Morris: The faith community and COVID-19

By , Guest Columnist Updated: March 18, 2020 4:00 AM CT | Published: March 18, 2020 4:00 AM CT
G. Scott Morris
Guest Columnist

G. Scott Morris

The Rev. Dr. G. Scott Morris, M.D., is founder and chief executive officer of Church Health.

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

On Tuesday, March 17, faith leaders of some of our largest congregations came together to lead a webinar that about 250 clergy in Memphis listened to. It addressed the question, “What is the faith community’s response and commitment in the midst of the suffering rendered by COVID-19?”

The Catholic and Episcopal bishops, a Church of God in Christ bishop, the senior rabbi of Temple Israel, the imam of the Memphis Islamic Center, the senior pastors of Bellevue Baptist Church, Hope Church, Christ Missionary Baptist Church, The Life Church, Mississippi Boulevard Church and I came together in the belief that God expects us to remain faithful in the midst of an unseen threat and that together we must work side by side to care for the most vulnerable in our city.

<strong>G. Scott Morris</strong>

G. Scott Morris

We took to heart the recommendations of health authorities that gathering in person is unwise for the health of congregational members, and spiritual leaders recognize that caring for the flock means not gathering in person.

It is clear that this will not be easy. The financial struggles many churches will face are huge. Most churches are small and live week to week. Few have deep reserves, and not worshiping together will be a burden to the heart as well as to the wallet.

The group saw quickly that COVID-19 doesn’t respect one’s faith. But we also agreed there is power in the faith community, especially if we can find ways to work together. The commitment was that we will.

Larger churches will help smaller ones learn how to use digital methods to worship online and help members continue to connect through Bible study groups, giving, and checking in with each other. Technology is a tool many small congregations have never had to learn to use or have not had the expertise to implement.

We have also never had to learn what it means to create a congregation that does not depend on a building. We will now learn, and we already see how it makes us more connected and can actually be uplifting. Physical distance doesn’t have to impede spiritual closeness, and just because the building is closed, the faith community itself is not shuttered. I was encouraged by leaders expressing thoughts such as these.

Most important, these faith leaders committed to working together to mitigate the suffering of the most vulnerable whom the virus will impact. The elderly, those who are food insecure, the homeless, those who will be losing their jobs or facing reduced income. This is a long list, and we know that the impact will be inequitable.

Pastor Steve Gaines, from Bellevue Baptist, pointed out that Psalm 23 only talks about God in the third person until the speaker is in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. Then the speaker relies on God personally. That is the plan for all of us, across all faith traditions.

Beginning today, a Facebook page will be the home base for this unified effort. You can find the page on Facebook by searching for Memphis Clergy COVID-19 Response. We’ll form platforms for an array of tasks. Together we’ll do real work. Anyone can access the page and offer to work on a project.

We know that the future is challenging. We will not be meeting together face to face, but our belief in God convinces us that we will be held together through it all.

We understand the science of mitigation and flattening the curve. We will follow our scientists in the ways to limit the spread of the disease, but we will not sit back and wring our hands, crying “Woe is me.” In this time of the Christian season Lent we will let reflection, re-connection, and repentance carry us forward into a day of resurrection. We will stand together as Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

Pastor Gaines reminded us that God is not a Baptist, but that our God is the creator of this beautiful world and that we are all children of God made in God’s image. And we are given the joy of life.

We believe that this ordeal will make our community stronger than ever. We invite you to come with us on the journey.

Topics

Catholic Diocese of Memphis Temple Israel Memphis Islamic Center Bellevue Baptist Church Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church

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