The Coronavirus, the Elderly, and the Church

Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.
Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.

Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., Director, ENCORE Ministry

How can churches get ahead of this public health crisis in light of increasing reluctance of people to gather in groups of any size?

This question was posed by my friend, Dr. Richard Bergstrom, in his recent newsletter article “I’m thinking about giving up church for Lent”. Bergstrom is president of ChurchHealth, a non-profit organization focused on renewal, coaching, and church consulting (www.Re-Ignite.net)

With increasing numbers of cases of coronavirus and the vulnerability of many, especially among the elderly and young children, it behooves church leaders to rethink how we worship and gather together and to begin cultivating community in creative ways.

In Bergstrom’s newsletter he makes the following suggestions:

  • Encourage people to stay home if they or a family member is sick with symptoms resembling the flu or coronavirus.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect your church facility regularly — including pews, hymnals, Bibles, etc.
  • Provide hand sanitizing stations around the church.
  • Discontinue traditional practices around Communion that involve people passing a Communion server or sharing the same cup during the Lord’s Supper. Find alternatives or forego Communion altogether until the crisis is past.
  • Offer options for online giving or place offering baskets in the back of the church rather than passing the plate from pew to pew.
  • Allow staff to work remotely when possible. With computers and internet connectivity certain types of work can be accomplished almost anywhere.
  • Consider alternatives for face-to-face meetings and appointments. Zoom technology allows for meetings to be held online. Skype or FaceTime can be a good alternative for appointments or even personal counseling or coaching.
  • Thoroughly disinfect nursery and children’s areas. Provide alternatives for children’s ministry other than live weekend services.
  • Don’t wait for the latest technology to offer streaming services. Facebook Live allows even those with modest resources to broadcast services. One church announced on its website is was broadcasting services on Facebook Live starting March 1.

To these suggestions by Bergstrom, I would add at least two others:

  • Refrain from Passing of the Peace during worship.
  • Refrain from shaking hands before, during, and after worship service and other times people come together in the church and greet one another.

What other steps can your church take to help members stay healthy during the coronavirus crisis? What are ways you and your congregation are being creative in providing for the health and well-being of your members and community?

Recognizing the vulnerability of young children and elderly during this crisis, church leaders can take the lead in providing for the well-being of church members in helping them stay healthy. Don’t procrastinate. Talk with your members. Be proactive and come up with solutions that work best for your faith community.

Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.
Director, ENCORE Ministry
Tennessee Conference – UMC
Email: Richard.gentzler@tnumc.org
Web: www.encoretnumc.org