Please note: I am not trying to overwhelm us with information, but I have found several very good articles from different traditions and perspectives that I believe are very useful to us and will continue to be useful to us in our decision-making process. If you cannot access these articles because of subscription permissions, let me know and I will send the text. Pastor Dave
A Critical Question
cancel or not to cancel? That is the Shakespearean question confronting
churches today. It is not a question of mere expediency. The gathered
worship service is central to the church’s identity, and therefore,
cancellation seems to trample on more than tradition. It can feel like a
threat to the church’s existence.
Government officials, medical experts, and civic leaders
have all asked citizens to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by
practicing physical distancing. According to leading experts, churches
are one of the top places of community spread. Why? Christians shake
hands, embrace one another, and kiss cheeks. Some are liturgically
directed to drink from a common cup; others pass the peace with a warm
touch. Our bodies do naturally what our souls do supernaturally. We
connect. And we do so intergenerationally.
What are churches to do?
Our mandate as Christians to obey governing authorities
(Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17) is a good reason for churches to cancel
worship services. But there are other Biblical principles that help us
embrace this difficult decision.
Canceling in-person worship services is not the same as
canceling worship. Christians should never stop worshiping, because God
is worthy of all our praise. Those in the persecuted church have long
worshiped God without buildings, because they know that church is not
primarily a place but a people. And technology now gives us
unprecedented options. This does not mean, of course, that place is
unimportant. God himself authorized the building of a temple that would
serve as a place where his name would dwell. Even with that decree,
however, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon humbly acknowledged
that God cannot be consigned to a place (1 Kings 8:27).
According to Wall Street’s “Fear-Greed Index,” it is “Extreme Fear”
that is driving the market right now in the wake of COVID-19. It’s not just the coronavirus. Everybody seems to be anxious, checking the 24-hour news cycles for the next jolt to our insecurity. Besides their health, many are afraid of losing their job or personal freedom. Many are gripped by the fear of economic collapse, while others are anxious about environmental collapse. Many Christians are fearful of the collapse of a thinly-veiled Christian order. Others worship security and therefore are fearful of anyone and anything that leaders or the media construct as threatening it. You get my point. It’s all about control. What we’re most afraid of losing tells us who or what we worship, where we place our trust.
It’s not that people don’t believe in God anymore, just that it doesn’t seem to matter. And
that suggests that there is little knowledge of the “God” to whom a
majority (though declining) number of fellow Americans tip their hat. The first test of whether we are actually worshipping the right God is fear. That’s right: Fear. While
being afraid of all sorts of things is a sign of sanity these days, the
fear of God seems quite insane not only to unbelieving neighbors but
even in the church. It’s s not surprising that the God of
the Bible is increasingly rejected in wider American society, since in
even evangelical circles he is frequently reduced to a supporting actor
in our life movie: a means to the end of our own health, wealth and
happiness. In ordinary conversations, even among Christians, we express
fear of just about any threat to our well-being, but meet stares or
raised eyebrows if we mention fearing God.
We worship most what we fear most. So, for some right now, the fear of catching COVID-19 dominates the headlines. People don’t worship a virus, of course, but many do worship health—physical and mental well-being. Fear is an index of the object of our worship, the one ultimately in whom we place our trust.
Personal peace and well-being or political and social utopia become the “heaven on earth,” here and now, that we demand. If God can help with that, great. The philosopher William James said that in America, “God is not worshipped, he is used.”
Jesus has become a mascot for our cause, party or nation, rather than the mediator apart from whom we face God only as “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Instead of witnessing to the redeeming God of history, public pronouncements from some evangelical leaders give the impression that Christians are fearful, resentful and anxious. Looking to powerful leaders for security, we often seem to be telling our neighbors that we don’t really trust the one who said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). We imagine that we are not a little flock, certain to be wiped out were it not for God’s grace and mercy, much less that we’ve been given a kingdom. Instead, we seem to be fixated on the one we’re building. When Jesus warns of coming persecution, it’s not to stir his disciples to fear but to hope in him alone, based on his victory: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
As Nebuchadnezzar discovered, we recover our sanity when we lift our eyes to heaven. We’re back in line with reality. We’re not in charge, and never have been. We can’t create or save ourselves. But we have been created and saved by God in Jesus Christ! Now we can see the needs all around us, our own and those of our neighbors and the creation, as opportunities rather than threats. We want to play our part in curbing the spread of the virus. We are called to defend the life of our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable: the unborn, our aging elders, the poor, orphans, widows and all victims of injustice. We are called to be good stewards of God’s creation. But this is because we fear God rather than anyone or anything else.
