The church is one of the first places people turn in times of crisis according to researchers, but how should congregations respond to the coronavirus pandemic? Should worship services and activities be canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19? How can we serve the “least of these” without endangering each other through close contact?
A letter from the Board of Bishops to the Free Methodist Church – USA offers “ways we can exhibit our commitment to love our neighbor as ourselves” while “doing so in wise and discerning ways.”
“For those already affected in a number of ways including those having contracted the disease, those quarantined as a result of potential exposure, or those affected by travel restrictions, closed schools or the like, we extend our prayers,” Bishops Linda Adams, Keith Cowart, Matt Whitehead write in the letter. “In fact, we encourage the entire church to be in fervent and earnest prayer for one another, for our communities and the global efforts being engaged to combat the spread of this virus.”
The bishops note that “we are communities that thrive in gathering, so questions have naturally emerged amid the closings and cancellations of many institutions and public events.”
The bishops encourage congregations to explore these options as they apply to a local context:
• Encourage anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms or respiratory distress to refrain from attending
public services or gatherings of the church, and to seek medical attention.
• Since symptoms can be very mild and often do not appear at all for 1-2 weeks, encourage anyone who
has reason to suspect possible exposure (travel in a high risk area or contact with a confirmed
victim) to self-quarantine for 14 days or until testing rules out infection. Such precautions are
not born of fear but are meant to protect the vulnerable (the elderly, those with underlying
medical issues or compromised immune systems, etc.).
• Engage networks of people in your congregation to check in on one another, pray for one another,
and meet one another’s needs as they arise.
• A number of our congregations have sought to lessen contact during services by collecting
offerings via one receptacle rather than passing them through the aisles of your church, engaging
alternatives to handshakes like elbow-bumps, and making hand sanitizer readily available.
• When serving the elements of communion, do so in ways that provide individual portions and means
• Offer an attitude of peace to all. Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, refusing to live by
neither hysteria nor cynicism.
• Abide by local health and governmental regulations, including bans on large gatherings if
• Leverage other means to worship through social media livestreams and electronic communication.
• When caring for your worship spaces, go above-and-beyond normal protocols to disinfect.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has banned gatherings of more than 250 people in his state’s King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Rainier Avenue Church, a Free Methodist congregation in Seattle, posted on its Facebook page that it is “canceling Sunday services at our location this Sunday, until public health recommendations allow us to re-open again. Our Lenten Friday services will also be postponed until further notice. This decision was not made lightly, but with much prayer, deliberation, and no small measure of disappointment. We feel that this was the best choice to protect vulnerable members of our church, and to help our community limit the spread of coronavirus.” However, the church will be holding an online service on the church’s YouTube channel.
At Seattle Pacific University, a member of the Association of Free Methodist Educational Institutions, classes are being completed online for the winter quarter that ends March 19. This was done as a precautionary measure with no known cases on campus, according to a university news release.
As of March 13, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 was 40 with more than 1,600 confirmed cases, according to USA Today. Only six states (Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Maine and West Virginia) do not have reported cases.
Additional Information and Resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
Humanitarian Disaster Institute: Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Christianity Today: Coronavirus and the Church
COVID-19: What it means to the Seattle Pacific University community
Azusa Pacific University: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Guidelines
Central Christian College of Kansas: Coronavirus Response Plan
Greenville University: Coronavirus Prevention and Preparedness
Roberts Wesleyan College: Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) Information, References and Resources
Spring Arbor University: Important Updates on Coronavirus
Sierra Pacific Conference: Guidelines for our Churches regarding COVID-19
New York Times: From Seattle to Kentucky, Churches Cancel Religious Services
Religion News Service: With coronavirus concerns, sales up for prepackaged Communion cups and wafers
Links should not be interpreted as an endorsement by LIGHT + LIFE or the Free Methodist Church – USA.