It is important not to over-spiritualize divine protection from COVID-19
infection during a church service. Such divine protection is, sometimes, granted us through wisdom from God. God gives us the wisdom to make the right choices that benefit us. When we fail to exercise wisdom, we are rejecting God’s direction and may suffer the consequences. 1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us that Christ is the Wisdom of God and so when we reject wisdom, we’re rejecting Christ.
Consider the following illustration about “The Drowning Man” taken from The Truth Book: A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help. Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on. Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this, the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on. Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away. Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?” The man failed to exercise wisdom and over-spiritualized the mechanism for his rescue and so rejected the real-life rescue methods God provided him, to his own detriment. I believe that we are in the same situation with how to deal with this Covid-19 pandemic in churches.
As we pray to God to help us through this Covid-19 pandemic, we must exercise wisdom in dealing with it. This exercise of wisdom will be critical once the government lifts restrictions on church services. Wisdom is based on applying understanding to a situation based on a sound knowledge of the situation. It is important then to get knowledge about a situation
before making a decision. That is why God says, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
When it comes to COVID-19, scientists and doctors have the knowledge and
understanding of the situation. God, in his common grace, has provided knowledge over thousands of years to science. Note that the creation process God used may be viewed as scientific. So, when you exercise wisdom on based the understanding and knowledge provided by scientists and doctors, whose science was facilitated by God, then you’re being spiritual!
According to knowledgeable epidemiologists, COVID-19 is not going to
disappear just by itself. It will be manageable only when a cure is found and very manageable when an effective vaccine is found. An effective vaccine is projected to be about the middle of the year 2021. We pray that it will be sooner. An effective proven cure (not the ones rumoured with no scientific testing) is projected to be about sometime between September and November 2020. We pray that it will be earlier.
If there’s a cure but there’s no vaccine, you can still catch the disease, but if
it produces symptoms, doctors can effectively treat you with negligible risk of death. But note that, people who have been infected and have had symptoms say it is not a pleasant experience; it is as if the virus is trying to strangle you. So, it is best to avoid infection. That is why churches must develop and implement protocols that will prevent infection in church services.
These protocols may have to be followed for about a year until an effective scientifically proven vaccine is available. It would be bad publicity and will severely impact church attendance and/or membership if an infected person is found to have been infected in the church building. Some may label the church as Covid-19 infection site and some members may be afraid to attend church any longer.
Here is my proposal for protocols for safely holding Pentecostal style church service. I have written them for Pentecostal style church service because that is what I’m intimately familiar with. But with some modifications, it could be used by any church. I suggest you convene an online meeting of your leadership team to discuss these protocols, modify them, and adapt them for your particular church situation.
May God grant you the wisdom to adapt these protocols for your church.
1. Pray in each church service for God to intervene, in his common grace, in this COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Pray for COVID-19 patients worldwide.
3. Pray for those bereaved by COVID-19.
4. Teach on God’s relevance in this pandemic.
5. Teach on Social Distancing as an act of love of self and love of neighbour (Church members, colleagues, community members, health workers, etc.)
1. Designate entry doors to the church building as Entry-only or Exit-only.
2. Designate aisles as one-way.
3. Consider getting a contactless infrared thermometer to use to screen people. It costs between $50 and $100 depending on the model. Determine how many you need based on the size of the congregation. Any temperature above
101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Centigrade) should disqualify the person from entering.
4. Supply face mask at entry for those who don’t have any.
5. Arrange chairs so households are 6 feet (2 meters) from other households, 360 degrees.
6. To limit the number of people in the building at a time based on the capacity of the sanctuary, the church may need to hold multiple church services. You may have to tell people which church service they may attend. The church may also consider asking people to come to church on alternate Sundays if multiple church services are not feasible.
7. Consider asking the elderly or those with serious health conditions to refrain from coming to church service. You might consider holding a special church service for them alone.
8. If possible, the bathroom surfaces should be cleaned with antiseptic each hour during the church service.
9. If possible, all railings on stairs should be cleaned with antiseptic each hour during the church service.
10. Normal cleaning of the church building should now include using antiseptic to wipe surfaces, chairs, podium, door handles, cabinet handles, etc.
11. Once a month or periodically, hire a sanitation company to fumigate the entire church building.
12. Provide auto-dispensed hand sanitizers at each entry and exit.
13. Provide small antiseptic wipes on each chair. Each member can use it to clean any object they feel uncomfortable with.
14. Bathroom: each bathroom must have an usher to control traffic into it. Each bathroom must have a sign saying how many people are allowed into the bathroom at the same time.
15. The church should disable or remove water fountains. Members should not drink from water fountains; they should bring their own water to church.
1. Do not distribute hymn books, printed programs, or any other printed material to the congregation.
2. Ushers should record name and telephone number of each person (including children, infants, toddlers, babies) entering the building for purposes of contact tracing if someone becomes infected.
3. Ushers should wear a transparent face shield and no mask. This will allow them to give directions with clarity of voice. They should wear gloves.
4. Ushers should become Social Distancing monitors. They must be trained to be vigilant in enforcing the protocols.
5. Ushers should be trained on how to sensitively and politely enforce these guidelines and any other social distancing protocols during the church service.
1. Pastor, preachers, MC, Praise Team members, Prayer Team members should wear a face shield and not mask. This will protect them and others but enable them to put a microphone under the shield for clarity of voice.
2. Microphones should NOT be interchanged. That is, Pastor and/or preacher must have his own, MC must have his own, each praise team member must have his own, each prayer team member must have his own. If you don’t have enough microphones, then you must limit the number of people playing all these roles to the number of available microphones. For example, if you have only six microphones, then the Pastor gets one, MC gets one, Preacher gets one, Praise Team gets two and so there can only be two praise team members, prayer team gets 1, and so there can only be one prayer team member.
