In response to plagues, 4th-century Christians developed a new technology: the hospital. Before modern science and medicine existed, followers of the way of Jesus lived their faith by bringing the sick into a place specifically meant for healing, and by serving them.
Today, this Christian ministry of healing continues in many ways, though the church has mostly left behind the running of hospitals and first-responder programs.
Today, in the midst of anxiety about and preparations for a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in Minnesota, Episcopalians have access to good information about best practices at Eucharist (remember, INTINCTING IS NOT THE ANSWER). We know about handwashing. We have churchwide resources in the form of Episcopal Relief and Development, an organization experienced in responding to these kinds of crises. We have access to good medical information that can help us reduce the spread of infectious disease.
Most importantly, though, we have a theology that grounds us in serving Christ in the form of our neighbor. The threat of a crisis — whether related to health, weather, security, or something else — is, for followers of the way of Jesus, a chance to ask ourselves not just how we are protecting ourselves, but how we are called to serve. The new coronavirus is a potential health crisis here, and we’re wise to behave as such. It’s also an opportunity to revisit, again, what giftedness and creativity our faith communities can offer back to the world.
So, after you’ve washed your hands, what can you do?
Here are ten ways your faith community might respond with creativity rather than fear.
Care for your members in new ways.
- Empower a network of members to telephone those who are elderly, homebound, or recently absent from worship. That ancient technology — the phone call — still exists, and it offers a germ-free opportunity for connection, friendship, and prayer.
- Deliver groceries to the doorstep of members who are immune-compromised, elderly, or sick.
- Elevate the voices of trusted public health resources.
- Share practices and resources for healthy responses to anxiety and ways of combatting stigma. Bring mental health to the forefront of your faith community’s conversations.
Embrace new ways to worship and connect.
- Experiment with ways to share worship digitally, from streaming video of Sunday morning worship services to more creative methods.
- If you create content for children, youth, and adult formation (from sermons to presentations to group conversations), how are you increasing access to that in-person content? Can you send it by mail, share by email, or offer on an interactive digital platform?
- Likewise, in a time of isolation, the daily office and other prayer services can easily happen by Facebook Live, Zoom, and even conference call. Share prayer concerns, joys, and pastoral care by phone, text, email, and social media messaging.
Look to the neighborhood.
- What key city, county, or neighborhood institutions are near your faith community? Connect with them to learn how you might partner with them to support their positive impact.
- What groups might need access to a space for meetings, supply storage, or service? How might your faith community’s indoor and outdoor spaces serve those needs?
- In any crisis, those who are less privileged are most likely to suffer disproportionately. How might your faith community already have relationships with others who could use your support? And: can you follow their lead?
PLUS ONE MORE:
None of these actions requires a crisis.
Here’s the punchline: followers of the way of Jesus have been innovating new ways to pray together, to care for each other, and to serve Jesus in their neighbors since the beginning. It’s in our DNA to respond creatively to crisis. And there’s no time like the present to acknowledge the fear, and then step out wisely and bravely in faith.