A Letter From Your Pastor – Thinking About Coronavirus

Dear Church,

Each of you have already received an official Churchwide communication from Park Community Church on precautions we are taking at each of our Church locations to protect against the spread of germs and to be wise in our gatherings during this season. It certainly seems like the Coronavirus fears are increasing quickly and I wanted to write this to each of you as your Pastor, to help equip you and shepherd you through this moment, and perhaps to prepare us for the unknown future that lies ahead.

Trust & Faith Over Fear & Worry

One of the greatest witnesses to the world of a transformed life in Christ is how we respond in times of crisis and fear. The Christian life is one that is unique and peculiar among every other type of life. And because of that peculiarity we approach the circumstances of life far differently than our peers. How we respond to something like the Coronavirus is no different. We are Christians. We are marked as those purchased by the blood of the lamb. We are filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our root sense of identity and hope and steadfastness is not to be found in this life or the things of this life.

There was a wonderful article written by Todd Wagner on the Gospel Coalition that provides a few key stakes in the theological framework of navigating something like a global virus. In the section title Love Well & Trust Him Wagner says the following:

“If God calls us to worry about anything, it’s how to love people well…Worry is common to man. But God has called us to face troubles and threats with courage, leaning our weight on him… Prayer-infused confidence, compassion, and selflessness should mark how we talk about the coronavirus. Why? Because our Savior put on flesh (John 1:14) and stepped into our sickness, sin, and death. He healed the sick and cared for the hurting. We must do likewise.”

Todd Wagner. Should Christians Be Anxious About the Coronavirus?

Todd’s words strike at the heart of the the Christian’s unique confidence. As we navigate the day’s ahead and the news that will certainly trickle into our offices and Living Rooms – I urge you to caution against the gut reaction of allowing fear to drive your response. There is an appropriate place for fear of the unknown in the Christian life – but that place is not at the forefront of our life’s navigation system. The Christian has a unique way about them of running to God with all of our concerns and requests first, and then living in a way not driven by fear but driven by God. The Christian has a unique way of waiting on the Lord patiently even when it seems like His response is delayed in coming. This cultural moment of ours is a great moment to ask yourselves where your heart is truly trusting? Keep an eye on your reactions throughout the days and weeks ahead. Keep an eye on your words as you discuss with friends and family each update. When you sense a spirit of fear beginning to drive you or your decisions, stop and pray. Run to God and listen to the Holy Spirit.

I love CS Lewis’ words when writing to his generation about living in fear of the Atomic Bomb. They are fitting and a suitable reminder for each of us:

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

CS Lewis. On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays. Quoted by Matt Smethurst – The Gospel Coalition.

Many of the precautions that we might take are rooted in wisdom and not fear. As we stay up to date from medical agencies – it may be very wise for some to avoid larger crowds (particularly the elderly and those with weakened immune systems). And that may extend to more and more as the days go by. The larger check though is on the heart and how we are responding in thought and mind. Where are we running first when we try to sort through confusing times?

Look For Ways to Serve & Bless

But we must go further still. We must not only run to God, but we must run to help those in fear and need. In other words, Christians must practically show Christlike love and compassion to those whom God places in our path. This is true in all seasons, but is particularly noteworthy in a moment like this. As our own city moves into higher alert an opportunity emerges for Christians to step in and serve where others can’t or won’t. Certainly – we are not anywhere close to something like the devastation of the Bubonic Plague and the decision men like Martin Luther had to make to stay and serve rather than run for their lives. Yet the drastic precautionary measures being taken by the government and organizations across our city (even yesterday) are not for nothing. We face a very real threat.

It is here that I think it’s helpful for us remember the great history of Christian service in the midst of sickness. It was during the Black Plague, when everyone who was able began to flee that history remembers Christians staying and serving their cities. Justin Taylor commenting on this historical reality remembers the great Reformer Martin Luther’s pamphlet titled Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague. Commenting on Luther’s advice Taylor writes:

Elector John, ordered Luther to leave immediately to save his own life, but Luther chose to stay to minister to those stricken. Luther himself was surrounded by the disease and its suffering victims. The wife of mayor Tilo Dene virtually died in Luther’s arms. So Luther boldly stood in the gap along with many others to minister hope and the Word of God in a desperate situation… Luther said it would be sinful (for)… any person to flee if a family member is depending on them. The same applies to our neighbors, for loving our neighbor as ourselves includes being certain they are free from harm. Beyond this, however, seeking to save one’s life was natural and biblically allowable, as was using medicine. Luther was no fatalist.

