There are almost as many responses to coronavirus in the faith community as there are expressions of faith. An article from the March 22 New York Times by Vivian Yee, “In a Pandemic, Religion Can Be a Balm and a Risk” surveyed how Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews and Muslims are approaching this disease. Yee quoted many leaders and ordinary people respectfully.
I have noticed a wide range of approaches to this disease in the United States, too. Most congregations I know have closed for the foreseeable future, but this is not universal. A Pentecostal church in Baton Rouge, La., determined to remain open in defiance of the governor’s decree to do otherwise. Their pastor, who says he is using 15 buses to bring people to church, asserted that the government couldn’t tell the church what to do. The church distributed prayer cloths to the 150 or so socially undistanced members in the auditorium
A highly respected scholarly Christian journal also led with an editorial taking the church to task for caving, closing at the precise time that congregations need to be open. This editorial, while recognizing the need for caution, implored congregations to find ways to keep their doors open for mass. I understand this call, but it’s easier written in an editorial room than in the sanctuary.
I am trying to take no position of judgment or abuse on any decision by any faith body. We are in uncharted territory, and although my congregation rather easily made the decision to be closed for Sunday services, it was, and remains, a very painful decision. I’m not sure it will be all that clear-cut when we can re-open.
Observance of the Lord’s Supper provides a particularly difficult dilemma. Catholics celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper daily. For them, holy communion is at the heart of worship. Some Protestant denominations celebrate communion on a weekly basis. Even those who offer the eucharist less frequently are facing the dilemma of how – or whether – they will do so over the internet.
We United Methodists (unsurprisingly) are not of one mind on this subject. There is no “church law” either approving or forbidding holy communion to be celebrated by pastor while the congregation is scattered and sitting in front of a computer or phone.
My congregation will film and distribute via internet a Maundy Thursday service next week. This is one of the holiest communion services of the year in our congregation. But we will not celebrate communion. For me it would be a stretch to ask church members to find bread and juice (or wine) in their own home and take part in an approximation of communion. But other pastors will have prayerfully reasoned differently and will make a strong case for their choice. I don’t think Jesus is going to be too upset one way or the other.
How has your practice and understanding of religion been both a comfort and provided you with a challenge in these days? Lord of healing and mercy, please be present.