My church won’t meet Sunday, Praise God

March 14, 2020

Faith & Action, Uncategorized

The Packinghouse in Willington, CT, where my church meets

True, the author of the New Testament Book of Hebrews warns against “neglecting to meet to together as is the habit of some” (10:25, ESV), but we New Englanders cancel church services without batting a lash. We know cars slip-slide on the roads in blizzards and sleet storms. We don’t want families landing in emergency rooms, and we don’t want dear old Marge, bless her, to break her hip on the cement steps.

Apply that common sense to pandemics. Obviously, we won’t habitually cancel services (note Hebrews 10:25 again), nor will we quiver in fear. We’ll merely be good citizens of the City of Man even while our primary citizenship lies in the City of God, to steal from Augustine’s terminology. The City of Man is in the midst of a health blizzard, a veritable virus storm. Marge, who is especially endangered, might catch the coronavirus. And it does no good to tell her to stay home while the rest of us convene. We might catch the disease and, before we’re symptomatic, spread it to her on our weekly visits.

I thank God that my church, St. Paul’s of Willington, CT, has chosen to cancel worship tomorrow. Ryan Spooner, its pastor, e-mailed the congregation with a model explanation. I’ve pasted the e-mail with his permission, throwing in a few edits for clarity’s sake:

Dear Church,

Over the last couple days, Pastor Keith Anderson (the associate), myself, and the Board have been thinking, praying, and researching about the coronavirus situation. We have decided that this week we will not be gathering for worship. Instead, this week we will be attempting to provide a livestream service (which will also be accessible afterward). 

As you are probably aware, over the last several days many have made changes in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Packing House, where we meet for worship, has decided to cancel its March events. The University of Connecticut, which is just down the road, has asked students not to return after Spring Break and is offering its courses online until at least early April. Many schools across the country are making the same decision, including Gordon-Conwell seminary, my alma mater on the Massachusetts North Shore. The NCAA has canceled March Madness. The NBA, the MLB, and the NHL have all suspended or postponed their seasons. Broadway has gone dark. Disneyland is closed. Residents at a nearby adult residential care center are not allowed to receive visitors or to leave the facility. Many local schools are closing as well, including those in Manchester and Mansfield. The list goes on and on.

This was a very difficult decision to make. Gathering for weekly worship is very important, and as followers of Christ we should not be ruled by fear. However, we are also called to love our neighbors, and in a time like this one of the most loving things we can do is reduce the chance that this virus will spread. We should not panic, but we should also be good stewards of the information we have. The health experts seem unanimous: if we want to avoid the worst-case scenarios, now is the time to be proactive about social distancing.

In the past, followers of Christ have put their faith in action in remarkable ways during epidemics. If you have a chance, I encourage you to read this article for perspective. We should be praying and reflecting on how we can “be the church” in this situation, and we cannot do that if we are controlled simply by our instinct for self-preservation and the fear of death. As you might remember from last week’s sermon on Revelation 10 – 11, one of the main messages of the book is that God intends to build his church through the sacrificial love of his people. In the coming days and weeks, God may open up special opportunities for us to do just that. The leadership of St. Paul’s will be actively considering what these opportunities might be. In the meantime, we think it is an act of sacrificial love to forgo meeting so we can help stop the spread of the virus.

I recognize that some may consider this a fearful overreaction, but I think it is better to err on the side of caution. It would be a great tragedy if efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus in our country were inadvertently sabotaged primarily by churches. That would be very harmful to our witness.

Thankfully, most people who get coronavirus will be fine. But there are some who will need special medical attention, and for their sake we should be proactive about preventing the spread of the virus. Let’s not panic, let’s be wise. I encourage you to follow the guidelines on the CDC website.

We are not sure how long this situation will last, but however long it does we will not be abandoning ministry or fellowship. We will be in touch soon about plans for Sunday’s remote service, and hope you can all be part of that. I intend to say more about all of this in this week’s sermon.

If you have any questions or ideas about any of this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).

Grace & Peace,

– Ryan  

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern

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