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As the COVID-19 Wuhan Virus pandemic fades people across America are wanting to return to their houses of worship yet the deep fears aroused by our national response to the virus could do far more damage to your church than the virus.
As the crow flies I live 800 miles from New York City and almost a hundred miles from the largest city in the state where the highest Wuhan Virus infection rates have been recorded. The stats in our county are quite low compared to many other places. Around 380,000 people live in our county and there have been 310 documented cases, most of whom have recovered. Only a fraction had to be hospitalized and the last of our four deaths was six weeks ago. The hospital ICUs always had spare beds.
Thanks to President Trump’s declaration that churches are essential the leaders of many churches are trying to decide what rules to enforce. What I’m hearing from my neighbors, including the pastor of one church, tells me charting their path forward is not an easy task and their biggest problem is dealing with everyone’s fears.
The state guidelines tell us everyone should be wearing a mask and staying at least six feet apart. Shop at any of our local stores that I frequent and you’ll see a good number of people wearing masks and keeping their distance. I’m one of those who doesn’t wear a mask. Why? I have reviewed the best medical information that I can find so my conclusion is that wearing a mask delivers such a small benefit that it isn’t worth the effort.
I’m not sick and haven’t been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for the Wuhan Virus. If I get sick I will isolate myself whether it is an upper respiratory infection or just sniffles and sneezing from seasonal allergies so it is highly unlikely that I will be the person transmitting the dreaded virus to anyone else at church. Even so, my church leaders see it very differently and judging by the volume of fear, illogic and panic in what they’ve said you might have thought my not wearing a mask was a health threat somewhere up between the Black Plague and Ebola.
What really hurt was having two of them ask, “How would you feel if one of our seniors got seriously ill or died and you knew that you’d given it to them?” I dismissed the question as just panic-powered nonsense because any contact with me at church would be only one of their many contacts throughout the week. Plus, unless I got a positive test result there would be no reason to suspect I had the virus or had transmitted it.
My attempts to reason with them failed to penetrate the fog of fear clouding their otherwise reasonable and logical thought processes and it left me feeling hurt that they would hurl such accusations after years of trusting friendship.
Such fearful words stand in contrast to the Biblical commands to rest in God’s peace though the world be falling apart around us. They show us who is trusting God and who is not. So a church’s greatest challenge may not be dealing with who gets sick or dies from the Wuhan Virus, but healing the wounds caused by the fear-powered accusations hurled in this time of national crisis.
Getting our churches back to normal requires that we get off the pandemic panic train and return to walking together in harmony. If not, we may find them cut with wounds so deep that the healing process will still be happening long after the Wuhan Virus has become a bad memory.
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