Ed Stetzer on Should Churches Forsake Gathering for the Sake of the Vulnerable?

A woman prays in an empty Santa Maria presso San Satiro church on Ash Wednesday, in Milan, northern Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Ed Stetzer is the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, which just launched CoronavirusAndTheChurch.com in partnership with Saddleback Church and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute.

Should churches cancel services?

Staff meetings are abuzz with this question today.

Of course, that’s almost always a local decision, in consultation with your state health department and in awareness of what’s going on around you.

It’s on the mind of churches because major events and gatherings all over the world have been canceled. We want to gather as a faith community, particularly in times of tumult.

This is good and healthy.

Sometimes love tells us that perhaps for a season we must forsake the gathering together of the saints because of our love for our neighbor.

We know that meeting together could cause harm to people in our congregations, our communities and our world.

We know for example, that if the coronavirus spreads, older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are at greater risk.

Look around your congregation.

Likely, you have people who fall into this category. Even if it seems as though everyone is healthy, the reality is that you may not know for sure.

Our job as church leaders and as a family is to take care of those at risk among us.

In Kentucky and in the Pacific Northwest, government leaders have asked churches to close. That request may soon be widespread.

But the question still remains for many — why can’t we just meet and trust God?

Because of something medical experts call “social distancing” — intentionally avoiding gatherings where healthy and infected people may mix. Limiting major gatherings is an effective tool we can use to care for our communities by limiting the spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” The purpose is to slow down the spread of the illness by limiting its opportunities to infect healthy people.

The reasoning behind social distancing is in part, as The New York Times reported, to “flatten the curve” of the epidemic. Doing so, The Washington Post reported, can slow the rate of infection to ensure that the health care system and other vital social services aren’t overloaded with a flood of new patients.

It is about slowing the rate of disease spread — which happens much faster when we gather together. A graphic from the CDC illustrates.

“Goals of Community Mitigation” Graphic courtesy of CDC

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Source: Religion News Service