Justin Taylor. When the Deadly Outbreak Comes: Counsel from Martin Luther

The history of the world is marked by incredible Christian men and women who used opportunities where others were filled with fear as moment to demonstrate sacrificial Christlike love. What a witness to the world they were! Nobody knows what tomorrow is going to bring. Lord willing this Coronavirus will pass as quickly as it has come. God is in control – and those days are numbered by Him. In the midst of waiting I want to challenge us as a Church to quickly run to the many opportunities to serve that will present themselves in the coming days. Perhaps there will be those impacted by the virus that you know – pray for them – send meals to them – send Scripture to them. Certainly as places like schools and businesses close down for weeks on end there are very real-life consequences for people across the city. Needs will certainly arise – great and small. Look to serve. Remember Christ’s words in Matthew 25:45, “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

I saw on a community post only moments ago a young woman who posted asking if there were any elderly in the community who were stuck inside who needed a meal or help with anything to Direct Message her. When I saw that post I thought, “This is what every Christian should be doing right now.” Let’s get to work Church.

What If Our Corporate Gatherings Need to Pause

One of the questions I have been praying through is what to do if the city asks Churches to stop meeting for a season. I wanted to get out ahead of this possibility and communicate to you some thoughts I have. Fortunately – we are not the first Churches to have to navigate that situation. Caleb Morel writing for IX Marks recalls the history of the Spanish Flu as it came through the East Coast and how churches in the DC area responded when they were asked to close doors to contain the spreading of the flu. He writes:

When 162 new cases were reported on October 1, city officials took action. Public schools were ordered to close indefinitely and… city Health Officer Dr. Fowler called for additional bans on public gatherings, including church services, playgrounds, theaters, dance halls, and other places of amusement…

DC churches responded by calling an emergency meeting of the Protestant ministers on Saturday, October 5. There, they “voted unanimously to accede to the request of the District Commissioners that churches be closed in the city.”

The DC Churches complied with the state and urged their Church members to gather as a family in their home and worship in that way. A few weeks later however the Spanish Flu began to subside and the Pastors then were the first in line to urge the city to end the ban on corporate Church gatherings. Here is what they wrote:

“In the influence of the churches upon the minds and souls of men, in quieting through strengthened faith in God the panic and fear in which epidemic thrives, the churches are potential anti-influenza workers, fit to co-operate helpfully with our doctors and our nurses, of whose fine record in these times that try men’s souls we are all justly proud.”

What a brilliant reminder for us as a Church! They considered the Church, and worship of the one true God, to be an “anti-influenza worker.” Oh I love it! And they were right. Worship of God is fuel for the soul and body.

Lord willing – we will not have to make a decision like this. But if we are asked to close doors – I want you – our Church – to hear our heart and to understand a bit of how we make decisions like these. As leaders of the Church we pray, pray, pray. And we seek wisdom and direction from the Lord by the power of His Holy Spirit and through His revealed word in Scripture. We are also invited by scripture in Romans 13 to, “submit to the governing authorities.” Should the day come in the weeks and months ahead in which the city restricts our corporate gathering we will communicate quickly and thoroughly.

A Closing Prayer Request

I truly love our Church. Right now we have a team of nine overseas. I was supposed to fly out tonight to join them – but after the President’s remarks last night we (myself and our Global Pastor) felt it best for us to not risk unnecessarily getting quarantined for multiple weeks. The team is serving and using their gifts in medicine and teaching to bring healing and light to many. Pray for them as they navigate the next few days. Pray their work would continue, but also pray for their health and that they would be able to get home quickly and not face additional hurdles returning to their homes and families. While you are praying for them, pray for our leadership. You can pray for President Trump and his team as he leads the nation. Pray for our city leaders and leaders of schools. And please pray for your Pastors as we aim to shepherd through a new season.

Written by Raef Chenery

I'm a pastor in Chicago at Park Community Church - South Loop. I'm a husband to my beautiful wife Sara and a dad to three sweet girls, Ruth, Joy, and Mira. I'm blessed to be surrounded by a number of men and women who love to think about the ways that our faith interacts with our culture. This blog is as much for me to get my thoughts in order, as it is for those who might benefit from it and engage in the conversations as well. I would love to get your feedback through the comments on each post.

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