All of us have had our worlds turned upside-down by the recent outbreak of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the disease it causes: COVID-19. I was concerned to hear in the past 48 hours that many of the cases reported in Georgia have specifically occurred due to churches not adhering to social distancing and quarantine guidelines.
Many of our churches are not prepared to deal with the new remote lifestyle that all of us need to adhere to for the next few months. Here are a few ideas that I am currently implementing as a pastor in order for us to live as the people of God during this time.
Four Relationships and Areas of Focus
In When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert mention four relationships that poverty affects which the Church is called to address. I think these four relationships give us a helpful way to think about how to address the COVID-19 outbreak as the Church:
1) How are we relating to God?
2) How are we relating to ourselves?
3) How are we relating to others?
4) How are we relating to creation?
The First Relationship: God
As all of us are cooped up in bedrooms, living rooms, closets, and back porches that have become makeshift home offices, we have a unique opportunity to connect with God. Life has been forcibly slowed down. Many, if not most, churches cannot and should not meet at this time, unless they can do so virtually.
The consumeristic and materialistic drive in us that the Gospel so clearly speaks against (see Matthew 6:24 where Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and stuff" - i.e. mammon) has been put on life support for the next few months. This is a great time for all of us to look inward and ask the question, "What have I really been living for? Have I been living for God, or living for money?" Have you put more trust in your 401k than in your Savior? If so, how is God calling you to change?
There are ways God is calling me to change as I reflect on these questions, so please know that I ask them as a fellow traveler on this journey. However, it's important to note that people's faith in money and materialism has been considerably shaken, which means it is a time that the Gospel can be clearly heard.
In addition to reflecting on your relationship with God and money, here are some resources that can help you and others connect with God remotely:
1) Pray the Daily Office together or by yourself with the Mission of St. Clare's online Daily Office tools: https://missionstclare.com/english/
All of the Scripture readings and pieces that make up the Book of Common Prayer's Daily Office readings are assembled for you and ready to go. You can pray through these yourself, or with people in your congregation over Zoom. It is the closest thing to a 'just add water' prayer meeting that you can get, and you can even do it at various times during the week instead of every day if you prefer that (e.g. a Wednesday morning prayer time for your church).
2) Worship together with others online with tools like InterVarsity Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx4xrao4ftA
I absolutely loved worshiping together with InterVarsity across the country last night on InterVarsity Live. This large group is being streamed across the country live on YouTube. Other resources like this probably exist - find them and take advantage of them to feed your soul.
3) The Bible Project's Church at Home email program: https://bibleproject.com/church-at-home/
You're already watching lots of YouTube and Netflix - why not watch videos on the Bible too? This is a great tool for you, your small group, family, and friends to learn about the Bible and discuss it together from March 21st to May 9th. A video, set of Bible readings, and set of discussion questions come to your inbox each week.
4) Online sermons and podcasts
Here are a few online podcasts that I'd recommend:
- Alan Wright's Sharing the Light broadcast/podcast: https://www.sharingthelight.org/
- John Piper's Solid Joys podcast: https://feed.desiringgod.org/solid-joys-audio.rss
- The Witness BCC's Pass the Mic Podcast: https://thewitnessbcc.com/pass-the-mic/
5) Lectio Divina ("Divine Reading")
One of my favorite personal devotional practices is Lectio Divina. Here is a guide on how to do Lectio Divina from the Anglican Communion's Bible in the Life of the Church project: https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/253799/1-What-is-Lectio-Divina.pdf. More resources are available at https://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/the-bible-in-the-life-of-the-church.aspx.
The Second Relationship: Ourselves
Our temptation as leaders during this time will be to go to the extremes of A) doing nothing and letting everything play itself out or B) trying to do everything and burning ourselves out. Here are some tools for self-reflection that may help you name the things that are influencing you in unhealthy ways:
1) The Emotionally Healthy Leader podcast: https://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/podcast/?v=7516fd43adaa
Peter Scazzero is one of my absolute favorite writers. In addition to the podcast, you may also want to consider reading through
- the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day devotional (https://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/product/emotionally-healthy-spirituality-day-day-devotional/?v=7516fd43adaa)
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (https://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/product/emotionally-healthy-spirituality-update-revised-edition/?v=7516fd43adaa)
- The Emotionally Healthy Leader (https://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/product/the-emotionally-healthy-leader-2/?v=7516fd43adaa).
All of these are also available in electronic formats, and I encourage you to purchase through the EHS website if possible. I pray you will find these resources to be as life-changing as I did.
2) Lunchtime Examen: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/lunchtime-examen/
The Examen is a prayer practice established by St. Ignatius of Loyola that actively asks the question, "Where is God present in my daily experience?". If you prefer journaling or reading along with the recording, you can also use the journal page found here: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/session1-daily-examen-journal-2.pdf
The Third Relationship: Others
Some great resources exist to help us connect with and serve each other during this time, both in ministry settings and in local community settings.
1) Give Blood: https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive
If you are able to, do it.
2) Zoom - If you haven't gotten a Zoom account for your church, what are you waiting for?
3) InterVarsity USA's YouTube playlist "Online Ministry - COVID-19": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hBnulNN08U
I have not fully reviewed all of these videos myself yet, but I was able to participate in the National Large Group webinar yesterday evening (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx4xrao4ftA&list=PLeP3EwLytbF2dLim7YZhFksEeiIZwxdRo&index=5&t=0s) and it was awesome.
