How should churches respond to COVID-19? That’s the question congregations around the country are grappling with as the World Health Organization recently declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Should they continue Sunday services? Should they cancel small groups or Sunday School? Should they change their practices for serving the Lord’s Supper or passing the offering plate?
Well, with the global outbreak of the coronavirus, churches and houses of worship are taking precautions and doing all they can to protect their congregations and other people from the virus.
Churchgoers have been asked to stop shaking hands, communal cups are in storage, and holy water stoups are dried out. A St. Paul, Minn., minister dispensed Purell into each person’s hand Sunday as they lined up for communion.
And in Italy, home of the Vatican, the Catholic faithful celebrated Mass from home over the weekend, days after Pope Francis, who tested negative for the virus, canceled plans due to a cold.
The Diocese in Rome is asking members that the sign of peace, typically a handshake or embrace, be omitted from Mass, that the faithful receive Holy Communion in hand, and that holy water stoups be left empty, according to the Rev. Ryan Black.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Mexico, announced Thursday that mass would be canceled for the foreseeable future.
Sagebrush Church told its members who were planning on attending weekend services at any of its locations around New Mexico to stay home.
“Notice I didn’t say don’t go to church. I said stay home and join us for church online,” said Pastor Todd Cook, who released a YouTube video Friday.
But at St. Boniface Martyr Church on Long Island, N.Y., the Rev. Kevin Dillon recommended fist-bumping as an alternative to expressing a sign of peace.
“Rather than shaking hands or maybe giving someone a kiss that we know, you might want to do a nod or a smile or maybe what millennials do – a fist bump – or what the CDC recommends: an elbow bump,” Dillon told WCBS-AM 880.
In a similar message to Jewish congregants, the Temple De Hirsch Sinai synagogue in Seattle told members to avoid “hugs and kisses” and instead opt for the “elbow bump.”
The Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, released a statement saying that communion will be received in hand and only the priest will drink from the chalice. The sign of peace will be only a gesture so that people don’t hold hands and touch faces. According to Fox News.
Pastor Joseph Prince’s New Creation Church in Singapore is taking extra precautions to protect the 33,000-member megachurch from the virus. There are temperature checks at state-of-the-art thermal scanners, hand sanitizer and they stopped passing “offering bags” during service, encouraging congregants to give online or drop donations in an offering box after service.
The church also disinfected each location with air sterilizers at the children’s classes, according to their website.
The largest Pentecostal church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church, located in Seoul, streamed its services online.
The leader of a controversial, secretive religious sect in South Korea apologized Monday for allowing the mass spread of the virus in the largest outbreak outside of China. The head of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Lee Man-hee, claims he is the second coming of Jesus Christ, and his sect was slow to release information to authorities for fear of safety for their members.
With more than 3,081 cases connected to the group, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon filed a criminal complaint against Lee and 12 others, with charges of murder and disease control act violations.
Several Chrisitan ministries have called to end the coronavirus with a global prayer event Tuesday, hosted by Cindy Jacobs. Last month, Rabbis in Israel held a prayer event at the Western Wall in Jerusalem praying for a cure.
United States President Donald Trump also declared Sunday, March 15, a National Day of Prayer, shortly after declaring a state of emergency amid the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.
“In our times of greatest need, Americans have always turned to prayer to help guide us through trials and periods of uncertainty,” the president said, according to a White House report.
“As we continue to face the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are unable to gather in their churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship. But in this time we must not cease asking God for added wisdom, comfort, and strength, and we must especially pray for those who have suffered harm or who have lost loved ones. I ask you to join me in a day of prayer for all people who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and to pray for God’s healing hand to be placed on the people of our Nation.”
“As your President, I ask you to pray for the health and well-being of your fellow Americans and to remember that no problem is too big for God to handle. We should all take to heart the holy words found in 1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” Let us pray that all those affected by the virus will feel the presence of our Lord’s protection and love during this time. With God’s help, we will overcome this threat,” he added.
Trump later tweeted, “We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these…., No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!”