As COVID-19, the coronavirus, spreads throughout the United States, with latest numbers reaching 13,000 positive tests confirmed from the virus at the time of this writing, there are a number of actions that American Baptists can take. “We continue to be in prayer for those affected by the COIVID-19 pandemic, as well as their family members, our health care workers, those seeking to combat and contain the virus,” said Dr. C. Jeff Woods, Acting General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA.
“Please be in prayer for persons at the margins and lower-wage earners who are often adversely effected by economic concerns. Persons associated with the travel and hospitality industry are especially effected by conference cancellations and travel restrictions. Small business owners are also affected. Consider reaching out online or by phone to persons in your congregation or persons in your sphere of influence who may be especially in need of help. In times like these, it is important to practice global compassion as we now live in a global economy.”
Leaders of American Baptist Churches USA, including the members of the National Executive Council and the members of the Regional Executive Ministers Council, issued a Call to Prayer on Friday, March 20, 2020, which will last 21 days, from March 21, 2020 through April 11, 2020. Read the Call to Prayer here.
The ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary is working to address concerns and seeking to find opportunities amidst the crisis to provide space for resources as well as virtual conversations and opportunities for information sharing among our regional and national partners. A number of American Baptist regions are also holding online town hall style events for their region pastors to connect and learn from one another.
Pastors and others are invited to visit our resource page for more information to help them in their churches, and to learn how national partners are responding. Worship resources are available here, and individual prayer requests can be found here.
Ways You Can Help in Your Community
Practice social distancing and practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, including cleaning your hands often and avoiding close contact with others whenever possible. To protect others, stay home when you are sick, clover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, wear a facemask if you are sick, and disinfect and clean items.
Additionally, be aware of the unintended consequences of containment and the effects of isolation. Consider some of the options below:
- Phone a friend that you have not talked to in awhile. Recently, one of my college roommates contacted me after several years, and we now speak on a regular basis.
- Launch an online colleague group.
- Practice family devotions; read a story together; make up a story together with those in your household or with friends/family via video chat.
- Join an online discussion, preferably one that is uplifting rather than divisive.
- Be productive. Clean out those old files, papers, and documents. It will make you feel better to create a less-cluttered space around you. Perhaps even write that novel.
- Watch a movie together. One of my favorites is Come From Away which is a documentary about a small town’s response to 9-11.
- Seek to follow God’s example of turning crises into opportunities.
Changes in the Workplace
A helpful article is posted on the ABCUSA website entitled, “When Business Threats are Contagious: 10 Answers for Employers Navigating the Coronavirus”. The article addresses telecommuting, sick employees, and other issues related to risk management.
“Internally, we have implemented several changes in order for our Office of the General Secretary workers to feel safe and secure during the time of uncertainty and health concerns. The majority of our workers have taken advantage of a work-at-home policy recently implemented in response to the health concerns. We are utilizing available technology to continue to respond to all inquiries received by our ABC constituency,” said Woods.
Many regional offices are now working remotely, as are the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, American Baptist International Ministries, American Baptist Foundation, Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, and others.
What American Baptist Churches are Doing
Many congregations have been holding online worship services and even parking lot services as they minister to the spiritual needs of their congregants. Some American Baptist regions are even helping those looking in order to find a place to virtually worship if their own church is not offering a live video service.
James Meek, infectious disease epidemiologist and Associate Director of the Yale Emerging Infections Program at the Yale School of Public Health, and a member of Community Baptist Church in Manchester Conn, told Acting General Secretary Woods, “I would recommend that congregations move immediately to online communications for worship and events as we really do need to stop gathering in groups, especially as many in our congregations are elderly and the most vulnerable to poor outcome from covid-19 infections. I know this is hard but we as Christians are supposed to be looking out for the needs of others over our own and this is the time to really live this out.”
In addition to holding online services, churches are coming up with creative ways to worship and witness together.
One example of this: Pastor Stephen Whistoff from Second Baptist Church in Lincoln, Neb., met with two local city American Baptist pastors—Joy Martinez-Marshall at First Baptist Church and Mike Kidder at Belmont Baptist Church, both also in Lincoln, Neb. The three churches had already planned to come together for a Good Friday Service before the virus hit the United States. They now plan to work together and for the three Sundays before Easter, along with Easter Sunday, and will film joint panel discussion sermons to share with each of the three congregations. The three pastors also plan to jointly stand (a meter apart) in the Belmont church parking lot to bless folks who drive through on Good Friday.
American Baptist churches also have found ways to connect those in need with those in need of a way to serve. Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN is engaging their college students who are home because of class cancellations to help distribute food, medication and supplies to those who are too scared or unable to venture out. Other churches are helping in their communities, by meeting needs that are lacking due to school closures and lockdowns in their local areas.
“I am continually encouraged by the ways that our ABC regional and national entities, pastors and congregations find ways to share the love of Christ in the midst of loss and despair. There is good in the world because God is among us. May we open ourselves daily to discover it,” said Woods.