3. Announcements should either be pre-recorded or done by the Pastor or MC since there may not be enough microphones to let a different person do it.
1. Instrumentalists cannot switch instruments. That is, each instrumentalist must stick to the same instrument throughout the service.
2. Each instrumentalist should wipe their instrument with supplied antiseptic wipes. Drummers should not interchange drumsticks; that is, each drummer should carry their sticks home and bring it back.
People playing wind instruments should have no one in front of them up to 9 feet (3 meters). Wind instruments have been known to forcefully propel air out that can carry the virus beyond 6 feet (2 meters).
4. See Protocols 1 and 2 in Section on “Microphones.”
5. Each Praise Team member must have a designated spot during the church service and cannot switch with others.
6. Each tambourine player should use supplied antiseptic wipes to wipe the tambourine thoroughly.
7. Rehearsals should observe the above protocols to protect themselves during the rehearsal and to serve as a rehearsal of Social Distancing for the actual church service.
1. Practice all social distancing protocols at all times.
2. Don’t do elbow bumping or foot bumping, because it puts you inside the 6 feet (2 meter) gap. Wave at each other instead.
3. All staff and members must wear mask, unless specified otherwise.
4. During welcome to church segment of the service, instruct people to remain sitting or standing in their place and wave at others.
5. Dancing in the front or aisles should be prohibited.
6. Offering should be restricted to online. For those who can’t do online, an offering bowl should be placed at the exit door for them to place their money in it on their way out after church service.
7. Leadership should teach those who don’t have online capability, how to set up their phones for an online offering; you may need to set it up for them. Use mask and face shield while doing this and wipe their phone with antiseptic when done.
8. People should not come forward to be prayed for. They can raise their hands.
9. There should be no laying-on of hands. You can stretch your hands towards the person.
10. Each Prayer Team member must have a designated spot during the church service and cannot switch with others.
11. Testimonies should be sent to Pastor or MC for them to relay them to the congregation.
12. Churches that invite members of the congregation to do Bible reading should no longer do that. The MC or preacher can do Bible reading. This is to avoid sharing of microphones.
13. At the end of the church service, everyone should remain seated and the MC should dismiss congregants row by row, in such a way as to keep the required physical distancing as people leave the sanctuary.
Money counters should socially distance themselves when counting the money. They should not touch their face during the money counting. They should thoroughly wash their hands after counting the money.
Sacraments and Celebrations
1. There should be no Baby Dedication, Thanksgiving testimonial, or Baptism.
2. If necessary, Baby Dedication may be held, but the officiant should not hold the baby. Only the parents and baby may go forward and they should be at least nine feet (3 meters) from the officiant. Note that it has been found that singing and shouting (as in loud prayer) can propel the virus beyond 6 feet (2 meters)
3. Communion may be done with pre-packed elements. Each person should use supplied wipes to wipe the package of the elements before opening it. If you can’t observe this protocol for financial reasons, consider reducing the frequency of giving Communion.
1. Informal fellowship after church service builds community and is a good psychological aid to those who are lonely, alone, or needing human interaction. You must balance this benefit against transmission of the virus through inadvertent violation of Social Distancing. A way to minimize it may be to ask
people to go to their cars and socialize from within their cars. Another way may be to have people use very protective masks. The fashionable masks available these days reduce the distance the virus travels from a person’s nose/mouth, but they don’t block it from going through the mask into the air.
They are still useful because if it cuts the distance of transmission to say two feet and the other person is three feet (one meter) away, they are protected. Some have said the way to test the effectiveness of a mask is to blow very hard through the mask at a flame. If the flame is extinguished, then the mask is not very protective.
2. There should be no receptions. If there must be an after-church reception, then the church should arrange the reception hall to aid in social distancing participants and all must wear a protective mask.
3. All after-church meetings should be held online no matter how many people.
4. Churches with bookstores should move their collections online for their members to browse and order online for pickup at the church store. Preventing in-store browsing eliminates the possibility of contaminating the books. Pickup minimizes contact time with store attendants and reduces the probability of transmission of the virus.
5. It is important to get people out of the building as quickly as possible to avoid any Social Distancing mistakes from being committed.
Children and Youth
1. Initially, you may ask children to stay with their families in the adult service and then separate them over time to the Children Sunday School and Youth Service.
2. Please adapt these protocols to Children’s Sunday School.
3. Please adapt these protocols to Youth Services.
4. Obtain the protocols used by the public school system in your community and adapt them to your Children’s Sunday School and Youth Services.
1. Follow same protocols listed in this document.
2. For those churches that hold all-night prayer services, advise your members that there will be no laying-on of hands during those services.
3. If you don’t have enough staff to follow the protocols, then hold it online. To engender member’s confidence in the church’s protocols for keeping them safe, the Senior Pastor should explain the relevant parts to the congregation during the first church service. If a church doesn’t have resources to implement some protocol, they should explore alternative ways of accomplishing the same objective implied by the protocol.
These protocols may appear stringent, but it is applying safety first in a show of the church’s love for its members and for health workers who risk their lives to care for infected COVID-19 patients. Note that, by God’s grace, these protocols may be needed for at most one year. One year comes faster than you can imagine.
Blessings to you as you fellowship together, in-person, safely.
(The writer is a retired USA Superintendent of The Apostolic Church.) References: 1. When Your Church Reopens, Here’s How to Meet Safely.