A foundation for understanding the Church within and outside the walls of the sanctuary is the three commandments emphasized by Jesus:
- Love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30).
- Love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31).
- Love one another, for by this the world will know we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:34-35).
Provincial health emergency measures have not changed the truth of those directives. The expression of all three for Christians, congregations, and other ministries, have for weeks been adjusted by the temporary closing of buildings.
How might those three commandments inform us in the current and coming days as we transition from healthy isolation to what one hopes will be healthy reopening?
Our love for God will inform our desire to act for Him. Paul refers to us as being citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), functioning as ambassadors of reconciliation on earth (1 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus’ ministry of inviting people to be reconciled with God has been entrusted to us – the Church, the Body of Christ – as His representatives. As ambassadors for Jesus, we are called to live and behave in a manner that both honours God and appeals on His behalf to others.
God’s love for us inspires us to similarly show love, grace, and kindness toward our neighbours, whether they follow Him or not. It’s kind of like combining the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12) with forgive us, Lord, as we forgive others (Matthew 6:12). Love for our neighbours suggests a few things to bear in mind in the context of the current health and reopening measures.
Masks. There is ongoing discussion about whether to wear a mask that covers nose and mouth when in shared spaces. The conversation involves two kinds of masks.
Properly worn, medical N95s protect against droplets getting into the nose or mouth of the wearer, as well as preventing the wearer from spreading droplets. Medical N95s are most needed by health care and other professionals who have frequent close proximity interaction with a variety of people who are not healthy. N95s are also worn by carpenters and farmers who need to protect their lungs against fine particles such as wood dust or grain dust. Current supply concerns suggest N95s be held for those most in need. As supply is available, I can envision pastors, chaplains and other Christian caregivers potentially wearing N95s for a time as their in-person contacts increase.
Surgical style masks protect against droplets being transmitted by the wearer onto others. That’s why surgeons wear them! Often, for hours on end. Whether disposable or washable, these masks cover nose and mouth to serve the purpose of protecting others against the wearer breathing or speaking ‘moistly’ on them. The evidence suggests many infected with Covid-19 may either exhibit mild or no symptoms, which means we are all potential spreaders. Did you know that in Canada church-related gatherings were at the heart of significant super-spreader events?
A church in Calgary, AB legally hosted under fifty people for a missionary report. 80% of attendees, including two who worked at a long term care home and one who worked at a meat processing plant were infected. Within days Covid-19 spread into the long term care home and the meat packing plant, wreaking havoc in both as it had in the congregation.
A funeral held in St. John’s, NL a few days before gathering size was restricted resulted in 44 people testing positive for Covid-19, the largest outbreak on the island.
Similar stories have been reported from religious gatherings in other countries, including several infected in Texas as the result of a priest who did not know he was Covid-19 positive leading mass and sharing communion.
History and medicine suggest a second wave is likely. It’s best to be prepared, not afraid, and take appropriate precautions as part of our witness for Christ.
Some churches will continue with only online gatherings for a while after buildings are permitted to reopen, particularly if the permissible size for gatherings would be awkward. For example, in Alberta congregations can gather (respecting distancing requirements) in groups up to fifty or 30% of capacity, whichever is less. Large congregations have decided to continue meeting online.
Some churches will continue with drive-in services. When passing food and drink is permitted for places of worship, perhaps drive-thru communion will be added.
Other church properties may facilitate open air gatherings.
As people who care for and about other people, I anticipate Christians who are able will wear a mask, not because we accept one side in the mask debate but because our first concern is loving protection for others. We’ll be gracious to those who are not able to wear masks, such as asthmatics, autistics and others with medical conditions that make mask wearing untenable or dangerous. A Christian sister believes God has told her not to wear a mask. Responsibly, for the well-being of others, she has decided not to attend places where masks are required or recommended.
Love for others and ourselves makes it reasonable to posit we will continue to maintain physical distancing measures and wash our hands regularly.
These simple actions may be intended to protect neighbours or to protect our brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems, at least for the time being, masks have become part of our witness for Jesus.
But there is more to our witness than masks, two meters of separation, and hand washing.
Many churches and ministries serve their neighbours, and have continued doing so throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. They operate food banks, provide shopping for seniors, and more – for non-religionists, co-religionists, or both.
But what about that kind of love for one another within the Church that lets the world know we are Christ’s disciples? What might we Christians do that is directed toward recognizing the unique relationship we have as parts of the one Body of Christ in witness to the world?
It has been a privilege to participate in a number of online gatherings with leaders of varying capacities within Church and government, and I’m a lifelong follower of news reports for Canada and the rest of the world. Here are some take-a-ways on how we might love one another in a way that witnesses to our discipleship.
Some in the Church are struggling through this emergency; spiritually, emotionally, physically. We are redeemed, not flawless. Reach out. Check in on a friend, or be the one who asks for a little support yourself. Phone calls, texts, emails, and video, front lawn and window visits have made a difference, and still can. Running errands for those who are unable to do so for themselves can be a lifeline. People notice.
Two months in, some pastors are still struggling with technology connection opportunities. It can be discouraging to deal with tech hiccups when others seem to have studio quality production. A little help from those who’ve got it figured out will be appreciated. Offer it. Check in on your brothers and sisters in leadership.
Some congregations are struggling financially. Pastors in need would value the help of others who have successfully applied for available temporary government funding, or those who have set up e-donation opportunities. A few would also benefit from financial support made available by congregations that are not struggling. Your congregation might have limited extra to help out, but maybe several congregations working together might combine to keep the doors open for a new or historic congregation or ministry in your neighbourhood or serving another.
On the global level, remember the persecuted (Hebrews 13:3) and remember the poor (Galatians 2:10).
In many nations Christians live day-to-day on whatever work they can find or what little is made from being able to sell items along a roadside or at a small market. Many of these opportunities have been closed down due to emergency health measures. Support from other parts of the Body of Christ has become essential to survival, and a witness to their neighbours.
There are ministries that have ‘feet on the ground’ in these countries, and emergency response funds in place to help in this time of need, whether serving the persecuted, the poor, or both. You can check with the Canadian offices of Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Partners International, The Salvation Army, and more. Your own congregation or denomination may have international contacts as well. Now is a good time to make a contribution. [Did you know that when Paul first implemented Sunday collections within the Church it was for the support of brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who had been cast out of their places of worship, their places of work, and their homes (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)?]
Vitally, pray. Pray to the Lord God whom we love with our heart and soul and mind and strength. Pray about how to best love your particular neighbours. Pray about how to participate in loving one another in the Body of Christ.
And, act. May we show our faith through our ambassadorial good deeds and our good deeds toward our brothers and sisters (James 2:18).
As governments restore trust to the citizenry who elected them, it’s up to each one of us to be a trustworthy citizen, and a trustworthy ambassador for Him whom we trust has also established our citizenship in heaven.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)