Other resources on the playlist include "Leading Video Calls that Don't Suck" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ImY2D5-AK8&list=PLeP3EwLytbF2dLim7YZhFksEeiIZwxdRo&index=2&t=0s) and "Effective Ministry Over Zoom" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hBnulNN08U&list=PLeP3EwLytbF2dLim7YZhFksEeiIZwxdRo&index=3&t=0s).
I hope that InterVarsity continues to post more how-to videos and resources in the days to come. You can also check out a ton of digital and video resources at their Ministering Online Through COVID-19 website here: https://intervarsity.org/ministering-through-covid-19
4) Local nonprofit and city government leaders
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, I have been in close contact with community organizers and local leaders who are constantly sending updates about what's going on related to COVID-19 in our community. If you are a church in the Atlanta Metro Area I highly recommend getting connected with your local Unite City Flourishing Catalyst point person here: https://www.uniteus.org/city-flourishing-catalysts/ I do not know what I would do as a pastor without their partnership and communications at this time. They are doing a fantastic job of keeping many of us up-to-date on what's happening so that we can effectively respond together as the Body of Christ, and they are fully devoted to that task!
In addition to local nonprofits and community organizing groups like Unite, you can also contact local government officials to find out what groups there are in your area. Reaching out to your local city or county government officials may help you find the connections you need. Don't forget to reach out to local pastors in your area. They may be able to point you to resources and people that you do not know about.
In Addition: Share and Give
This isn't a resource, but it's still important. You know those funds, food stores, etc. that you, your family, or your church have been storing up for a rainy day? It's raining. If you are able to give to those in need, now and the next few weeks are the time to do it. Do not wait to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. All of us need to make sacrifices to help each other get through this time.
The Fourth Relationship: Creation
This may be the first time in a long time that many of us have paused from our daily routine to take a walk outside and get a breath of fresh air. Even if you're only going outside because you're getting cabin fever, this is a good time to think about how to care for creation and conserve resources.
In the spirit of getting creative, here are some ideas especially as many products are in short supply.
1) Evaluate what you and your family need, then take no more
Does your family really need five 24-roll packs of Charmin this week? Maybe you do if you have a small army, but most of us do not fall into that category (if you do, see idea number 4 below). This requires some planning on your part, but consider planning out your meals for a week (or even two weeks to a month), then determining your grocery shopping list based on that rather than panic buying whatever is on the shelf.
If you need help planning meals for a week, try this website: https://www.eatthismuch.com/
2) Consider not buying bottled water
As illustrated in this article (https://www.vaildaily.com/news/colorado-water-officials-to-hoarders-during-covid-19-crisis-quit-buying-bottled/), water is probably not a resource you need to stockpile at this time. An exception to that is a basic emergency water supply for your family (see number 3 below). However, if you really want to stockpile water beyond a three-day emergency supply, consider the following instead of buying out all the bottled water at your local grocery store:
- Use this guide to distill your own water at home with nothing more than a stove, a pot, and a bowl, written by Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, who holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences: https://www.thoughtco.com/making-distilled-water-609427
- Buy a LifeStraw water bottle: https://www.lifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-go?variant=31354374652015. It will give you safe drinking water for 5 years, and it will give a child safe drinking water for an entire school year.
3) Make an Emergency Supply Kit
While hoarding resources endangers others in your community, not preparing for emergencies does place you and your family in danger. This is a good time to make an emergency supply kit for you and your family if you have not done so already, assuming that you can find supplies.
You can use this guide from Ready.gov as a shopping list: https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/ready_emergency-supply-kit-checklist.pdf.
The American Red Cross also has mobile apps for a variety of emergency situations which include instructions in the apps on how to make emergency supply kits here: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/mobile-apps.html
Resources are stretched thin across the world right now. If you can't help your own family if an additional crises occurs in your area on top of COVID-19, it will be difficult for you to help your neighbors and others in your community during a crisis.
4) DIY Washable Toilet Paper: https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-WASHABLE-TOILET-PAPER-from-old-bed-sheet/
Yuck. I know. I'm not an expert on hygiene, so it's up to you if you want to go this route, at your own risk. However, if you are experiencing toilet paper shortages with your family, this is a how-to guide to convert an old bed sheet into a useful 'toilet paper' supply.
Hope for the Church
The Church has gone through many plagues, pestilences, and outbreaks throughout its history, such as the Plague of Justinian in 541 A.D. that eventually was killing around 10,000 people per day. During a time of outbreak like this, the Church's best witness is to keep our focus on God, love our neighbors, care for those in need, and share God's hope with those who have no hope. We can still connect, we can still reach out, and we can still worship. We just need to get a little creative in how we do that.
We may find as we reach out to friends and neighbors that they are much more willing to talk about God, life, and death more than they ever have been before. It is, after all, easier to dial into a Zoom call than it is to drive across the city to come to Bible study.
So be a friend, be a neighbor, and be present by reaching out virtually and via phone to people who are isolated and scared.
-  - https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it, accessed: 3/28/2020, 4:06pm
-  - https://www.ajc.com/blog/politics/the-jolt-clergy-call-with-governor-told-virtually-all-outbreaks-have-some-link-religious-services/Dt15ojq26wiB7Q0uy34U4I/, accessed: 3/28/2020, 4:06pm
-  - See: Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself. Chicago: Moody, 2012. Page 73.
-  - https://www.history.com/news/6-devastating-plagues, accessed: 3/28/2020, 4:06pm