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Love your neighbor and keep them safe and healthy

Religious organizations should be helping their neighbor and caring for their neighbor in times of crisis. While all religious organizations hold an important role, Christian churches in particular have significant responsibility due to the high percentage of Christians in the United States and Canada. Gathering for worship can be done in safe ways for those who are longing to meet. There have been many articles and stories recently in the news showing how many churches in the United States and Canada have defied city and county ordinances that have been in place for the safety of the people. One of their reasons has been that worship is essential–but isn’t saving lives essential?

In Omaha, multiple large churches are meeting at full capacity without masks and continue to spread false information about the COVID-19 virus from the pulpit.  Many mandates, such as social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and masking, are being ignored. According to the Centers for Disease Control, large crowds can create superspreader events. Singing is also labeled as another way to spread COVID-19. These churches fail to protect their membership by adhering to common misconceptions that some have spread in the media. Listening to advice about COVID-19 that does not come from medical professionals puts people’s lives in jeopardy. 

Countryside Community Church has done a great job of stepping up their online presence and providing services online. They have been monitoring infection rates and determining how to proceed. It is a good example of how a religious organization can respond to the pandemic safely. As the pandemic seems to be getting more and more controlled as the number vaccines are growing, infection rates are starting to drop. Many are looking at this data and are deciding when it’ll be safe to gather in person. 

Churches should be part of the solution and not the problem. They should be organizing to help individuals and families who have been impacted by the virus, not spreading false or misleading information. There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding COVID-19; some believe it’s a political hoax or that the statistics have been inflated. At least one church in Omaha went so far as to say that the virus would never reach the United States. Churches should be responsible for sharing the facts, not political hyperbole. Religious leaders should be taught to make sure that the information that they share with their congregations comes from reliable, unbiased sources. They should be careful not to feed into the conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19. Taking conspiracy theories as factual, reliable information is dangerous and misleading. Churches can unite to battle the coronavirus together. 

How can a church make a difference during a pandemic?

1. Offer virtual services
One way to help stop the impact of COVID-19 is to move to a virtual service. Services can be streamed on many different platforms to meet the needs of any size organization or religious institution. Health officials are the experts in these times. If we rely on science and pull together to eradicate this problem, then we can return to life as normal and meet together in our places of worship. Virtual services are a great idea and can be used in a variety of ways. Even smaller churches are using social media and video messages to meet the spiritual needs of their congregants. Post pandemic, many churches should not forgo the virtual option, but continue it alongside safely reopening. This is a great option because it will allow those who may not feel safe in larger crowds to continue to be involved in the life of the congregation. Some churches are realizing that they also can reach out more virtually then they can with person to person meetings.

2. Demand accountability
 Many experts have argued that if there had been effective leadership in place and less misinformation, things would have turned out differently. Religious leaders should be making it their job to inform their congregations and staff of accurate, up-to-date information. They should be using reliable sources and information. They should avoid one-sided media outlets. Seek out resources such as the Centers for Disease Control, and listen to your local hospitals and doctors. They have guidelines in place. Follow their examples!

3. Make resources accessible
Another way to help combat the spread of COVID-19 is by having resources available. Some religious organizations that are located in harder hit areas of cities are getting together with city officials and asking questions. How can we help? This is ministry: opening church doors and worship centers for COVID-19 testing and vaccines. Allowing these facilities to be used, especially in the areas where underserved populations live, is a way to get testing and vaccines to those most affected by this virus–people of color. Many churches that are in these vulnerable areas need access to the vaccines. Take it to these places where traveling can be an issue. Some churches can partner with city and county officials and try to erect a tent, so they can have vaccine clinics close to the areas of cities that have been impacted by the virus most.

4. Advocate
The final way to help in this pandemic is for religious leaders to use their platforms and influence to help people get vaccinated. Be informed. There are a lot of great resources available specific to faith-based services. Tri-Faith has information on their website that gives a lot of helpful information from the Omaha Interfaith Community. These suggestions and considerations are based on facts and are meant to keep everyone safe. 

Tri-Faith has held open dialogues and discussions virtually with healthcare professionals to help dismantle stigmas around the vaccines. As with the virus, misinformation and conspiracy theories are impacting the number of people who are likely to get the vaccine. Again, be informed. Have some faith in the vaccine, it is working.

5. Consult the data
Many churches are starting to make plans on how to gather again safely. Those who have been responsible for keeping their congregations safe are not taking this lightly. There are a lot of resources available for congregational leaders and ministers how a church can resume meeting face to face safely.

As the pandemic is being handled and the United States are starting to get a hold on the situations. The numbers are showing that the vaccines are working, because the amount of infections are going down. So if you do the math the more people that are vaccinated the less the number will rise. Church leaders would do well to keep this information available. They can play events and services around the data. Knowing this information can help keep your congregation safe and healthy.

In hindsight, no one really knows how things would have been, but many experts say that if a stricter lockdown had been in place sooner, things would have turned out differently. Maybe the situation would not have spiraled out of control. Even more lives would have been saved. Worship services could have resumed meeting again. Unfortunately, the misconceptions, conspiracy theories, and fear mongering from different sides of the spectrum made the situation more complex than it should have been. So instead of coming together, which all faiths and churches should have done, we gave in to fear and false information. A year later, we are still fighting a pandemic. Some churches remain closed, yet there are a few that are starting to reopen. Christian churches have a duty to make the truth known and protect their members. 

We can all work together to worship in a safe and healthy way. Let’s worship responsibly!

Craig DeLoach is an intern at Tri-Faith and a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Craig lives in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where he is also a full time employee in the Pulmonary Department at Mayo Clinic.

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