EXCERPT … 2. Practicing the Christian ethic of hospitality under COVID-19 demonstrates our fear of God, not of men (and the virus they may carry). We are to live coram Deo—before the face of God.
Practicing hospitality when we could be killed by (or kill) a person
standing a few feet away boggles the mind and wearies the soul. Psalm 150:6
declares, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” But we live
in a world where the very act of breathing is dangerous.
Christians must look to God—and his glory—more than we look to the physical danger around us. As John Calvin writes:
God expects a very different kind of practical wisdom from us
[Christians], namely that we should meditate on his judgments in a time
of adversity and on his goodness in delivering us from danger. For
surely it is not by mere chance that a person falls into the hands of
enemies or robbers; neither is it by chance that a person is rescued
from them. But what we must constantly keep in mind is that all
afflictions are God’s rod, and therefore there is no remedy for them
other than God’s grace.1
Precautions, medical interventions, and vaccines have value, but our
ultimate hope is not in any of them. God is sovereign over every breath
we take, even the breath of someone who carries disease and enters our
six-foot bubble. If “all afflictions are God’s rod,” our task is to fear
God more than man and the virus he may carry.
Dr. Emily Landon is the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine, who moments after Pritzker issued the ordinance to take effect Saturday evening, took to the stand with a 7-minute-long speech that went viral after striking a chord for many individuals.
Matt Tully This makes me think of a line that I found really, really provocative in your book. You write, “modern medicine looks increasingly more like the pursuit of happiness and control of the future than the cure of sickness and the care of health.” What do you mean by that?
Bob Cutillo Well, I think that’s one of the themes that I explored a lot in the book and I think that’s where I see this anxiety come from. People have often believed and somehow convinced themselves—and it’s clearly a delusion—but we have convinced ourselves that we are in control of our lives. There are many things that make us think that we are in the driver’s seat and that we have control of our lives because, for most of us, we have food and we have clothing. It’s only when there’s a threat to our health in societies like ours do we actually begin to wonder if we have control, and then for the most part we become very dependent on the medical system to deliver us from those uncertainties. We have great capacity, but the hardest thing for us to realize is that we are still limited people. We are still creaturely people who have to deal with suffering, still have to deal with disease, and still have to deal with death. And even though we have much less than in prior societies—we have so many more tools to respond to it in positive ways—the idea that we don’t have to deal with death is a delusion that has caused us to be increasingly anxious whenever that sense of security is threatened. And when I wrote the book a few years ago, I could see it from all kinds of activities that I saw already in society, and so I guess when this happened it didn’t surprise me that we became so anxious because the program was set for us to be anxious because it was just there underneath it—a very thin veneer, a sense that we are controlling everything.
He explains what’s currently happening in the US and around the
world; offers a broader perspective on how we should think about this
virus in light of history and our Christian faith; and shares godly,
practical advice to all Christians as we seek to trust God and love
others well in these uncertain times.
Christians, Let’s Flatten the Curve But Be a ‘Religion for the Sick’
Daniel P. Chin
the past week, the world has turned its full attention to the
protein-thorned crown of COVID-19. It is rare to experience such a
widespread global unease, in which we all find ourselves dwelling on the
very same thing. In a way, the noise of modern life has been ousted by
what C. S. Lewis called “God’s megaphone”: pain.
Patients are dying. People are scared. And we find ourselves stuck
between the flippantly arrogant (“The coronavirus is just another flu”)
and the fearfully paranoid (“We are on the brink of financial
collapse”). Following Saturday’s episode of the “Italian COVID19
Experience” podcast, in which American and Australian pediatric
intensivists spoke candidly
with intensive care specialists in the ICUs of Italy, each of our
institutions are preparing us for the next few weeks with a seriousness
that is unique—even for those of us in medicine familiar with suffering,
triage, and uncertainty.
It’s okay to be fearful—we are too. However, as Christians working
inside and outside the health care space, this is a moment where our
response might distinguish us as a people who practice what was once called by early pagans “a religion for the sick.”
To that end, we want to share some of our experiences of the COVID-19
pandemic as resident physicians and trainees—and as fellows of the
Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellowship at Duke Divinity School,
which brings together medical trainees, theologians, and pastors to
think theologically at the frontlines of health care—in order to
highlight the unique Christian contributions of repentance, hospitality,
and lament to our preparations for the new coronavirus.
