Dear Siblings in Christ:
Just a little bit ago, my phone started buzzing with news and questions about the President directing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to declare “houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques” as “essential places that provide essential services” and commanding governors to reopen places of worship. Someday, it will be great to talk about whether or not any US governmental body has the legal authority to tell a religious body what we can or can not do and under what conditions. Even though that might seem like the most important conversation to have today based on today’s news cycle, I don’t believe it really is.
You may have seen this quote in one of the pieces I shared earlier:
“During a crisis, engagement of health care workers and public health leaders is essential, but it is not sufficient. We need to mobilize the whole community and the entire political structure to interrupt a disease and help the community recover. Large outbreaks and other public health emergencies are political events and need to be managed as such from day one. The same is true for preparedness and prevention activities.”
-Khan, Ali S. The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers. PublicAffairs, 2016.
Should we be concerned about the “political structure” part? Of course. Does the church have a responsibility to influence political, business, social, and other entities? Yes. Is the term “non-essential” a wholly accurate or helpful term to describe churches or other religious entities? No, but I also have a more nuanced understanding of the term that lines up much more closely with the quote above.
Churches are an essential entity in and of themselves and as a part of the whole community. Essential entities take essential actions in order to fulfill their essential vocations. When there are icy conditions on a Sunday morning, many of our churches close in order to protect the health and safety of their members. If there was a wildfire rushing toward a church at 7 am on a Sunday morning, it would be essential to tell church members not to attend and get somewhere safe.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Exposure to COVID-19 could kill many of our members and create suffering for many others. It’s essential that we not contribute to making this disaster worse by doing what we can to limit the exposure of our members to COVID-19 and exposing their families, friends, and communities. It’s essential that during this pandemic season, we not meet in person in order to keep us healthy so that we can fulfill the essential vocation of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. This is not an action directly related to the conversation about restarting the economy overall but deals with the realities that have not changed:
– More than half of our members are part of high-risk groups.
– Singing is, at least, as effective a means of transmitting COVID-19 as coughing.
This Sunday’s text from John 17:1-11 has Jesus naming the reality that his time with the disciples is limited. As part of his prayer, what does he ask? That the disciples may be one as he and God are one. Many times when we talk about this verse we lift it up as a statement about unified belief or unified mission and that’s a great conversation to have. This is also a call for solidarity. You can’t be “as one” without recognizing what may cause each other joy or pain; wholeness and fractured-ness.
In the coming days our unity, our compassion, and our faith will all be tested and strained. May God help us to answer Christ’s call for a sacred solidarity that binds us together and lifts us up. My siblings in Christ, there will be hopeful days ahead if we, with God’s help, work for them. This is our vocation. It is essential.
Rev. Mike Denton
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