Regardless of their apprehensions, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused spiritual leadership to re-evaluate their positions regarding online ministry.

On May 22, 2020, President Trump declared “places of worship” essential then order each governor of every state to reopen them immediately.  This announcement caused the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to release interim guidelines for communities of faith.  While it is clear that CDC is not attempting to infringe upon our First Amendment rights, their recommendations will dramatically impact how we engage in worship.  The recommendations include the following:

  • Upholding social distancing
  • Promoting healthy hygiene practices
  • Cloth face coverings
  • An increased routine of intensified cleaning and disinfecting of places of worship and their ventilation systems
  • Minimize the use of shared Worship Materials
  • Additional guidelines for Nurseries in places of worship

All of these recommendations (with the exception of promoting healthy hygiene habits) are contrary to how parishioners interact with one another in church settings.  Spiritual leaders now have the task of identifying how to navigate worship services while adhering to CDC recommendations to ensure everyone’s safety. Let us consider some of the worship practices that may need to be modified.

  • Holy Communion: For those churches who do not purchase prepackaged communion wafers and juice, this may become a requirement. Instead of using cloth gloves, the disposable glove may be considered more hygienic.
  • Discontinued Use of Community Bibles and Hymnals: CDC discourages the use of shared Worship Materials.  Churches may be going to a BYOB/BYOH (Bring Your Own Bible/ Bring Your Hymnal).  Not every church is equipped to provide a projected displays of Scriptures or Hymnals to be viewed by congregants.
  • The ritual of “Laying on of Hands” which is both a symbolic and formal way of invoking the Holy Spirit during deliverance, baptisms, healings, and ordination services.  This is rite is considered vital in some denominations and is a Biblical practice.
  • “Love Time” encourages greeting one another usually hugging and/or kissing one another along with other gestures with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Post-pandemic, we force to express love from afar and differently.
  • Baptism, a Christian rite symbolizing the regeneration and admission to the Christian Church, will need to be reviewed.  Most baptisms consist of immersion of the body in water whether that is a baptismal pool or a natural body of water.  Anti-bacterial agents may be required to be used in water for baptismal pools especially if there are multiple candidates for baptism.
  • Parishioners with underlining health issues, especially respiratory-related, may want to continue to “stay at home” for now.  The fumes from intensified cleaning and disinfecting along with maintaining face covering can prove to be challenging.
  • Sanctuary door ushers may be replaced with nurses using “no-touch” thermometers to greet parishioners and check for elevated temperatures along with identifying parishioners exhibiting symptoms. There are many who are asymptomatic and may not know that they are infected.
  • Upholding the 6” social distancing requirement will prove to be problematic in smaller places of worship.
  • For more charismatic denominations, sheets use to cover parishioners when “slain in the Spirit” will not be able to be reused on other parishioners.
  • The CDC has issued additional guidelines for places of worship with nurseries.

It may be wise for smaller local assemblies to maintain having services online due to the additional expenses.  If places of worship do not perform the tasks outlined by CDC they may be liable if their location became ground zero for an outbreak.  Our celebratory worship practices and how we engage with one another will need to change. Parishioners are now   challenged to express our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ differently and hopefully in more meaningful ways. While the CDC guidelines appear to go against every segment of our worship, there are some positives for us to consider. 

  • Worship services are no longer limited to a building.  The Universal Church is called to stand out. We are ordered via The Great Commission to spread the Gospel through all nations. Now that more local assemblies have started using online services there are more options available.
  • To me, the best part is that COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have not been able to suppress or stop people from accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
  • Refreshing transparency in ministry is unfolding.  Spiritual Leaders take to online platforms and have very open and transparent conversations about ministry and how to proceed forward post-pandemic.
  • Based upon the spiritual leaders that I have spoken with Tithes and Offering are up as a result of taking to an online platform.
  • Spiritual Leaders are forced to think of innovative ways to engage their congregation and explore alternative worship experiences. 
  • More people have been able to attend alternative services such as Bible Study from the comfort of their homes.
  • Due to the social distancing restrictions, it has given Christians to seek God through spiritual discipline for a refreshing and identify the next steps in ministry.
  • The pandemic has been for many a test of faith causing us to rely on the promises of God.

While I do not believe God caused the COVID-19 pandemic, I do believe that he has allowed it to become a wake-up call to the nations.   It is a test of our faith and an opportunity to draw closer to him.  As each state begins to relax stay at home orders, it is no surprise that there is increase in diagnosis and hospitalization due to COVID-19. 

