On March 11, 2020, The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 or “coronavirus disease 2019” a pandemic after 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have died from complications associated with the virus. As public fears rise and health officials discourage large gatherings, some U.S. officials and denominational entities are responding to serious concerns over the coronavirus with practical and spiritual recommendations.
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB), one of the world’s largest missions organizations, has created a special task force to advise its missionaries, personnel, and volunteers to monitor the situation and make recommendations regarding the coronavirus.
“We recognize the concern that coronavirus is causing, and we are grateful for individuals and churches who are praying for IMB personnel and for people around the world directly affected by the virus,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood in an official statement. “We undergird all our decisions with fervent prayer for the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. As we do daily, we trust in God’s providence over this situsation and will faithfully remain on task to reach the nations.”
The IMB has recommended U.S. churches postpone mission-trips abroad until April 30.
On Friday, SBC Executive Committee staff issued an official statement noting the virus could potentially impact the denomination’s Annual Meeting scheduled for early June in Orlando, Florida. According to the statement, the Annual Meeting will convene as planned unless “conditions escalate to unprecedented levels.” If the situation does worsen, staff note a provision in the SBC Constitution allows for postponement or cancellation of the meeting.
On Tuesday, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued an official statement on the coronavirus, reminding Episcopalians that “we are in this together.”
“Jesus came to show us how to be in a relationship with God and in relationship with each other, came to show us how to live not simply as collections of individual self-interest, but how to live as the human family of God,” said Curry in a video message. “That’s why he said love the Lord your God, love your neighbor as yourself. Because in that is hope for all of us to be the human family of God.”
“Listen to those who have knowledge that can help to guide us medically and help to guide us socially. Do everything that we can to do this together, to respond to each other’s needs and to respond to our own needs,” said Curry.
In Washington, D.C., the Rev. Timothy Cole, rector of the historic Christ Church Episcopal, Georgetown, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a gathering of Episcopal clergy in Louisville, Kentucky. According to the Washington Post, Cole oversaw services attended by more than 500 worshipers on Sunday, March 1. He reportedly provided communion and shook hands with parishioners during morning services. The D.C. Health Department urges churchgoers who recently came within six feet of Cole to self-quarantine for 14 days since attending services, as The Hill reported.
Anglican Church in North America
In a letter to parishioners, Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Archbishop Foley Beach offered four points in response to the physical and emotional strains stemming from the coronavirus.
Those four points, he wrote, are to trust God in the midst of uncertainty; stay informed of advice issued by government health authorities; be prudent by washing your hands “for a minimum of 20 seconds using soap and warm water” and avoid touching your face; and to show love by offering support to neighbors who might be vulnerable to the virus or alone.
Archbishop Beach then offered this prayer:
Almighty God, our strong tower of defense in time of trouble: We offer you praise and heartfelt thanks for our deliverance from the dangers which lately surrounded us and for your gracious gift of peace. We confess that your goodness alone has preserved us; and we ask you still to continue your mercies toward us, that we may always know and acknowledge you as our Savior and mighty Deliverer; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
You can read Beach’s letter in its entirety, here: http://www.anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/1992
United Methodist Church
On March 4, the Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference issued a statement ensuring the church they are “monitoring developments in the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and will collaborate with public health authorities” in planning for the upcoming event.
The 2020 General Conference is scheduled to convene May 5-15, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In preparation, the committee assured they are heeding all health and safety precautions and plan to connect with the Minnesota Department of Health in order to eliminate greater exposure and risks as they plan such a large gathering.
“We will be developing health and wellness related protocols for the meeting site, including promoting preventive measures that attendees can take such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette,” said Commission Chairperson Kim Simpson.
UM News reported that United Methodist Pacific Northwest Conference announced its office would be closed through March 27 after the wife of a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, Rev. Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, the pastor of Ronald United Methodist Church in Shoreline, Washington has self-quarantined himself after coming into contact with an acquaintance who tested positive for coronavirus.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
On February 20, J. Herbert Nelson, II, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a Call to Prayer as legitimate concerns over the coronavirus began to escalate.
“As we all struggle with the horrific impact of the deadly virus that has infected so many people in China and now in a number of other countries, we cannot but call upon our God for help and healing,” Nelson prayed. “We pray for God to keep us alert to the threats posed by such a worldwide crisis, remembering the millions of God’s children who live in places where the availability of medical care is meager or nonexistent.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology and Worship issued a Pastoral Statement on the Coronavirus/COVID-19. The statement urged pastors to remain vigilant in prayer, trust God during these times of high anxiety, and use common sense in protecting their health and the health of others.
You can read the Pastoral Statement on the Coronavirus/COVID-19 in its entirety, here: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/Coronovirus-Covid-19-Statement3.pdf