March 20, 2020
Dear Pastor and Church Leaders,
The guidelines, “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” are meant to promote social distancing in America. The guidelines say gatherings should be limited to 10 people or fewer, and bars and restaurants should be avoided, as should all non-essential travel. No visits to nursing homes, and limits to shopping malls, are also mentioned.
Most important, the task force said everyone in a household should stay home if any family member is sick.
While churches are not gathering during this time, mission continues. We, the church, are called to be salt and light. Please be aware of the dynamics that we and the folks around us will be dealing with so that we can live out our calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.
Thank you to those pastors/church leaders who filled out our request form, Coronavirus COVID -19 Church Response. If you haven’t filled out this form, please do so. We’ll share the responses to this survey on our website, ABCOM.org.
The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with what we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Our congregations, our neighbors, and our community are going through these stages. Be aware, that you are going through these stages.
1. Many are denying the severity of this disease. They are treating Coronavirus COVID – 19 like it is the flu. According to the CDC, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases. While the exact death rate is not yet clear, the evidence so far does show the disease kills a larger proportion of people than the flu (and it’s particularly lethal for people older than 80).
Currently, there is no vaccine to combat it, nor any approved therapeutics to slow the course of its toll on the human body. (Doctors can treat cytokine storm syndrome, an immune response that may in some cases be dealing the fatal blow to those dying of Covid-19.)
Sober-minded epidemiologists say that 20 to 60 percent of the world’s adult population could end up catching this virus.
Biologically, it behaves differently than the flu. It takes one to 14 days for people with Covid-19 infection to develop symptoms (five days is the median). For the flu, it’s around two days. That potentially gives people more time to spread the illness asymptomatically before they know they are sick.
Around the country, health care providers are worried about their facilities being overrun with an influx of patients, and having to ration lifesaving medical supplies. Some flu seasons are worse than others — but facilities are anticipating flu cases, and are preparing for them. Many hospitals are struggling in their preparations for COVID-19.
Four or so months ago, this virus was believed to have made the leap from animals to humans for the very first time. No human immune system had seen it before November, so no human had any natural immunity to it. That means it’s more contagious than the flu – about twice as contagious, perhaps more; the numbers are still being worked out.
The threat of it causing massive outbreaks that overwhelm health systems around the world is serious. It’s bad enough to roil our stock markets, put people out of work, and potentially cause a recession.
It’s possible that Covid-19 will become endemic — meaning it will be a disease that regularly attacks humans and will not go away until there’s a treatment or a vaccine.
We do not want denial to happen. Denial can be deadly. It is important that we speak the truth in love. It is important for our Christian witness that we understand the nature of this pandemic to the best of our ability and that we don’t dismiss the facts surrounding this pandemic or deny its reality.
2. There will be anger. Whenever people deal with loss, especially loss of that which is dear to them, there will be anger.
- Pandemics can cause significant, widespread increases in morbidity and mortality and have disproportionately higher mortality impacts on low to middle income communities.
- Pandemics can cause economic damage through multiple channels, including short-term fiscal shocks and longer-term negative shocks to economic growth.
- Individual behavioral changes, such as fear-induced aversion to workplaces and other public gathering places, are a primary cause of negative shocks to economic growth during pandemics.
- Some pandemic mitigation measures can cause significant social and economic disruption.
- In countries with weak institutions and legacies of political instability, pandemics can increase political stresses and tensions. In these contexts, outbreak response measures such as quarantines have sparked violence and tension between states and citizens.
As Christians, we are directed not to let anger result in sin. While emotions are real, they cannot become an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Our response needs to be grounded in Christ so that our emotions are held captive by love and grace. We need to model sympathy, empathy, and responsibility.
3. People will start bargaining. People will try to get back to what was familiar prior to the outbreak of Coronavirus COVID -19. It is common when coping with loss to feel so desperate that you are willing to do almost anything to alleviate or minimize the pain. Losing a loved one can cause us to consider any way we can avoid the current pain or the pain we are anticipating from loss. There are many ways we may try to bargain.
Bargaining can come in a variety of promises including:
- “I promise to be better if you will let this person live.”
- “God, if you can heal this person I will turn my life around.”
- “I’ll never get angry again if you can stop him/her from dying or leaving me.”
When bargaining starts to take place, we are often directing our requests to a higher power, or something bigger than we are that may be able to influence a different outcome. There is an acute awareness of our humanness in these moments when we realize there is nothing we can do to influence change or a better outcome. This feeling of helplessness can cause us to react in protest by bargaining, which gives us a perceived sense of control over something that feels so out of control.
While bargaining we also tend to focus on our personal faults or regrets. We might look back at our interactions with the person we are losing and note all of the times we felt disconnected or may have caused them pain. It is common to recall times when we may have said things we did not mean, and wish we could go back and behave differently. We also tend to make the drastic assumption that if things had played out differently, we would not be in such an emotionally painful place in our lives.
Faith provides the mitigation of bargaining. God is in control and He has promised that in all things to do good to those that love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:29). Empathetically sharing our faith with those who feel trapped by the circumstances may provide an opening to the work of Christ. God is in the midst of hard and harsh realities. It is often here that folks meet with God. Like a midwife, believers are often there in the midst of the painful struggle awaiting new birth. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings and open to sharing our hope. We cannot become pollyannaish in our attitudes but realistic in hope. Empathy requires listening, understanding, and willingness to bear another’s burden and so creates the space for God to work.
4. There will be depression. During the processing of grieving, there comes a time when imaginations calm down and people slowly start to look at the reality of the present situation, the new normal. Bargaining no longer feels like an option and we are faced with what is happening. We start to feel more abundantly the loss of what was familiar.
As our panic begins to subside, the emotional fog begins to clear and the loss feels more present and unavoidable. In those moments, we tend to pull inward as the sadness grows. We might find ourselves retreating, being less social, and reaching out less to others about what we are going through. Although this is a very natural stage of grief, dealing with depression can be extremely isolating.
There will be lots of folks dealing with loss. The isolation will only contribute to the sense of hopelessness. It is in moments like these that ministry thrives. We will need to be aware of who we are losing contact with among our congregation members, family, neighbors and friends. We will need to be aware of our losses and keep from cocooning. We will need to be present with each other. Being physically present may not be a reality if the pandemic continues but we have technology that can help bridge that gap.
5. People will move to acceptance. Acceptance is the last of the five stages of grief. It is important to note that people grieve differently and may or may not go through each of these stages, or experience each of them in order. The lines of these stages are often blurred—an individual may move from one stage to the other and possibly back again before fully moving into a new stage.
In addition, there is no specific time period suggested for any of these stages. Someone may experience the stages fairly quickly, such as in a matter of weeks, where another person may take months or even years to move through to a place of acceptance. Whatever time it takes for a person to move through these stages is perfectly normal.
Remember: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Stay safe and be well as you let your light shine.
We conclude with a prayer attributed to Andrew Timothy Gray and offered by Rev. Dr. Pamela Morse, Sugarloaf Christian Ministries.
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those who have no place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Rememberers those who have no home.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.