The COVID-19 worldwide pandemic is where health and religious expression is clashing for some clergy, who are struggling with adapting to non face-to-face ways to reach their members. Most leaders are following social distancing directives and are moving worship experiences online and encouraging donations through digital platforms.
In the St. Louis area, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page via conference call, along with many other callers, met with the Metropolitan Clergy Coalition members Thursday (March 19) to reiterate the crucial importance of practicing social distance - no gatherings of more than 10 people, and six feet apart; helping members stay out of harm’s way from the new coronavirus, and to do their part to “flatten the curve” –– the rise of COVID-19 cases.
“Some folks can do some video church, conference calling visits or individual calls to keep that connection going” Krewson said. “People don’t like the government telling them what to do but we believe this is important for the entire community.”
Multiple services a day, and 10 people spread out in separate rooms was suggested as another option.
While this is the imperative with no clear end in sight, some still struggle with being about the business of the church in this age of the new coronavirus. And there are concerns that some ministries may shut down permanently.
Just like their worship services, many churches are encouraging online giving, as other churches are getting up to speed on how to move tithes and offerings to a digital app or be able to give in person while keeping the appropriate socially distanced space.
Rev. Charles Norris, pastor of St. James AME Church and one of the officers of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, said its membership had already decided to move services online.
“We’ll be streaming from St. James, right now, on Facebook. We’re looking at trying to go to YouTube as well as Instagram,” Norris said. Giving by mail and online using Givelify are current options for their offering. “And we’re prepared to do PayPal if we need to.”
The 14 churches comprising the St. Louis-Cape Girardeau District of the AME Church is also following the directive of government officials and AME leadership by holding virtual services.
“No gatherings larger than 10; everyone is adhering to that, and when they do gather, they’re adhering to the distancing of six to 10 feet, and no one is having a collective worship above that,” Presiding Elder Edmund E. Lowe Sr., Missouri Conference, St. Louis/Cape Girardeau District, 5th District, AME Church, told the American. “And all of them are doing some form of virtual worship services for the upcoming next few weeks, for sure.”
County Executive Page said he wanted church food pantries to continue to operate and serve the needs of the community while practicing the social distancing safeguards, and that they are working with community support groups that bridge the gap for families.
Some asked about possible arrests or penalties for violating the limitations on group gathering.
“Some pastors said they are going to test it,” warned one clergy member.
“You are responsible folks, people of good will,” Krewson said. “You guys are going to do the right thing.”
Friendly Temple Church canceled bible study and weekday activities at its locations in the City of St. Louis and in St. Louis County. Although its website stated regular Sunday worship service will go on as scheduled, it is getting updated to say Friendly Temple will LiveStream its service at 10:am on Facebook.
On the call, some ministers asked about possible noise fines in the city if they chose drive-in church services –– having worship outside with loudspeakers and worshippers staying in their vehicles in church parking lots. Krewson said there would be no fines, and that option might work. Page said he would defer to advice from his public health leaders and hospital medical directors about the risk of community spread by having outdoor services. Someone mentioned it would have been nice to have city and county health officials on the call.
On the call, they also discussed the dangerous and false rumor that black folks can’t get the new coronavirus. It’s just not true. They are getting it, and are succumbing to it.
“There’s absolutely no sense to that,” Krewson said “Everyone’s the same in this.”
“This virus does not discriminate,” Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said.“Health safety and welfare. When those things are at risk, I think we should all comply.”
Rev. Melvin Smith, pastor, Nazareth Temple, Church of God in Christ in St. Louis, who is a longtime practicing attorney, told callers, “The law of the land is that there are times at which our politicians and elected officials can intervene.
“We should follow the leadership of our elected officials.”
Smith also mentioned other ramifications, saying potentially, if someone worships and the church is in violation of the guidelines and they contract the COVID-19 virus, there could be some legal consequences filed against the church and the congregation, and for churches that have liability insurance, Smith said that liability coverage may not kick in if not complying with governing rules and orders during the pandemic. Additionally, he said, “You don’t want to be the church known as the COVID-19 church.”
For more information on guidance for community and faith-based organizations, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/index.html.