The landscape surrounding the coronavirus and how American society is reacting to it seems to change by the moment, and churches are trying to figure out what to do.
March Madness is off, and what remains of the NBA and NHL seasons are as well. Major League Baseball may not even get started, and Broadway in New York City has gone dark. The happiest place on Earth is about to become the loneliest place on Earth, as Disneyland and Disney World are both closing down for at least the rest of the month.
As several churches opted to cancel regular church meetings this weekend, Dr. Bret Nicks of the Christian Medical Association asserts that God is not mad about that. He says God expects us to use the brains he blessed us with.
"Because of the uncertainty related to this coronavirus, I think that we have definitely heightened concerns far greater than we ever have before," the Association spokesman comments.
Santa Cruz County in California has announced a health emergency, as confirmed virus cases in the community continue to rise. Officials have asked that all large events be canceled or postponed.
In response, the roughly 4,000-member Twin Lakes Church, for example, is taking advantage of technology, as lead pastor Rene Schlaepfer explains in a churchwide video distributed via social media.
'Virtual church' just not the same
Going in the weekend, OneNewsNow spoke with the senior pastor of a Dallas megachurch who said his church was planning to meet – but not as usual.
"The city issued guidelines, which we're going to follow," says Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist-Dallas. "[The city] said there could not be groups of more than 500 in any room – so we're dividing our congregation up … different venues, different times like a movie theatre … and we're going to have services. We're also going to continue to show our services online."
Many churches around the country will be depending on technology to keep their congregations safe. Websites will be streaming services from empty sanctuaries, and some churches will be meeting as small groups in homes.
First Baptist-Dallas will go virtual if it has to, but Jeffress recognizes that that's not optimal.
"I heard an archbishop trying to describe the difference between in-person and online worship," the pastor shares. "He said it's kind of like the difference between sitting by an open fire and enjoying the warmth, or watching the fire on television. It's not quite the same thing."
Jeffress says it's impossible to know the endgame of this crisis, but he is sure of one thing.
"I tend to think that it will eventually burn out and we'll be okay, but we can't say anything with certainty about the future, except that God is in control," he states.
"Church services will move from in-person to live-streaming only for the next two weekends," Schlaepfer announced. "Let me be clear: Church is not cancelled. It's just changed."
Other churches throughout the country are doing the same, and Schlaepfer reasons it is the Church's Christian duty.
"The way I look at it -- this is a Christ-like way, a sacrificial way, to show that we love the most vulnerable population in our community above ourselves," he says.
Last week, after President Trump called for a national day of prayer and declared a national emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) called its churches and members into action.
"I really had on my heart that we need to call the 47,500-plus churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention to really commit to a dedicated time of prayer on this Sunday," comments SBC Executive Committee President-elect Dr. Ronnie Floyd.
And he suggests four specific prayer points.
"We're encouraging people to ask God in his mercy to stop this pandemic and save lives, not only in our communities, but around the world," Dr. Floyd relays. "Another item that we're encouraging people to pray for is for President Donald Trump and other governmental leaders, not only in America, but also our international leaders."
Individual church leadership are also encouraged to help church members remember Southern Baptist missionaries and their children at home and throughout the world as churches are advised to pray for wisdom in place of panic.
"I think it's important that the pastor leads," Dr. Floyd notes. "I think it's important that laypeople are involved. I think it's important that we just simply allocate time in our worship service to pray for this crisis."
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A Florida pastor was arrested for meeting with his congregation on Sunday in a county with restrictions on large gatherings – an arrest the pastor's attorney describes as "discriminatory against religion and church gatherings."
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