The California shelter-in-place order has made our lives drastically different. Non-essential businesses and facilities have been ordered to shut down in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has killed nearly 2,000 Californians, according to Worldometer, an international statistics site that is tracking coronavirus cases and deaths. However, some California churches and houses of worship are choosing to take this order as a suggestion and have continued to meet, while others have transitioned online.
Several news outlets, including the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, have reported that churches who are refusing to stop meeting are now becoming the center of the bulk of coronavirus cases in California, and canceling in-person services would make a huge difference in flattening the curve.
Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Roseville, Calif. was one of the many churches that was continuing to meet just a few short weeks ago. The church was recently sent a suspicious package that the pastor thought to have been a bomb. After making a 911 call, a bomb squad was brought in and the street was closed for nearly four hours. Police confirmed the item in the package was non-explosive, but may have been disguised to look like a bomb, to threaten the church. The church had received several threats in the weeks prior to receiving the package.
I am definitely against people sending death threats of any kind, but I’m not surprised something like this happened, given this church had been recognized in the media for their decision to continue meeting. This made them an easy target to receive threats.
Growing up attending church, I understand how important it is to members of a church to meet and congregate in the same building. But at the same time, I would argue that we are in the middle of a serious pandemic that is taking people’s lives. Churches should respect the stay at home order and learn to adapt to the situation.
Continuing to meet comes with dangerous possibilities. The point of the stay at home order is to encourage social distancing and discourage large gatherings where viruses can easily be spread.
CNN recently reported that a large, influential Russian church near Sacramento is responsible for an outbreak of 70 new cases. Even after the church transitioned online, large groups were continuing to meet in homes, which health officials have linked to clusters of cases throughout the Sacramento community.
For many church members, this is a touchy subject. They want to believe that they are divinely protected and that God is bigger than the virus. Outsiders may be quick to judge, but this is a reality for many people of faith.
While it is not a crime to have faith, church communities must still make intelligent decisions and operate out of a balance of their core beliefs and common sense. You can believe that God will protect you, but you must also have respect for our national and local officials in the midst of a crisis that we do not fully understand. I’m pretty sure respecting your authority figures is in the Bible?
We are also approaching a new era of the online church. With the aid of technology, the church and other faith communities will survive and even continue to thrive, by taking advantage of what technology has to offer. Sermons and worship services can be streamed online, tithing and giving can be done online, Bible studies can now meet through Zoom, etc. Many churches are already on this path and have continued to adapt as the stay at home order has lengthened.
This pandemic is pushing the dinosaur churches stuck in the past to catch up and modernize their tool kits and skill sets. It is possible to have church without a building, and respecting the shelter-in-place order will keep everyone safe and provide a resolution sooner rather than later.