Churches across the country and around the world are scrambling to adequately and effectively respond to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19, which has now caused the death of more than 100 people in the U.S. (as of this writing) with more than 5,800 people infected. Schools are closed. Many businesses and offices have instituted telework or have also closed. College students have been sent home for the semester. Graduations have been canceled. Church doors have been closed and services have moved online. As the hymn says, “In times like these you need a Savior. In times like these you need an anchor…”
In this moment of national and global crisis, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is encouraged and inspired by the strength and resilience being shown by its 38 member communions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Late last week, institutions, businesses, and houses of worship were confronted by the urgent need to fundamentally alter their work in order to meet the challenge of containing this pandemic. Our churches have responded with love, grace, creativity and attentiveness to the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of congregants.
Churches everywhere are working to implement necessary social distancing while attending to the need to provide pastoral care and a loving community. We are encouraged by the devotion faith leaders everywhere are exemplifying in the midst of this crisis and commend churches that are working for the health and safety of all persons. In a broader sense, NCC and its member communions are also advocating for just policies for those who are incarcerated, the elderly and low-wage and hourly workers as well as those whose income comes from “gigs,’ all of whom are particularly vulnerable during this crisis.
Even as we are encouraged, we are painfully aware of the difficulties being endured because of this virus, which disproportionately affects our society’s most vulnerable persons. Facilities that provide services for the aging are becoming places of greater isolation and despair. Persons experiencing homelessness are particularly at risk, and we are concerned that necessary medical services will not be available to those who do not have health coverage and cannot pay for them. As government officials ponder economic aid during this crisis, we urge Congress and the president to do so with an eye to helping those who are most in need.
In addition, this pandemic has affected the life of the church and has interrupted the work of so many of our institutions, including the NCC. We offer this partial list of faith events that have been postponed or canceled. As gatherings of people have been limited in order to abide by “social distancing” guidelines, key events have been either canceled or indefinitely postponed.
- Religion Communications Congress 2020, a major event that takes place every ten years and was scheduled to begin on Wednesday, March 17, has been canceled.
- Ecumenical Advocacy Days, scheduled to begin April 24, has announced that the event has been canceled. They are considering an online way of gathering. More are forthcoming.
- The National Council of Churches (NCC) has moved its meeting of the Governing Board to a videoconference, previously scheduled to take place on April 27-28. In addition, the NCC has postponed its upcoming National Jewish-Christian dialogue, originally scheduled for April 22-23, along with the new National Buddhist-Christian and National Hindu-Christian dialogues, scheduled for April 15 and 16, respectively. NCC’s Faith and Order Convening Table, scheduled to meet concurrently with Ecumenical Advocacy Days, has also been canceled.
- As the National Council of Churches is the custodian of two of the most popular Bible translations, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and as churches have moved their services online during this time of social distancing, the NCC has temporarily revised its permissions policy. Churches that live stream or broadcast their church sermons during the National Emergency declared for COVID-19 may use the RSV/NRSV without any special permission requirements.
- Churches for Middle East Peace is restructuring its annual advocacy summit, scheduled for June 21-23, to take place online.
- The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Connectional Lay Council, set to take place in Fayetteville, North Carolina, has been canceled.
- United Methodist General Conference, set to take place in May, has been postponed.
- The Washington National Cathedral, along with most other Episcopal churches in the Washington, D.C. area, will hold services online.
The NCC has closed its offices for two weeks with staff continuing to work remotely during this time. All staff travel has been temporarily halted.
In addition to these steps to enact social distancing and limit the spread of the coronavirus, NCC member communions have published guidelines and statements regarding the current crisis:
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has released a set of guidelines to direct its advocacy activities.
- The United Church of Christ has developed protocols for its congregations and agencies to help guide ongoing ministries
- The Presbyterian Church (USA) has issued a set of guidelines entitled, “Faith, Not Fear,” for its congregations
- The Armenian Church Diocese of America has canceled its upcoming diocesan assembly and has issued an Advisory on Upcoming Liturgical and Other Church Functions. His Holiness Karekin II has issued an appeal to all Armenians.
- Rev. Dr. C. Jeff Woods, Acting General Secretary of the American Baptist Church, issued a statement and set of guidelines with a comprehensive set of resources for congregations.
- The Reformed Church in America (RCA) has issued a helpful theological statement and set of recommended practices, including a primer on how to inexpensively live stream worship services.
- The Greek Orthodox Church in America has advised its members to “not to be exposed in places of public assembly (including attending church) during the next few weeks.”
- The Wisconsin Council of Churches is keeping a comprehensive list of resources on its website.
- The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church has compiled this excellent set of technology resources to help connect people during this time of social distancing.
- The Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference has developed a SDPC Resources for Coronavirus page.
- The Church of the Brethren has created this page of COVID-19 resources and has canceled its upcoming Christian Citizenship Seminar 2020.
As we cope with this crisis during our Lenten season, we urge everyone to collectively and sacrificially be the church by engaging in these best practices:
- Reach out to others. This period will be one of intense isolation for many. Please call, FaceTime, write, or otherwise regularly contact those who need encouragement and companionship during this time. This is a good time to practice love of neighbor.
- If possible, join virtual church services and Bible studies online.
- Join or set up online prayer calls with members of your church or with friends and family members.
- Practice frequent washing of hands and limit unnecessary contact with others. This is not for your own safety as much as it is for the safety of others in your community.
- Resist the urge to hoard food and medical supplies. Hoarding will keep those essential items away from the most vulnerable. Stores will remain open. Practice charity by living with only what you need.
- In all things, practice kindness, patience, and love. In a time of fear and uncertainty, Christians will be recognized by the way we show love to those around us (John 13:34-35)
- Share the stories of how you and your church are coping with the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis by emailing us at [email protected].
NCC hopes to be a source of encouragement and information for you during this crisis. We will post daily scriptures from our Uniform Series, post prayers and interview church leaders on our podcast. We will also list major announcements and closings on our website, https://nationalcouncilofchurches.us and on social media. If you would like your organization’s announcement included in this list, please email Rev. Steven D. Martin, Director of Communications and Development.
This situation is fluid and developing rapidly. It is a crisis like none we’ve experienced in our lifetime. But, we are all in this together and we will make it through knowing that God is with us and grace and mercy abound.