“Being church in pandemic season” ” by Jane Doull, March 15, 2020

As I stand before you today,  I have real questions about whether I will be standing here next week.

Especially the last 12 hours I have wondered if I should even be standing here today.  But here we are..  

It’s been a roller-coaster this week,  just keeping track of developments with COV,  with the latest federal or provincial government directives, interviews with public health and epidemiology specialists, mailings from the United Church, updates from other churches, trying to sort out what to do about next week’s Lenten lunch, which Wesley was to serve, and it was clear we should not be having one.

I scrapped my sermon series,  because this took over.  And how could it not?  It’s a story that affects all our lives, Especially those who are part of the vulnerable, 60 plus demographic, or have people in our lives who are vulnerable,.  It’s raising questions for how we live our daily life- Where do we go?  How do we socialize?  Do we even socialize?  When can we safely go to the store, and when we do go, what do we really need to pick up, and who might need us to pick something up for them? Should we go to group events?Should we travel-well, at this point, clearly not-  and if we have traveled, what do we do when we come home?.

And even what are we touching,  Where are we standing in relation to other people?,

 And now it touches on how we do church.  In 26 years of pastoral ministry, I never dreamt that in my last months we would be doing the discerning we’ve been doing the last few days. Not the usual discerning-about money, bookings, projects, special services-  But instead- How do we ensure adequate social distancing? How do we avoid transmitting germs via the offering plate or the hymn books? Which events are too risky at this time and need to be cancelled. To eat together or not to eat together- St James decided to forego their much loved coffee and goodies today.  And even , now questioning, should we have services at all at the moment?  I see more and more churches suspending Sunday worship, some deciding this only yesterday. Most recently our Catholic friends , as of next Sunday.   And I saw that Trinity in Riverview was meeting today but clear that this was the last gathering time for a while-  perhaps this is where we are.  

Are we making too much of this?  Sometimes we hear that there may not be many fatalities- And then- well, those who die will mostly be older-  And I read that and say, hey, that could be me, or my mother, or lots of you who are here.   And I protest – our lives matter too!  .We are all God’s beloved,  Each one’s life is precious- 

And having wrinkles or requiring medication or walking with a cane or having an underlying condition or suppressed immunity   doesn’t mean our lives lack meaning or value.

But what about trusting God?  Yes, we trust in God as Abram did when he heard a call to go on a journey,

As the psalmist did even when the world around him was in turmoil.  But we also trust the work of those whose God-given talent is to know about public health and epidemiology.  And we don’t expect God to micromanage or get rid of viruses.  We pray- yes, of course we pray- for God’s guidance and presence, for the prompting of Spirit- to stay centred, for inner peace, for strength to get through whatever is coming.  But I remember a theology student saying he’d pray for the Holy Spirit to help him pass his exams, and his professor saying drily,  well, the Holy Spirit might need some help. 

 And so we help out Spirit by doing our part, learning all we can.  And so we can discern :What is a sensible approach to the coronavirus?   We don’t panic ,we don’t need 6 months worth of toilet paper,  but we don’t put our heads in the sand either.  So I don’t give in to panic , but I don’t fall into denial either.

It would be tempting to say  God will protect us, just as some think God will make sure they don’t get germs from a common communion cup- after all it’s blessed isn’t it- But in the end it is our job to  make things as safe as we can for one another, especially the most vulnerable.  

How do we do this?  :Dr David Fisman is an infectious disease physician and a professor of epidemiology.

I heard him on yesterday’s Quirks and Quarks.  He says all the recent precautionary measures in Canada are “highly appropriate “ . We need to get out in front of this, be proactive, to protect the vulnerable.

Not everyone agrees with him but he says this COV has 20 times the mortality rate of the flu- its 20 times as bad as a bad flu year. He says epidemiology is all about “prevention and having our actions result in non-occurrence of events .  “ Ideally, people may say down the road, look you cancelled this and that and then nothing happened ,”‘That’s the point. By doing that we make nothing happen for a little while… If we allow it to get bad, it gets bad fast.  And that’s why we have to be proactive“

In an epidemic, if you do nothing,  you have to wait till half the population are immune for the epidemic to peak and turn.    That basically means half the population have to catch it.  But it can “ peak and turn sooner if we adapt,  if we have good ideas about how the disease might spread , and we implement them. 

And the time to do that is before you have a crisis, when things are still quiet- that’s how you prevent so many people getting sick that you can’t look after them. “ Fisman highly recommends social distancing : “clustering together in large groups in small spaces is a bad idea for right now.   He sees this as a “golden moment to embrace a lot of the technology we have , to share information without sharing viruses”

Fisman’s insights spoke to me as I ask you- Should we even meet here another week? Or should we distance ourselves and stay home?

Cancelling Sunday worship  for reasons other than weather  That’s hard to get our minds around. But even if we do so, rest assured.  We are not cancelling church. Church is all of us  doing our works of love and compassion wherever we go,  Even if we all stay at home for a few weeks,  except for errands and appointments,

There are abundant ways to be church. : picking up the phone,  sending an email, doing a Facebook chat or text , 

Checking in  with someone who may be alone and even lonely, When we go shopping, picking up what someone else needs, Sending a cheque or e transfer to the Open Door or Volunteer Centre to help out when some are laid off, some are unwell, some are trying  to feed children who aren’t getting school breakfast or lunch.

Perhaps we might connect with the new Facebook  group  Charlotte County Community Helping Group which is already picking up on some of those needs, including figuring out how to get food to the children who need it. 

Or perhaps along comes a worship service and message from yours truly and you can enjoy it whenever you need to,  And even giving up face to face gatherings so that we can keep each other safer- that’s church,  giving up what we enjoy  for a season  to make life better for our friends.   Appropriate perhaps that this happens in Lent , when we sometimes do give up things we enjoy- often for the greater good.

Church is all the ways we are community  one to another- It’s all the ways we  make our faith journeys-

As Abraham and Sarah journeyed so long ago ,  not knowing when or where they’d arrive,  And it’s all the ways we trust in our Refuge and our Strength, the Ground of our Being, the Light that never fails us. And indeed , may we trust that come what may in days to come, we are not alone, we are part of each other and the Spirit prays through us and bears us up through whatever may yet be.

Thanks be to God.



Author: janedoull

I’m an eclectic writer and thinker . In the past I’ve been an adult educator and a United Church of Canada minister . Now I’m a freelance retiree.

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