Repentance Among Idolatry of Health
Health is a good in our society, and for good reason. The prophet
Jeremiah spoke of God’s promise to bring health and heal wounds. In
Ecclesiastes we are told to delight in the health of our youth. The
apostle John prayed for the health of his readers.
While health is a good to be pursued and maintained, we sense we’ve turned a “good” into a “god.” Indeed, while the coronavirus is novel, it does not represent a new fear. It merely reveals a quiet, well-nourished idolatry toward the health of our bodies and our trust in the ability of our medical institutions to save us. The West is feeling one of its greatest idols shiver.
Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet goes so far as to argue that clinicians constitute a “new priestly class” of this idol, in which doctors and other health care workers minister a new “salvation of health” to devoted worshipers. In A Theology of Illness, he writes that modern medicine “encourages patients to consider that both their state and their fate lie entirely in the hands of the physician … and that the only way they can endure their suffering is to look passively to medicine for any hope of relief or healing.”
The hysteria surrounding the new coronavirus and our obsession with “flattening the curve”
unmasks a deeply held belief that for any of us to die would prove both
an extraordinary occasion and a failure of our society’s efforts to
protect us. It should be little surprise then that in an effort to
counter our anxiety, we employ the language of medical control: “the
morbidity and mortality for the relatively young and healthy is low.”
And yet, it is precisely the opposite population—the relatively
elderly and unwell—to whom Christians are called to pay closest
attention. Psalm 82 and Romans 15 make it clear that worshiping our own
well-being neglects our call to the weak—those whom Christ repeatedly
identifies with throughout the New Testament. It is medical hubris that
tells us that 99 percent of our population will likely survive the
coronavirus. But it is the love of the shepherd that asks, unashamedly, “What about the 1 percent?”
Health is a good thing, but it is not an ultimate thing. It is not something that we can master through biohacking
or guarantee through new vaccines—even as it is a gift and a duty to
seek such medicine. Our comfort ought not lie in the fact that we are
protected under the banner of epidemiological peace. Our comfort lies in
the fact that even if we are stricken with the coronavirus and die, our lives are known and sealed in Christ.
Hospitality Among Social Distancing
Historian Gary Ferngren points out in Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity
that the only care for the sick during a smallpox-like epidemic in 312
AD was provided by Christians. The church even hired grave diggers to
bury those who died in the streets.
Something we have quickly forgotten, in the age of antivirals and
personal protective gear, is the sheer fear that the possibility of
sickness like this would instill in others. If you interacted with
someone with plague in 1350, or with Spanish flu in 1918, there was a
real possibility you would get it and die. The prayer “and if I die
before I wake, I beg the Lord my soul to take” was a real plea, not a
The new coronavirus has brought a bit of that fear back into our daily lives. It is a fear that manifests in shelves swept clean of masks and cleaning supplies in department stores and hospitals and even xenophobia
and hate crimes against individuals for their perceived ethnicity
relative to COVID-19’s origin in China. It is evident in our inboxes
filling with cancellations and ever-updating protocols.
But Christians are a people for whom hospitality toward the minority
and the potentially infected is a central virtue—one that undergirds
Christian tradition and the practice of modern medicine, whether we know
it or not. We forget there was a time in which people did not
unconditionally take care of the sick simply because they were sick.
Indeed, the word hospitality (from which we get hospital), comes from the Latin hospes meaning
“host” or “guest.” The first prototype of the hospital arose from
medieval monasteries in which Catholic nuns or monks housed strangers in
need of lodging and nourishment. These medieval institutions were
centered around the conviction that to serve the suffering stranger was
to serve Christ himself. That cliché metaphor for the church—“a hospital
for sinners”—enjoyed a new depth.
It for this reason that the now household term “social distancing”—the conscious effort to reduce interpersonal contact in order to prevent
viral transmission—has Christians wondering what to do. Amid
Christianity’s longstanding tradition of communion and attention to the
outcast, we should expect discomfort with the idea of intentionally
avoiding those in need.
And while the talk of quarantine is certainly unsettling, we might
remember that it has been commonplace for some time to sequester the
ill. Indeed, we already isolate the dying in hospitals and often
permanently displace them in nursing homes. We live in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness that already leads
to adverse health outcomes. When real life-threatening illnesses arise,
we shouldn’t be surprised that we have no idea what to do. We haven’t
practiced for it. We haven’t raised our children around it. Ours is a
culture that treats death and physical suffering as an exception to
ignore rather than an eventuality to prepare for. Ethicist and
theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way:
The hospital is, after all, first and foremost a house of
hospitality along the way of our journey with finitude. It is our sign
that we will not abandon those who have become ill. … If the hospital,
as too often is the case today, becomes but a means of isolating the ill
from the rest of us, then we have betrayed its central purpose and
distorted our community and ourselves.
