Editor’s note: This special three-part series will provide an overview of the challenges faced by the faithful, the best-available solutions offered by various experts and lastly, the technical options for online services to our local community.

You won’t find “COVID-19” in any concordance. Detailed guidance for congregations during plagues isn’t given in anyone’s scripture, but we can look back to the bubonic plague, which first hit in 541 A.D. and then again in Martin Luther’s Europe in 1347 A.D.

Luther wrote to advise the faithful of his day and reported that the priests then as now, were divided in their response to the pandemic. This when Sunday services were so essential that folks could be fined for missing Sunday services.

“To begin with, some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague,” Luther said. “Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly if one holds no public office.”

Luther, at least, allowed that either response was acceptable.

Today, a definitive response to an easily communicated disease remains elusive, but flight is no longer an option given the global extent of this virus.

Two respected American megachurch pastors have gone in opposite directions when it comes to the day of COVID-19.

The Rev. John MacArthur, longtime leader of California’s Grace Community Church who continued to hold live, in-person services in spite of local laws. He was recorded by CNN, saying “I’m so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest,” MacArthur said.

The network noted his “congregation, few of whom appeared to be wearing masks or social distancing, erupted into applause.”

The church has since sued the state, which has forbidden such indoor worship services. Then, a judge hearing that case has allowed the church to meet legally for now as long as masks and social distancing are employed.

On the other hand, the Rev. Andy Stanley of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church who is used to addressing some 38,000 worshipers each week in pre-coronavirus days, has now canceled all in-person services until sometime in 2021.

“To be clear, our church is not closed. We are simply suspending our largest in-person gatherings until we are convinced it is safe,” Stanley told Christianity Today magazine. “Wait and see puts the organization at the mercy of circumstances. Wait and see is no way to lead, People want certainty. We cannot provide certainty. Clarity is the next best thing.”

So what’s happening here in Galveston County when it comes to congregations and COVID-19? This week, we’ll look at the online-only approach to worship.

The Rev. William Lloyd Randall Jr. who leads Hitchcock’s Greater Saint Matthews Baptist Church has thought long and hard about this.

“We truly miss the in-person services,” Randall told Our Faith. “A few members put pictures of our congregation in our pews as a surprise for our 30th anniversary.”

What about the rest of a church’s busy week?

“Counseling is done by conference call or Zoom (an online, multi-person chat service),” Randall said. “Weddings have been done in our small foyer with a maximum of 10 people. Funerals have been held at the area funeral homes.”

He’s had to phone hospitals and nursing homes where even clergy are unable to visit because of the virus.

“We do deliver the Lord’s Supper/Communion to our members in the nursing homes and those who are on our sick list,” he added. “These items are dropped off at the door to the activity director or a relative. During the virtual service, one of our pastors administers the Lord’s Supper/Communion.”

Lastly, why would some churches, synagogues and mosques not go with the online-only approach. One consistent response was that older members often have trouble with the technology. We’ll offer some options in hopes of bridging that gap in a future article.

Next week, we’ll look at in-person and congregations, which combine on-site and online meetings. If your house or worship would like to share their thoughts or tips, or if your church would be willing to provide technical support to smaller houses of worship, please email us today.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com.

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