VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 3/13/20)—The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a pandemic, defined as the “worldwide spread of a new disease.” Given the unfolding of COVID-19 in the United States, American Baptist Home Mission Societies is striving to inform American Baptists and American Baptist congregations about best practices to help reduce the spread of the virus in general as well as in congregational settings.
The Christian Citizen website features a number of articles related to COVID-19 response (scroll two-thirds down page) and CDC guidelines for community and faith leaders.
The new ministrElife platform offers engagement and support in a community focused on ministry in the midst of the coronavirus. Connect with this community for sharing current, accurate and up-to-date information about the virus. Visit ministrElife.org, register or log in, choose the “Engage” tab and search for “coronavirus.”
Considering the rapidly changing nature of the news surrounding this pandemic, it’s important to stay connected to news and government sources of information. Listen to local town, county and state officials for recommendations regarding large gatherings and best practices. Required actions may change from region to region, but there are actions everyone can take to work together to deal with this crisis:
- Pray for one another.
- Wash hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice).
- Disinfect surfaces, workplaces, pews, etc., especially in high-traffic areas.
- Be aware—the coronavirus is impacting high-risk groups, such as the elderly; those with severe chronic medical conditions or underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease; and those with compromised immune systems.
- Anyone who has been exposed, whether they know it or not, may transmit the virus to others. Use caution and put community before personal convenience.
- Stay home if you are in a high-risk group; if you are feeling sick, have a fever, cough, difficulty breathing; have traveled to a quarantined or affected area; or have come in close contact with someone with or suspected of having the illness in the past 14 days.
- Call, write and stay connected to folks who are under quarantine or practicing social distancing.
- Share accurate information from reliable sources. See the resources below.
- In times of collective fear and uncertainty, people may revert to bias or stereotypes as coping and blaming mechanisms. This reversion results in discrimination and stigmatization of other communities, groups and people who may be infected. In such times, remember that we are called upon to live the best of our Christian faith to defend and support one another.
During worship, consider:
- Placing offering plates in a stationary location and inviting people to drop their offering in them. Assign someone to help those who may need assistance.
- Alternative ways to share communion, such as inviting people to come forward to receive the bread/cup from servers wearing gloves. Assign a gloved server to bring the elements to those with mobility difficulties.
- Avoiding passing a microphone during announcements or prayer request time.
- Bowing, waving, sharing a peace sign or uttering a simple phrase such as “Peace be with you” in lieu of handshakes and hugs.
- Encouraging allowing generous seating space between congregants, choir and others during worship and gathering times.
- Avoiding self-serve food and drink during gatherings and ensuring that anyone serving food wears gloves.
- Encouraging those responsible for counting the offering to wear gloves.
Remember those directly impacted:
- Pray for the sick and their families and caregivers.
- If you display any symptoms or have had contact with a symptomatic person, do not visit those at high risk. Follow the instructions of care facilities limiting visitors.
- Consider ways other than visits to remain in contact with people who are sick or self-quarantined, which can be very isolating; make phone calls or send cards, e-mail or text messages.
- Offer opportunities for virtual connection.
Prepare for what’s ahead:
- Make use of virtual meeting space for church meetings when possible.
- Learn how to utilize YouTube, ministrElife, Zoom, Facebook Live or other methods to engage in virtual worship.
- Ensure that your Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) and other relevant licenses permit streaming of music if you will be livestreaming worship.
- If you livestream, be sure you have required permissions from those who will be on screen (especially important for any minors who may be present).
- Pray and plan for Holy Week. Prayerfully consider what might need to be altered (shared meals, communion, large gatherings, etc.).
- Establish a phone tree and other methods for sharing information about event/worship changes or cancellations. Make sure the congregation knows how to use them.
- If your church does not currently offer paid sick leave for staff, consider implementing a temporary policy that allows infected employees to stay home.
- Consider how school closures and changes to feeding programs might impact your community and congregation.
- Consider collecting non-perishable items to be distributed if/when need arises.
- Identify and address potential language, cultural and disability barriers associated with communicating information to people.
These additional resources may be helpful:
These timely worship resources can offer comfort and the reminder of God’s love in the midst of the chaos of coronavirus.
A litany for a time of unknown surrounding coronavirus
Written by the Rev. Florence Li, national coordinator for Asian Ministries, Intercultural Ministries, American Baptist Home Mission Societies
Leader: O living God, we are disturbed by the spread of coronavirus and the many lives that have been lost and disrupted by it. We are in sorrow and disbelief regarding the lives that are being threatened due to its spread.
People: O living God, we pray for the loved ones of those who have lost their lives. We pray for those who are in recovery. We pray for the medical staffs who tend to them.
Leader: O living God, we acknowledge our lack of understanding of this disease, and the fear of frailty in human life. We lament blaming others for the cause of this disease.
People: O living God, help us to understand the majestic power of your creation. Forgive us if we have wrongly accused others of bringing forth this disease.
Leader: O living God, open our eyes that we may see your glory through the suffering, the healing, the recovery and the renewing.
People: O living God, hold us in truth as we practice loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Unison: O living God, instill in us clean hearts. Guide us as we live through this period of fear, so that we are spreading “faith” instead of spreading this “virus.”
Consider the following prayer to be used with the litany or as an alternative:
O Merciful God, in a time of unknowingness, fear and lack of knowledge regarding the origins of coronavirus, we come to you with open arms, welcoming people from all other places, acknowledging our human frailty and our need for your healing power.
O God, we pray for the loss of life, for those who care for the sick and ask for recovery to those in need of healing.
We pray for the cure of this disease and restoration of health.
We praise you, O God, in time of trouble and confusion; you have reminded us that you are our loving God and Savior.
Help us to spread Christian faith as we seek your truth and love each day. We pray in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.