The metaphysical poet John Donne wrote,
“As sickness is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sickness
is solitude.” Whatever practices of social quarantine we undertake, we
would do well to remember that our era of isolation will remain once
this practice of “social distancing” fades. Perhaps this pandemic is a
chance to wake us up to the reality that we have been surrounded by the
isolated ill long before the new coronavirus found us staying at home.
At the same time, social distancing is something the church gets to perform charitably and courageously. It is a literally corpor-ate
(“bodily”) duty that we have the opportunity to enact out of love to
protect the vulnerable among us—in which we partner infectious disease
science with practical wisdom and humility.
We get to be creative in how we reach out and practice “social accompaniment”
to those who are already prone to social isolation: the elderly,
infirm, and disabled. We might bring the Eucharist to the sick in
protective garb, make calls to those in nursing homes (who will become
increasingly isolated as visits are limited to those communities), and
write letters of prayer. One of our own pastors hopes to arrange
congregants at a distance while continuing to practice the sterility
that priests are already well familiar with as they handle weekly
When we put Christian imagination to work, we discover practices like that of a medical student who participated in the Physician’s Vocation Program, created by John Hardt at Loyola University Chicago. As Christian ethicists Brett McCarty and Warren Kinghorn describe
the student: “Instead of mindlessly applying the hand sanitizer, he
instead pictured his Catholic priests washing their hands in preparation
for handling the Eucharist. … Through this theological vision, he
prepared to meet Christ in the body of a sick patient.”
Lament Among Anxiety
While the world laments the cancellation of sporting events or the
halting of the economy (all appropriate things to be dispirited about),
Christianity recognizes that both the new coronavirus and our response
to it through social distancing makes the church something less than its
full self. If social distancing is something we must do, we shouldn’t
do it without psalms of lament.
And lament will become increasingly important in the coming weeks.
Medical workers in Italy (perhaps North America’s closest comparable
health care system) have greatly limited family interactions with the
sick in the ICU. Most families cannot view the bodies of their loved
ones after death. As we’re learning from our Italian intensivist
colleagues, we may find ourselves unable to do what is best for each
patient, and instead must balance what is best for the entire
community—something that greatly troubles those of us in medicine used
to being able to do all that is possible. All of this has the potential
to lead to great grief and exhaustion.
It is uncanny that we are in the season of Lent. Perhaps we should
look to Easter Sunday with newfound hope, not only of open tombs but of
reopened cathedrals. Holy Week in the time of COVID-19—in which we
remember the suffering of the King on his way to Golgotha—will surely
take on new meaning.
Indeed, it is interesting that the coronavirus gets its name from a
spiked ring of proteins on its surface that resembles a crown, hence the
title of “corona.” In many ways, the coronavirus is revealing the
crowned heads we already worship—health, self-protection, medicine. Our
global, sustained attention to COVID-19 demonstrates that which we look
to out of anxiety, control, and fear.
Of course, we know that Jesus wore a different crown—one that calls
us to worship not out of anxiety or control but out of a love that
drives out all fear. That crown doesn’t make this coronavirus moment any
less serious; however, it does tell us where to cast our anxieties, who
to comfort, and which thorned crown to remember.
Brewer Eberly is a first-year family medicine resident physician at
AnMed Health Medical Center, a community hospital system in Anderson,
Ben Frush is a second-year internal medicine and pediatrics resident
physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Monroe Carrell Jr.
Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, a high-volume university hospital
system in Nashville.
Emmy Yang is a fourth-year medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Each is a fellow of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellowship
at Duke Divinity School. The views expressed are those of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the
institutions they represent.
