In a letter to the people of Philippi, the Apostle Paul writes:
“Be glad in the Lord always…Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
There is a lot to be anxious about these days. We are worried about the health of our community and the stress upon our hospital systems. Our coronavirus cases continue to rise exponentially and people we care about are ill. But there are also anxieties about the life of our congregations. Concerns about whether people will “come back” in the same numbers or if generosity will be impacted if we do not meet in-person.
Paul’s advice to us in this moment is to pray and to find ways to be grateful. And so, we turn our hearts to a prayer of thanksgiving for our incredible health care heroes who are working on the front lines countless hours, risking their lives to care for people in our community. We pray with thanksgiving for our educators and families who are navigating and adapting to impossible situations with grace and competence. We pray with thanksgiving for our leaders as they balance competing interests, provide clear public health guidance, and urge us to do our part. And we pray with thanksgiving for the creativity, flexibility, and technology that allows the church to faithfully continue to do God’s ministry in these difficult times.
John Wesley challenged the people called Methodist to three simple rules:
Do no harm.
Stay in love with God.
Right now, we can do no harm
by refraining from gatherings with people outside of our home and therefore suspending all in-person worship and gatherings through January 10, 2021. This is the directive of Bishop Laurie Haller and the Appointive Cabinet, as well as the official guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force for the state of Iowa, but it also speaks to the wisdom we find within scripture itself.
Dr. Matt Schlimm at the University of Dubuque reminds us the book of Leviticus offers guidance for how a community of faith responds to communicable diseases: by declaring those who had them ceremonially unclean (see Leviticus 13). Not only did this help keep God’s dwelling place holy and sacred, but it was also a public health measure. It kept the rest of the community from becoming ill as well. As Dr. Schlimm writes, “They didn’t blindly trust that God would protect them from spreading diseases. They didn’t say ‘We just need to have faith that God will protect us.’ Instead, God’s orders were simple: stay home until you’re better.”
We find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic where this virus is not easily seen upon our skin, but often spread by asymptomatic carriers. The White House report for Iowa notes that we are in the midst of “aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread…[where] residents are carrying the virus, feel fine, but are unknowingly spreading it to others.” The primary way we can do no harm in this moment is to refrain from in-person gatherings where contact and aerosol spread can easily transmit the disease.
We can also do good
through simple proactive measures that we promote within our communities. Our churches can take the lead in helping our congregations faithfully care for our neighbors. The book of James reminds us, “My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs?”
Right now, our local public health and medical staff have told us that there are very simple and reasonable measures that every person can do in order to keep one another safe: wearing masks, washing hands, physically distancing, and getting our flu shot. Faithfully loving our neighbor and doing good is about concrete actions we can put into practice.
Some simple ideas for your faith community: Offer a virtual blessing of facemasks. Send cards of encouragement to your local hospital staff. Put together a PSA washing hands to the tune of Jesus Loves Me or saying the Lord’s Prayer. Order masks from a local business with your church logo. Visit your local nursing home with large signs sharing your love and wave to residents.
But it is also vital that we stay in love with God
. More than ever, we need hope and good news and the grounding of our faith to keep us going. So many have rediscovered in this moment that the church is who we are, rather than a place we go. Like early Christian communities who centered worship in their homes, we have the opportunity to help our members to embrace a faith that extends beyond an hour on Sunday morning. When we are not able to meet in-person for worship, our churches have sustained the faith through online gatherings, virtual coffee time, Zoom bible studies, printed sermons, phone calls, cards, front-porch visits and more.
One of the core messages of the Christian faith is the reminder that God no longer dwells in the temple, but among us. It is the promise we proclaim each Advent as we prepare our hearts for Emmanuel, God-with-us. And so in this moment in the life of our community when it is prudent to refrain from gathering, that good news of God’s presence with us wherever we are has never felt more vital.
Clergy colleagues across the state are being creative about opportunities to create at-home and virtual experiences of worship. Simpson College is offering a Lessons and Carols service for our churches to use online. Some churches are sending home small advent kits with tea lights and prayers and weekly devotions. Others are encouraging members to light candles and ring a bell outside their home on Christmas Eve as we encourage neighbors and sing Silent Night. In the coming days, the Covid Response Team and Appointive Cabinet will be connecting you with resources around technology support, assistance in shifting Advent and Christmas planning, ways to engage stewardship and generosity during the holidays, and opportunities before us to provide care and support our health workers, educators, laborers and first responders in this time as they continue to serve on the front lines. Stay connected with one another and let us use our creativity to help not only our members, but our whole community receive the gift of God this year.
When we keep our eyes focused on all these good and holy things, even amid the concerns of the world, the reasons to be grateful never stop coming. We are grateful for one another. We are grateful for God’s presence with us. And we discover that peace and gladness start to take the place of any anxiety, because we have concrete ways to love God and love our neighbor. Thank you, church, for doing your part.
If you have questions, concerns or need clarification, please reach out to IAUMCCARES@iaumc.org
Covid-19 Re-Entry & Response Team
Authored by Rev. Katie Dawson