Current Events: Blessed Are The Peacemakers of Houston County?!

Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza purchased decals for his patrol cars. He revealed pictures of the new decal on the patrol cars on his Facebook page. This sparked mixed reviews by residents of the county. The cost of decals was $1.60 each. So, what caused the mixed reactions from residents? The decal references Matthews 5:9 –“Blessed are the peacemakers.” The sheriff sites strong religious beliefs lead him to the purchase of these decals. However, others argue that this violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution (aka “the separation of church and state”).   Erin Edgemon reports the full story. See the full story using the link below:

 http://www.al.com/news/montgomery/index.ssf/2015/07/alabama_sheriff_puts_bible_ver.html

What do you think?

Same-Sex Ruling Controversy

Over the last decade, the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender (LBGT) community have continuously fought for the legalization of same-sex marriages nationwide. The opponents to this issue were many including the Church. The opposition to legalizing Same-sex marriages stems primarily from mainstream belief systems (Christianity, Orthodox Jewish Movement, Roman Catholic, etc.) that explicitly believe that the constitution of marriage is between man and women and homosexual practices are an abomination before God. Obviously, any legislation that could potentially infringe upon biblical foundations and fundamental beliefs would be cause for concern. For example, if the language of the law indicates that as a result of the ruling spiritual leaders could not refuse to marry same-sex couples because of their sexual preferences. The conflict would be state attempting to supersede biblical foundations.

After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages and marital benefits, many were quick to voice their opinions via social media and the pulpit. Most of the comments that I read on social media or blog sites ranged from the same-sex ruling would usher the beginning of Armageddon to condemning the LBGT community to hell in the lake of eternal fire. These comments also including misquoted Scripture references and demonstrated the ignorance of the writers. Since the Supreme Court’s rulings, virtually every worship service I have personal attended, the pastor or preacher will reiterate that the institution of marriage was designed and created by God for “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.”

One of the biggest problems that I have seen is the alienation of the LBGT community. Spiritual leaders address sexual immorality with a constricted focus on homosexuality. I believe that this sends the wrong message. It would appear that all sexual immorality would be exclusive to those who indulge in homosexuality. Spiritual leaders need to ensure a full comprehensible teaching on sexual immorality to their congregation. It is also important that congregations are taught how to evangelize and witness effectively to all people. Evident by some of the posts on social media sites, there is a lack of knowledge and compassion. There are many willing to condemn but who is willing to evangelize with love and without judgment.

If we are God’s representatives on earth, we should model His example. Jesus ministered, healed, and evangelized to the ten lepers, Samaritan women at the well, the blind beggar, the woman with the issue of blood, and many more. The people that Jesus helped were the people that everyone else discarded, they were considered the outcast, and they all needed healing. Before anyone of us knew Christ, we needed to be healed, delivered, and set free. So why is it that we lack compassion towards others? Shouldn’t we be a reflection of God’s love, mercy, and service to his people? Is God seeking us?

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Massacre

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;  Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4, KJV)

My prayers and condolences go out to the congregation, families, and friends impacted by the shooting which took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people including the pastor lost their lives as a result of this shooting. Although the suspect in the killings, Dylann Roof, has been apprehended, the pain of this shooting is felt throughout the Universal Church.

I would encourage all to pray not only for the victims love ones and congregation but to pray for the suspect. We, being the Church, must forgive his actions. Though we grieve, we must also forgive. This is not to say that he should not suffer the consequences for his actions. Regardless to his motives for performing this slaying, redemption is still available to him. Before becoming an Apostle Saul murdered hundreds of Christians until he reached the road of Damascus. He was given a new name, Paul, and would be the writer of fourteen out of twenty-seven books in the Bible.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is historical for their work in civil rights and being active in their community. The “Charleston Nine” are now martyrs of the faith. They spent their final hour studying the Scriptures, praying, and worshipping God not knowing that this would be their last opportunity to do so. For them, death has no sting and the grave has no victory. (1 Corinthians 15:54-56) They have ran their race and kept the faith. The names and ages of the “Charleston Nine” are listed below.

Cynthia Herd (54)

Suzy Jackson (87)

Ethel Lee Lance (70)

Reverend Doctor Depayne Middleton (49)

Pastor Clementa Pinckney(41)

Tywanza Sanders (26)

Reverend Doctor Daniel L. Simmons, Senior (74)

Reverend. Sharonda Singleton (45)

Myra Thompson (59)

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, KJV)