Dear Everyone, We will be suspending services at FFC until further notice to comply with the stay at home order by our governor. (See the article below from the Chicago Tribune.) I will be sending more information as to how we can stay in touch later via the church blog and our new YouTube channel. Details will be forthcoming as they say. 🙂 Sincerely, Pastor Dave
Pritzker issues order residents ‘stay at home’ starting Saturday By Dan Petrella, Gregory Pratt, Stacy St. Clair, Jamie Munks and John Byrne
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a “stay at home” order for the entire state starting Saturday at 5 p.m. through April 7. Residents can still go to the grocery stores, put gas in their cars, take walks outside and make pharmacy runs, the governor said at a Friday afternoon news conference. All local roads, including the interstate highways and tollways, will remain open to traffic, as well. “For the vast majority of you already taking precautions, your lives will not change very much,” Pritzker said. Still, he urged patience in the fast-evolving health crisis. “We don’t know yet all the steps we’re going to have to take to get this virus under control,” said Pritzker, who added that the state “would rise to this occasion.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said “this is clearly not a decision that was made lightly, nor by one person. These are choices that must be made for the good of all residents,” she said. Suburban Oak Park also issued a shelter-in-place order as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, after two emergency room physicians at Rush Oak Park Hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Residents have been ordered to stay in their homes except for “essential” travel as outlined by village ordinance. They can go to work, for example, if their businesses remain open, especially if they have essential jobs such as first responders, sanitation workers or health care providers. Pritzker laid down the groundwork for a potential order Thursday, telling parents to prepare for the statewide school closure to extend past March 30. Though the governor acknowledged he has discussed imposing more stringent rules on the general public, he said that no matter what he decides, interstate highways, gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies would remain open. “There is no need to run out and hoard food, gas and medicine,” the governor said Thursday. “Buy what you need within reason. There is enough to go around, as long as you do not hoard.” Though the governor activated the Illinois National Guard earlier this week to help combat the virus, the service members will have no role in enforcing any potential order. Instead, 60 service members will be deployed to establish drive-up testing sites, help with food delivery to disadvantaged families impacted by school closures and possibly prepare closed hospitals to reopen. The vast majority of currently activated troops are health care professionals — doctors, nurses, medical technicians — who would not be tapped for an law-enforcement assignment. “We have never even discussed a quarantine mission for the Illinois National Guard,” Lt. Col. Bradford Leighton said. “It’s never come up.” Leighton said he understands anxieties are high amid the pandemic, but the Guard is not the boogeyman. “We are your friends, neighbors and co-workers,” he said. “We’re fellow worshippers at your church, synagogue, mosque or wherever you worship. We are part of the community. We are you. We are not going to invade Chicago. We are here to help.” The city is not sleeping. It is keeping safe and quiet, filled with the sounds of birds and the hope for sunshine. What does shelter in place mean? While the specifics for a shelter-in-place order might be different if one is issued here, San Francisco provides an idea of what the rules could look like. In the San Francisco area, six counties are on lockdown until at least April 7, with only people with essential jobs or government functions allowed to work outside their homes. Jobs deemed essential there include: Health care workers, grocery store employees, pharmacists, hardware store workers, plumbers, electricians, day care providers, bank tellers and roles that are essential to a business’ operations such as payroll and security. Police, firefighters, paramedics and sanitation workers will not be quarantined. Like Illinois, San Francisco has shut down schools and bars, moving all restaurants to takeout or delivery only. Gyms and theaters have been closed, but gas stations, laundromats, dry cleaners, banks, supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores have remained opened per the order. Bay Area residents are allowed to leave their homes to care for the elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities or other vulnerable persons. People also can engage in outdoor activities such as hiking, running or walking as long as they maintain a social distance of 6 feet. They also may venture out to get food for their families and their pets. There were 412 confirmed coronavirus cases in the San Francisco area as of Thursday, including four deaths in Santa Clara County attributed to the virus.
Dear Everyone, I wanted to let you know that a plan has been discussed and is in place and the church has been cleaned since its use as a polling place for the general election. It will also be cleaned again on Saturday. I understand if you are concerned about the coronavirus and feel the need to stay home. This is a decision that each of us needs to make before the Lord. We had a great service this past Sunday and will trust the Lord for the same spirit of worship and thankfulness this week. The plan is to hold all services on March 22, 2020.
We do have a limited number of wireless headsets available for you if you would like to come to the service and listen in your car. Yes, these work well enough for you to listen from the comfort of your car in the parking lot. If this sounds good to you, please let me know, and I will have a headset ready for you.
In the Love of Jesus Son of God, Pastor Dave
A quote attributed to A.W. Tozer: “A fearful world needs a fearless Church.”
Faith Fellowship Church of Tennessee, Illinois, let’s be that fearless Church in the name of Jesus our Lord and Savior and go to the people of this world with the tender mercies and saving grace of our God.
(Psalm 33:13–22 ESV) 13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. 16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.