Pastoral Counsel for our Members
The church has a history of responding to crisis in positive and proactive ways. Taking Jesus seriously when he said, “I was sick and you took care of me…” (Matthew 25:36), the church has stayed during times of pandemic in order to care for those who are suffering – even at the risk of their own lives. In 165 A.D. an epidemic hit the Roman Empire – possibly the first case of smallpox. During its 15-year duration it is estimated that one-fourth of everyone in the Roman Empire died. Later, in 251 A.D. another pandemic rocked the Roman world. Through it all, while those with means fled the cities, the Church remained and became the hands and feet of Jesus.
In his book The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark points out that during these times of crisis the Church thrived, while paganism completely collapsed. Perhaps this is because as Christians we know things that others do not.
- We have a proper perspective about reality in this world. We know this world is not what it is supposed to be. Our world groans in childbirth waiting for redemption (Romans 8:22).
- We have a proper perspective about the world to come. We know that every cause of sickness and death, including the coronavirus, will not be part of the future kingdom of God. We are sown with perishable seeds, but we will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42)!
- We have a proper perspective about who is in control. Not us! We reject the illusion of human power and knowledge. The tiniest of viruses has emptied cities and pushed the economy into recession and created hysteria. But we know that “The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 146:10)
We know that we have been called to be different from those who don’t know our God. Therefore, we do not give in to fear, we do not succumb to racism or xenophobia, and we continue to pray with all confidence and faith. At the same time, we will practice wisdom and discretion when it comes to our own health care by following CDC recommendations regarding hand-washing and voluntary quarantine when we feel sick.
Practical Information for Vineyard Fort Smith
Here are answers to questions some of you may be asking:
- How is VFS responding to the coronavirus? I’ve asked our Food Pantry Coordinators to stockpile a larger number of non-perishable items so that we may meet immediate needs in our parish. Many of those in our neighborhood are elderly. In the event that they become confined to their home, we need to be in a position to meet their needs. I will also remain in close contact with the Vineyard Compass Team to stay abreast of the situation and make adjustments to our programming as necessary. We will communicate any changes via our website and Facebook page.
- Will we cancel weekend services? What about mid-week events? We will follow guidelines for religious services as they are issued by state government and health officials. Please check our social media or website for the most up to date information about events and services. As of now, we are continuing to hold all of our services and meetings. If you feel uneasy about being in groups of people right now, that’s understandable. We encourage you to follow the advice of your medical professionals. In the event of a shutdown, we are working on ways to conduct services and stay connected via livestreaming on Facebook.
- Are we at risk by coming to church? Because of our relatively small size, we are not a large risk for spreading the virus. However, we are making some precautionary changes to our worship service effectively immediately. We have ordered pre-packaged communion cups to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus. Based on current understandings of how this disease spreads, we are canceling our planned celebration of Pi Day this Sunday (March 15). This will also eliminate one of the biggest sources of potential cross-contamination.
- How can I stay connected to my faith community if there is a quarantine in Arkansas? As a small church, we will rely on our website and Facebook page to stay connected with one another. You may always reach me at email@example.com if you have a personal emergency. In the event of a shutdown, we will remain available and connected to you!
- I have health risks (age, medical condition, etc.). Should I still come to church as long as we’re having services? We will leave this to your comfort level and the advice of your medical professional.
- How can I help? In these kinds of situations, it’s important that we as Christians continue to serve the vulnerable around us, that we keep an eye on our neighbors (especially those living alone or with health concerns), that we remain a non-anxious presence in an anxiety filled world. Please continue to pray, to give generously to the work of the church, and to care for one another. If you know of someone who is affected by the virus, reach out to our Food Pantry team to see about getting groceries for them.
Commonsense Things We Can all Do
- Wash your hands thoroughly (recite the Lord’s Prayer as you do it). This is still THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to slow the spread of the disease.
- Don’t come to church if you feel sick – especially if you think you have a fever. Do take greater precautions, especially if your immune system is weakened as the result of other health issues.
- Don’t give in to panic buying. Medical masks, for instance, have ZERO effectiveness in keeping you from getting the disease. However, they are very effective at keeping those already infected from transmitting it. Right now, those who need the masks most, like hospitals, are having trouble purchasing them because the supply has been bought up by panicked shoppers.
- Don’t lock yourself in your home. Your spiritual health is important and participating in a worship service of our size is not a serious risk to contracting the disease.
- DO pray for our nation to get ahead of the curve. Pray for the other nations that are being swamped by the disease (China, North Korea, and Italy come to mind). Do continue to act in love by being the hands and feet of Jesus as you have opportunity.
We will weather this storm by the grace of God. Check back often on our Facebook page for updates. A dear sister reminded me of the immortal words of the Apostle Paul (sort of):
“For I am convinced that neither coronavirus nor flu, neither the stock market crash nor the oil deal failure, neither the present POTUS nor the future POTUS, nor any foreign power, neither tornadoes nor wildfires, nor anything else that can and probably will happen, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Go in grace,