Covid-19 & churches
Communication from The Baptist Churches of WA ... 23/3/2020
As a society we are facing a pandemic - a health emergency that is crossing borders and impacting the lives of individuals and communities without discrimination. Studies have revealed that certain population groups (elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, remote communities) are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. We are seeing the shutting of borders and the application of social restrictions in many places.
Most Governments have made the strategic decision that the best way to cope with the crisis is to “flatten the curve.” The aim is to reduce the rate of the spread of the virus through the practice of social distancing. By doing this, the healthcare system is better able to deal with the number of people who require intensive care. Many people will still get the virus and may become sick. However, if the rate of transmission can be slowed, many more people will survive who, without specific medical care being available, would die. Hopefully a vaccine can be developed quickly, which will mean people can be immunised against the virus in the future.
Churches, and Christians generally, are not immune from disease. We are part of society and of this world. We do believe in a God who can and does heal, and pray for God to bring an end to the pandemic and to the suffering of individuals, but this belief does not prevent or excuse us from taking all the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. We should, therefore, based on the best medical advice and social policy, join our society in doing what we can to prevent infections. We must also change the way we do things during this time and comply with all government regulations and best practice in seeking to combat this virus.
We also face challenges in the church as a workplace, and/or a charity, as distinct from a place of gathering. How then should we approach ministry? The following is a list of common ministry contexts and comments on how we should be approaching them as at the date of this document (things will change so look for updated versions). We’re trying to work within the spirit of the law, to do what is right and to be seen to be doing what is right; recognising our government is striving to help us as a society minimise the impact of the pandemic and recover from it afterwards. “Loving our neighbour” in the present context may mean we are restricted in many of our activities. Those countries that are now experiencing the devastation of this virus are looking at others like us, just weeks behind their situation, and pleading for us to take social distancing measures seriously!
1. Church Services
All church services must be suspended immediately to abide by the new government guidelines. “Places of Worship” are specifically identified as contexts that must now be suspended, regardless of the number in attendance. Many churches are doing church online in various formats such as email, YouTube, Facebook live etc. If a small group gathers in the church building to record a service that will be broadcast, ensure that social distancing guidelines are adhered to during the recording time.
2. Church Ministry Meetings (Toddler Jam, Craft Groups, Youth groups, ESL classes) All church meetings of ministry groups like those above must be suspended until restrictions on meetings are lifted. We should consider that restaurants and other public venues are now closed and ministries we run as a church could be seen as comparable to this.
3. Other Church Meetings (Board Meetings, Leadership Team Meetings etc). Ideally these meetings can be held via phone, Skype, zoom, face-time or other electronic communication platform. If Board meetings or other Leadership meetings are held, maintain minimum indoor space requirements of at least 4 square metres per person. Sit or stand at least 1.5 metres away from one another. Numbers of people who are meeting should be kept to a minimum. Any person with flu-like symptoms should stay home. Suggestions - it could mean sitting at every second chair around a large table, avoiding food and drinks, and avoiding close contact with anyone in the meeting. Wash hands and follow good hygiene practices before, during, and after meetings. ACNC has a link to guide charities in their governance meetings during this time - https://www.acnc.gov.au/node/5781959. Consider using online meetings, email meetings, or postponing meetings until the Health Crisis is over.
4. Home Groups
The purpose of the Government guidelines are to discourage people from mixing in social environments. Therefore, as non-essential gatherings, we have taken the view that home groups as normally practiced should be suspended. We should remember that the regulations are temporary and are in response to what will be a temporary (though it may be prolonged) crisis, and that they may change.
Consider also... Family or household groups can meet together (They are already mixing in community). Family groups could set up Skype / zoom / face-time connections between them and other groups or individuals (you can have a life group or home group online). Online resources can be made available for individuals and household groups to use when they meet. Bible readings with questions emailed or sent out can be very helpful (low tech stuff still works).
The key here will be leadership being organised to provide appropriate resourcing and support to household leaders, or equipping leaders to source their own materials. Things like bible readings, videos, questions, discussion online between households etc. can assist groups to have meaningful interactions. These can be followed up with phone calls etc.
Home groups can often be the context for pastoral care in a church. Groups can maintain contact via phone and organise things like meal delivery, shopping delivery etc. and other assistance for vulnerable group members or others who are known to the group. If people who are not part of the same household do meet, ensure social distancing regulations are observed.
Groups can face this time as a challenge, continue to pray for one another, and find ways to minister to those in the group and others in their social circles - with a view to coming back together when the crisis is over to again enjoy freedom to meet.
5. Visitation / Pastoral Care
Most visitation can be done via phone or other communication platforms (skype, zoom etc). An email or personal note can be a good way to encourage someone in lieu of a personal visit (think Paul’s letters). Prayers can be written out and sent (the New Testament does this numerous times).
In light of the pandemic, visitation of the elderly or vulnerable should be done by phone. If visitation is done, areas like verandas and larger rooms are preferred to small rooms. Visitation in hospitals and nursing homes may be restricted. Comply with the requirements of the hospital or other organisation. Consider leaving notes / messages / phoning. If assistance is given to people in their home, seek to maintain social distancing. It may be possible to use church facilities - pantries, freezers etc. - to store food that home groups or others could use to deliver to those in need. When providing meals or other resources to those in need, consider social distancing rules, dropping off food at the door etc. At some point in this pandemic, we may be asked to minister to the dying or their families, or to medical staff who could be under extreme duress.
Jesus instructed us to pray “in our room” - private prayer has no restriction. Prayer among family or household members has no restrictions. When praying in a group, observe social distancing rules. In church building prayer meetings would be considered as part of the church’s services and thus need to be suspended. Encourage people to pray over the phone or internet connections - we have it on good authority that God can still hear these prayers.