Last Wednesday, I went to Costco for my usual fortnightly visit, arriving early to avoid the crowds. Or at least, I thought I was. The place was crowded and people were loading carts with what looked like a year’s supply of toilet paper, rice and other staples. Over the weekend, it was even worse and when I went to Best Buy yesterday, it was totally deserted. Seattle has become like a wasteland as people panic, bulk buy and hoard as much as they can as though they expect to be under siege for a year or more.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is now officially known, is a serious threat to the stability of our communities, but it grieves me to see the panic that has gripped so many in our neighbourhoods as the virus spreads. My concern is that many Christians have responded with the same fear and panic when I think that we should be responding in a very different spirit. So here is a very quick post with a few suggestions.
Don’t Panic – Prepare
“The Lord alone is our radiant hope and we trust in him with all our hearts.
His wrap-around presence will strengthen us.” (Psalm 33:20 )
I think that as people of faith we need to start by reminding ourselves each day that our trust is in God alone not in how much food we have on hand or even in how little contact we have with people around us who may be infected. Reciting the verse in the morning and then repeating it several times a day is a good place to start.
Second, pray for all people who are sick and those who live in fear of contracting this novel and unpredictable virus. Please pray for family members and all caregivers, especially, our emergency response and health care workers. They do not have the luxury of staying at home to avoid the virus as they care for us and respond to our needs.
Having said all that, I know that we do need to be prepared for the possibility that people will be asked to stay home. Schools here in Seattle (where most of the deaths in the U.S. have occurred so far) are already closing, though only for a day to disinfect all surfaces, and some major venues have been cancelled. So, what should we do?
There is lots of good and bad suggestions out there at the moment. I like this very balanced article on npr.org and am just highlighting a few of the suggestions here.
- Stock up (enough for a few weeks not for a year) on dry goods like rice, lentils, and beans. (Sounds like a great Lenten diet anyway). You probably also want to make sure that you have enough toilet paper, hand washing soap and other cleaning supplies – again for a month not for a year. As one of my Facebook friends commented – leave enough for those of us who really need to buy toilet paper at the moment.
- Get an extra supply of essential medications if possible. Hopefully your health provider will be able and willing to do this. I know many insurers are not.
- Wash your hands whenever you walk through the door back into the house.
- Avoid hand shaking, kissing and other forms of bodily contact and if you do have contact with people, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer afterwards.
- Don’t wear a mask – masks, especially the simple face masks that so many are buying, can actually spread disease because germs cling to the mask and you are more likely to touch your face when you have a mask on, infecting yourself with whatever is clinging there.
Prepare Your Church
I was very pleased when our rector gave a very forthright and comprehensive overview of the behavior that is best in church at the moment:
- If you are sick, stay home.
- A bow rather than a handshake or hug for passing the peace or as the initial greeting when you arrive, and then use hand sanitizer after doing that.
- We use a common cup for communion and interestingly the very few studies that have been done show no difference in infection rates of those who take communion from a common cup to those in the general population. It is possible that the high alcohol content of the port used, and the combination of the silver chalice, kills viruses and bacteria. There has never been a case of a virus spread by use of common cup. However having said all that, I should add that in response to the King County health department, we have discontinued the passing of the cup and only bread is being served. Even then it is important to make sure that the distributers wash their hands before they serve the bread.
- Don’t pass the offering plate, leave it in a central place where people can add their offerings.
- If you have a baptismal font, remove the water from it until this uncertain time is over.
- Find out if there is something you can do to help the vulnerable members of your congregation weather the crisis. Could you provide a special supply of food and cleaning items for those that cannot afford them?
Prepare to Be God’s Presence in Your Community.
God’s people are meant to be people for others, not for themselves, so I think that one of the major discussions needs to be, “How can we help the vulnerable people in our communities prepare and cope with this crisis?” I was delighted to see that Microsoft has decided continue paying their hourly workers even though they may not be working. Perhaps we can encourage our churches and work places to do the same.
When businesses close, poor employees suffer most because they do not have savings they can live out of. They can’t afford to buy extra supplies either because they live week to week out of their pay check. And they can’t afford to take time off because usually their place of work does not pay them for sick days.
So if you put together emergency supplies for yourself, who else should you be doing this for?
Who are the vulnerable people in your community that could need help if they get sick, maybe with meals, a lift to the doctor or help with medications and shopping?
One thing that has challenged me as I read about the history of Christianity is how often more people of strong Christian faith died in epidemics because they were the ones looking after the sick. Are we willing to be Christ’s hands and feet during a time of crisis like this? Are we willing to put our own lives at risk for those who are the most vulnerable in our communities?
A Prayer for the Day
God of life and love, help us to be your people in times of crisis. May we respond out of love and not fear, out of trust and not panic. Help us to be sensitive to those who are vulnerable, to those who are afraid and to those who are confused. Amen.