Thursday, April 2, 2020
Banning worship. . .
I remain convinced that the Church is better situated to provide safe gatherings with the requisite number limitations, sanitizer availability, and social distancing that most retail spaces. If we feel safe in the supermarket or home centers of our communities, we should at least feel safe within the boundaries of churches. Attendance will undoubtedly be lower than before this pandemic began and yet the spaces allow for more than the recommended social distancing in pews and at the rail. Is it really more dangerous to attend worship than it is to stand in line or meet strangers down the aisles of our retail spaces -- still allowed and deemed a necessity?
The media and some overzealous politicians have made it appear that it is reckless and unreasonable to assemble for worship even within the guidelines of the CDC. It is a stretch of the imagination to give this credibility in light of the fact that we are told it is safe to shop for necessities in our local retail outlets. We are not putting people at greater risk in the church.
Sure, there are goofballs and crackpots on both sides. Those with their doomsday scenarios in which life as we know it is over and those who insist there is no danger at all. But in the reasonable center also are heard the voices of calm who urge us to do what we can and must to be safe for ourselves and our neighbors. Wash hands (20 seconds with good soap), use sanitizer as a back up (but there is no need to slather it all over), keep a distance of at least 3 and better 6 feet between you and those outside your household, and seek medical care if you have symptoms of a COVID 19 infection. Even within these parameters, it is safer to add more services than to suggest home or lay communions or to presume that live streaming an empty church is the same as being there.
I am with Bishop Schneider in this. We can keep the churches open and we can be safe. It will require more effort on our part but if that is what we must do, then we must do it.
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In response to the ChiCom virus, Texas State Governor Greg Abbott issued his March 31, 2020, Executive Order GA 14, which includes these statements:
"Essential services" shall consist of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship. Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).
If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, they should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. [Emphasis added]
"If we feel safe in the supermarket or home centers of our communities, we should at least feel safe within the boundaries of churches."
Key word there is "if," and we should NOT. Mounting evidence is showing the ease-of-transmittance of this particular virus, see e.g. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/02/health/aerosol-coronavirus-spread-white-house-letter/index.html).
I for one am glad that my LCMS pastor shut us down completely weeks ago. If we didn't need to get food once in a while, my family would be in complete isolation. Remember - by not contracting the virus, the life you save may not be your own!
We can survive a few weeks without in-person congregational worship. And as much as I'd like to receive the eucharist weekly, a few weeks off will not harm me. Is it preferred? No. But we can make do.
Unfortunately, incidents of coronavirus transmission did take place as a result of a church service, and a choir rehearsal. We have to wait fir the virus to run its course. This is acting prudently, and I am certain that the Lord understands.
From the beginning, I've had these two thoughts:
1) We are allowed to continue church services (if we follow the governmental guidelines), but is it wise to do so? I could go to Iran or sneak into North Korea and proclaim the Gospel, but I don't think such actions could be considered wise under any circumstances. Likewise, we need to seriously weigh the cost/benefit equation if we are gathering during this pandemic.
2) I read a lot of Lutheran blogs and many are saying we must have the Lord's Supper regardless of the ongoing issues. Indeed, who doesn't want the Lord's Supper? One of the greatest things about my church is that we have a full Divine Service every single Sunday. My family has missed 1 service in the past ~3.5 years. It is a blessing. But how weak is our faith if it cannot survive a few weeks without the supper? Grab a bible, do some devotions, attend "online" services, and be strengthened in your faith without gathering for a few weeks! Moreover, we all possess the office of the keys - have general confession and absolution in the home.
Nice article here which touches on some of this: https://www.gottesdienst.org/gottesblog/2020/4/2/homeschooling-should-not-lead-to-home-communing
How does one presume to speak to what others should think or do in this strange new world? There are many reasons why someone might wisely choose to remain at home,just as there are as many reasons why others might choose to attend the Divine Service, should by some miracle it can be found at all. To my mind, the Word of God applies even under circumstances unimaginably worse than those at present. My conscience is held captive to the Word of God.
We can survive a few weeks without in-person congregational worship.
But that is the point. It will not be a few weeks. Nobody believes this in the medical community. It will be months. It could be the end of summer before experts say it is safe and people believe it. If we have learned in months to fear, panic, and hide, what will it take for us to believe there is an acceptable risk to return to more normal activities? I wish I knew. But this is not about a couple of weeks. That is why this question is so critical and the answer so pivotal to the life and health of God's people-- body and soul!!
Yes, a few weeks has become a few months, which may become a few quarters. Regardless, if we rest in our status as baptized children of God, chosen by Him before the creation of the world, and if we stick to His word and hear His absolution (virtually from our pastor, or in-person from our fellow Christian family members), He will maintain and preserve us, Supper or no Supper.
There's always the option to hold smaller services, but those come with risks, as well, especially when evidence is mounting that a simple conversation with an infected individual can result in CoV-2 transmission.
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