The COVID-19 pandemic has altered life across the world. From restaurant closures, flight cancellations and school closings, the freedom and interpersonal interactions often taken for granted have been seized away from society. In times like these, people seek guidance and hope from a higher power and develop a renewed faith in God. That creates a sense of urgency to gather together for comfort and support from their church families. However, with the stay-at-home order, self-isolations, and quarantine practices, large gatherings in churches have been put on hold. This leads to pastors and parishioners practicing alternative ways of praise and worship.
To stay connected as one body, many churches are live streaming worship services, conducting YouTube broadcasts, and going live on Facebook. Other church leaders are also hosting conference calls for counseling and prayer needs, video chats for ministry meetings or activities, and hosting virtual Bible studies. For the young believer, some churches have prepped online Bible activities that include videos and questions to teach them about the Word of God. For weekly life groups, zoom video chats and conference calls have been arranged to maintain interaction.
These alternate measures have fulfilled parishioners’ needs, but some pastors have chosen to keep their church doors open using other precautions during service. Some leaders preach their sermons with protective face gear while encouraging people to sit a row apart. If people are on the same row, they’re seated three to six feet apart. Instead of greeting each other with warm embraces, people are bowing to each other or smiling with a friendly nod of approval. When it’s time for offering many, have transitioned to online giving through various apps. Still, for those who haven’t, they’ve placed collection plates or boxes in the back of the sanctuary and strongly urge parishioners to give online.
Many of Chicago’s pastors have transitioned to virtual services for the safety and spiritual support of their members.
Father Michael Pfleger, the Senior Pastor of The Faith Community of Saint Sabina, has chosen to combine both. In a brief interview, he said the doors of Saint Sabina are open daily for prayer, their youth building is open to children for parents who have to report to work and don’t have places for their children to go and they are live streaming Sunday services. He continued by stating,
“Do I wish the church doors remained open? Yes, but we have to use our wisdom and faith. God has given us both faith and wisdom, and one does not negate the other. We are people of faith but we use wisdom. Do all of the wise things we would normally do (wash our hands, drink water, eat healthy), but at the same time, do not feed your fear. We have to decide. What am I going to give my energy to? Who am I going to feed? The voice of God whom we know or the voices on TV?”
He’s also encouraging believers to positively feed their faith by praying, reading scripture, listening to music, and reflecting on what you’re giving your energy to during this time. He went on further to offer words of encouragement:
“In every one of our lives, God has brought us through so much. If He takes us through that, He will take us through this…feed your faith…God has brought us through things before; God is more than able to carry us through this time.
The Reverend James T. Meeks, Pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, has also transitioned to conducting all services online. He shared that Salem’s services have live-streamed for the past ten years. They also have weekly televised Wednesday Bible Study, inspirational sermons online for the growing believer, services for those who are struggling with their faith, and other means of spiritual support for those in need, all online. He went on to say,
“There is too much that we know. People find their comfort level in what we can control. Sometimes God will dial up something that nobody has control of. And for those of us who have always trusted God to meet our needs every day will continue trusting God. For those who have never trusted in God will now find ways to trust in Him.”
He also stated that those who are “Faith-shaming” others for not attending physical services means that they are simply people who do not have faith. Pastor Meeks’ message of hope and encouragement for those who need uplifting is simple: “We are never in control. People of faith, we realize we are not in control…God is in control.”
Another of Chicago’s leaders of faith is keeping the safety of his members in mind amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, is continuing to live stream Bible Study on Wednesdays and host Facebook Live sessions with Pastor Moss who delivers uplifting messages on mental and spiritual health, prayer Calls on Thursday’s at noon and live stream Sunday worship services.
“What we are experiencing now is human encroachment on God’s’ creation. Hopefully, this pandemic will shift our focus to compassion. We are seeing an outpouring of deep compassion that is changing our hearts. We need more compassion and love for humans. We are now seeing how we are our brother’s keeper due to this pandemic.”
When asked about his perspective on “Faith-shamers,” he said,
“I still have deep faith when I put on my seatbelt. I still have deep faith when I go to the doctor. I still have deep faith when I check on my children when they’re playing. There’s something called responsibility, and we are called to be responsible people of faith. People who are “Faith-shaming” are not speaking from a place of love, compassion, and care. They are infecting people with another virus of hate, shame, and destructive activity.”
He continued saying that God is the Creator of all, so why would we operate outside of what He has already determined? Why would we put ourselves in a position to harm other people? In closing, Rev. Moss provided a timely reminder of how our ancestors have seen and survived moments such as these before. He further noted that they had to gather in hidden places, in secret, to worship Christ. There were no designated spaces for slaves to show reverence to God, but they managed to do so, and we don’t want to make the church building an idol.
This is a difficult moment in our modern history, and it’s vital to stay connected to each other, but it’s also essential to keep each other safe. Practicing different ways to worship is not a sin. If you’ve chosen to engage from the comfort of your own home to maintain a balance between your commitment to God and abide by laws, it doesn’t mean your dedication to your faith in Him is wavering, nor does it mean you love God less than the next person. If live-streaming services don’t work for you, then take some time to meditate on the Word of God on your own, read uplifting scriptures and play your favorite praise and worship music at home. You can also listen to sermons or create daily Bible reading plans to water your spirit with positivity and truth. No matter what you do, remember it’s up to you to continue your relationship with God no matter where you are and not just on Sundays. Praise and worship can happen anywhere because God is present everywhere.