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There has been, to put it mildly, "much more heat than light" when it comes to discussion of COVID-19 and the church over the past year. Any discussion at all of the subject seems to invite inflamed emotions and put people radically at odds. It is my intention in this column, therefore, to carefully stick to the "light" side of that equation and entirely avoid the "heat" side.

In mid-March of 2020, the world changed in ways none of us could have ever foreseen. I remember well when President Donald Trump asked all Americans to participate in "15 days to flatten the curve." No matter which side of the COVID watershed you come down on, there is no disputing that somehow 15 days turned into a year and counting.

As a pastor, the decisions and reactions of churches, pastors and church members have been of particular interest to me. Some churches closed the doors entirely and to this day do not have any reopening date in sight. Others carried on entirely with things as normal. We chose to strike a balance between those two approaches.

We never missed an in-person service the entire time, but for two months we did move our services out into the parking lot. God blessed us with good weather the entire time, and everyone enjoyed the novelty. But toward the end of that time period, I knew that it was time for us to go back inside and pick up where we left off, three services a week plus Sunday School, with some added safeguards in place.

We began by stationing some of our nurses at the door to take everyone's temperature as they came in. We have always made liberal use of hand sanitizer, so that did not have to change. We started disinfecting everything between services. We told everyone to stay home if they felt the least bit sick. We stopped shaking hands. We stopped passing the offering plates. We stopped having choir practice. We encouraged people to spread out.

We very intentionally, though, did not show any fear in any of this, since fear all by itself does bad things to the health and immune system, definitely not something we felt was needed at a time like this. (ajmc.com/view/the-effects-of-chronic-fear-on-a-persons-health)

We also did not mandate masks, though we did encourage them. We left that up to everyone's personal discretion. And to everyone's credit, neither the mask wearers nor the non-mask wearers showed anything less than love and grace toward those who saw that issue differently.

A good percentage of our members chose not to be with us in church for the past year, opting instead to watch our live feed. And all of that, over the past year, has given me a good bit of real-world data to work with. Mind you, I understand that other churches may have had different experiences than ours. Our experience does not invalidate theirs, nor does their experience invalidate ours. And I am not in any way claiming that we were brilliant and others foolish, or anything of the sort. I offer this simply as an introduction to data to be considered by anyone with a cool enough head to do so.

Here are the results as we know them thus far:

1. No one, as far as we can tell, has contracted COVID from one of our services. We have had around 30 people get COVID, spread out more or less evenly over the past year, and all of them (with one possible exception) had been exposed at work or some other place.

2. None of our attending members has thus far had a serious case of COVID. Only one was even briefly hospitalized.

3. We have had a very even percentage of our attending and non-attending members get COVID. In other words, about the same percentage of the attenders and the non-attenders have at some point, from somewhere, tested positive in the past year; church attendance or not has made little to no difference at all. That last bit of data was, quite obviously, of particular interest to me.

I have no idea what the immediate future holds. I do know that Christ is coming again (John 14:1-3) and that a seven-year tribulation will then fall on this world, making the past year of "Covidpocalypse" seem like a vacation by comparison. But in between now and then, whenever "then" is, I hope that everyone can calmly add their actual data to the store of available information and thereby make decision-making an easier thing going forward. Speculations and worries are great for murder mysteries, but they are horrible as guides for big decisions.

It is likely that nothing will ever be quite the same. As I look out at my congregation each week, I am still missing a lot of faces of people that I love, and I know some of them will probably never return. But I also see a lot of new faces of people who were hungry for a place to worship in person and gladly found us open during this crazy "15-day year." I pray for those still absent, and I rejoice in those present. I also pray for a good many other churches as I pass them each day, churches that are still closed. I know it is not an easy thing for them, and I lift them up to God repeatedly as they, too, try to navigate these crazy times.

And "crazy" really is a good way to put it, I guess. So to paraphrase Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter in closing, let's all pray that the unexpected turmoil of the past year "loses its muchness" in the days ahead.

Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org.

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Pastor Bo Wagner / Contributed Photo

 

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