Addressing Coronavirus at PHPC
Addressing the Coronavirus Outbreak at PHPC March 12, 2020
Dear friends, I hope this finds you well. With the rising concern over the coronavirus, we thought it would be important to reach out to you with communication from your church, both with information and encouragement. This is intended to be a pastoral letter on how we, as Christians, should respond to the Coronavirus epidemic. We will send out a specific plan on how we will address it on Sunday morning with regard to worship (and all our activities, including communion) followed by a more specific message addressing the safety of the nursery. So please be on the lookout for those messages.
Currently, it is hard to avoid news and information about the Coronavirus (Covid-19), a new flu-like strain of disease that first came to prominence in China but has since spread all over the world. As it’s just starting to arrive in force in our area (9 cases in Virginia as of Wednesday morning), we need to begin preparing for it. Because we can face it in an ungodly manner or in a way that honors our Lord. Now, nine cases of a disease in Virginia may not sound like many, but the combination of a lack of a vaccine, rumors of mass contagious possibilities, and concerns about the fatality rate of Coronavirus have caused what can only be described as a panic in many parts of the country (and the world). Stores are reporting panic-buying of sanitizer, water, and toilet paper, presumably by people driven by fear to obtain them.
How should we, as Christians, respond to the issues raised by Coronavirus and the reaction of people around us to the disease? How does our faith in Christ equip us to deal with the problems of disease and death in this world? How can we protect our loved ones? How can we show the love of Christ to those who are afraid and anxious? I think we need to keep in mind a few fundamental principles:
- Christians Should Not Panic
We should not be driven by fear. This is a general principle that should govern the Christian’s entire life, not just the current circumstances. The Bible tells us that “God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). This is not because we ignore fear or because we have the willpower to avoid fear, but it is because our Savior has given us peace, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
This should especially be true in times of panic and trouble caused by disease. Throughout history, Christians have responded to deadly outbreaks of disease with calm, compassion, and assistance for others. In the third century, a plague struck the Roman Empire, and a terrified populace shunned human contact and gave the ill over to death rather than risk contact. The notable exception to this reality was the Christian population in the Empire. Christians responded by reaching out and caring for the sick. The historian Eusebius described it: “All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”
During the Great Plague of London, it was ministers of the gospel like Thomas Vincent, who stayed behind and tended not only to their own flock but to the populace in general. We have even seen this in our day when the virulent and deadly outbreak of Ebola happened in 2014 and Christians served and helped victims. Among those who were involved in that ministry was the missionary Dr. Rick Sacra (a childhood friend of Joanne’s). He came down with the disease but eventually recovered and went back to serving the poor of West Africa.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued warnings about Coronavirus but has also urged people not to panic. For example, they have counseled against everyone wearing masks (just those who are showing symptoms or are involved in medical care or food preparation), and instead, for most of us, they have advised more practical measures such as hand washing, covering your cough with your elbow, and avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. You can find the Coronavirus summary from the CDC here. However, not panicking does not mean … not getting ready. In fact …
- Christians Should be Prepared
But if we are not to panic, we also should not go to the opposite extreme. We should not act as if Coronavirus is of no concern or be callous in the face of those who are afraid. Because the Sixth Commandment requires of us “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others,” we should be prepared to prevent the spread of disease. In many ways, this preparation would be useful even apart from the appearance of Coronavirus. The flu, for example, can be a dangerous illness, especially for the very young, very old, or those already in poor health. So we should take reasonable and practical efforts to prevent contamination and infection at this time.
What does that look like? First and foremost, we should follow the World Health Organization’s (WHO) and the CDC’s advice to wash our hands. Handwashing is a healthy habit at any time, but especially now. When you are at church or in a public restroom, or even at home, make sure that you (and your children!) wash your hands thoroughly. That means using soap and washing for at least 20 seconds (the CDC recommends you sing “Happy Birthday to yourself twice). Here is a video showing how to handwash. Avoid sneezing or coughing without covering your mouth and nose. When you cover, do so with a tissue (it would be good preparation to have some in your pocket) or the crook of your elbow.
Although church is usually a time for handshakes and hugs, during the current situation, I would advise you to avoid such. A wave or elbow bump can be just as friendly. For the immediate time, for example, I will not be shaking hands with all of you before or after church. I have in mind not only my own health but the health of the 20th or 30th person to shake my hand! We will have hand sanitizer available in the lobby for your use. There will probably be other precautions we have take in the coming days, and I’m ask for your patience and understanding in advance. Together we can show ourselves hospitable and thoughtful not only to each other but to all our guests.
- Christians Should Have Perspective
The uncertainty of this outbreak is creating anxiety in our workplaces, schools, and day-to-day activities. Yet we remain certain of God’s steadfast presence and careful attention to all that is happening. Please join us in praying for those who are affected by this illness, as well as their caregivers and those who are working around the clock to minimize the impact of this virus.
We should not panic, and yet be prepared, because as followers of Jesus, we should have the proper perspective. Life is precious and it is a gift from God. We should do all we can to preserve it and to be a blessing to others. At the same time, we should not be afraid, either of disease or even death. We know that this world is not the end and that Jesus has promised never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It may seem unusual, but this current difficulty is an opportunity for Christians to show that their trust in Jesus is real. So real that it takes away fear when others around them are afraid. So real that they can serve others around them. I am praying that we, as God’s people, can be a blessing to others and show them the hope of Jesus.
Elder Frank Pugh led our Session devotional Tuesday night from Psalm 46, where we are reminded that it is God who is our refuge and strength, and our ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, let us not fear, but with confidence use this opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus through our prayers and our care for others. We serve a risen and reigning Savior who is completely in control, and that should be evident in the way we respond to a cultural crisis. It was our Christian brothers and sisters in China who led the way during the initial outbreak of this virus. They testified to their sure hope by loving, serving, and not despairing. Confidence in the face of panic has always been a mark of God's people, and let it be true of us.
Finally, our response as followers of Jesus should not be one of panic, but one of prayer. We need to be prepared, but we also need to have a Biblical perspective. So, let’s strive to respond to the Coronavirus in a way that honors Christ and cares for the souls of ourselves, each other, and our neighbors. May the Lord give you the calm assurance that comes from knowing He loves you and cares for you. And remember … It’s all of grace from beginning to end. And that’s Good News!
Dr. David V. Silvernail, Jr., Senior Pastor
Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church
I liberally borrowed from similar letters sent by Rev. Fred Greco, Christ Church PCA, Katy, TX; Rev. Robert Cunningham, Tates Creek PCA, Lexington, KY; and Northshore Community Church, Kirkland, WA.