Any other year churches would be filled for Easter services Sunday.
Women would come wearing statement hats, some too big to see around from the pew behind them. Little girls would don frilly dresses and boys crisp suits, looking like miniature deacons. It would be a day when even bedside Baptists would show up for their triannual dose of the gospel. (Christmas and New Year’s are other popular days). Then they’d gather for a food coma-inducing feast afterward.
But this year, I hope the pews are empty, the sanctuaries silent.
Around the country, too many pastors are defiantly dismissing the threat of COVID-19 and continuing services. Some are even encouraging their congregants to come, rather than trying to keep them safe. That is a disservice to their members and the health and safety of everybody in the country.
Stay home. It is simple and clear. There is no room for error in the spread of this highly infectious virus. Gatherings both large and small create a risk not worth taking. Yes, even church gatherings of 10 or fewer people, like the one that has created an uproar in Baltimore, are problematic. Nobody knows where those 10 people have been the rest of the week and who they may have been exposed to. This virus is a silent contagion whose spread is hard to predict.
As a dear friend of mine recently said: “Jesus rose from the dead, but you won’t.”
Or listen to the sage advice of singer John Legend, who begged people on Twitter to skip services Sunday: “Don’t let these pastors kill your auntie or grandparent.”
Already a Virginia pastor who criticized the pandemic as “mass hysteria” has died of the illness. Some Washington state choir members who decided to continue practicing also died from COVID-19.
A member of an Ohio church recently told a CNN reporter that she was “covered in Jesus’ blood.” Another said, “the blood of Jesus kills every disease.”
I am not here to question anyone’s religious belief, but I am not sure putting one’s self, and others for that matter, in harms way is the sacrifice Jesus would have asked people to make. Especially if no greater good comes from it.
Those of us who believe in a higher being probably need religion more than ever now. The stress of living through a pandemic is enough to put anyone on edge. And plenty of us are turning to the church for serenity without actually physically attending.
We must remember religion and spirituality are not confined to the walls of a building. As they say, God is everywhere.
We pray at home. We read the Bible at home. These days we can even attend services from home. Plenty of churches are doing the right thing by offering virtual services. I even read a story about an Alabama church that held services at a drive-in movie theater so people could watch from their cars.
I probably have attended church more regularly in the last several weeks than I have in years. You don’t even have to get out bed. Church in your pajamas. It’s not the same as being in a spirit-filled sanctuary on Sunday morning, not by a long shot. But we are not in normal times.
I know that for black churches in particular, Easter is a big revenue day akin to Black Friday for retailers. Those packed pews help pay the bills. So all of us churchgoers who have not lost jobs and aren’t struggling financially need to do our part and give even when the sanctuary doors are physically closed. You can make an offering from your pajamas too.
Last weekend, my father-in-law, 70-plus-years-old and dressed in a suit and bowtie, preached from the pulpit of his small church in South Carolina. No one else was in the room except my nephew, who shared the service on Facebook Live. He was reluctant at first, and it took some getting used to the technology, but now we can call him a 21st century pastor.
If he can change with the times to protect his family and the members of his congregation —so can every pastor, priest, rabbi and imam in this country. And they should.
Andrea K. McDaniels (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Baltimore Sun’s deputy editorial page editor.