I didn’t take this class in seminary

Published 11:23 am Wednesday, March 18, 2020

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By Charles Qualls

I must have missed this class in seminary. If they simply handled it as a unit, I was out the week when they lectured on “Pastoring Through a Pandemic.” COVID-19, otherwise known by its umbrella category as the coronavirus, has set off a shock of reactions globally.

Here, pastors and other decision-makers find ourselves looking in each direction as the attitudes run from one extreme to the other. Some insist that all of life should be shut down immediately. That panic, toilet paper and absolute quarantine for a few months are what should be prescribed. On the other hand, there are those who insist the whole thing is a media fabrication. They feel the coronavirus should be ignored.

As in so much of life, the healthy truth will of course rest somewhere in between. Bad theology has reared its ugly head already, as some insist that their belief in God will protect them. Let me go on record as saying that I believe in both Jesus and in germs. If Jesus taught us to love one another, then social distancing and cancelling a few weeks of activities is a loving act. Not a cowardly one.

So prudent behavior and a gang of hard decisions are what we’ll feast on for the next foreseeable. We’ll wash our hands so many times that our skin won’t know what hit it. Creative ways to greet have evolved the old-fashioned handshake into a veritable foot tapping, air-popping and hand-waving fiesta of “hellos” that symbolize this awkward time.

Since so many things have trade-offs, we’ll have to calculate the costs of that prudence. The obvious job is to keep each other healthy. But cancelling worship and study means a stoppage in spiritual nurture. Not having Wednesday dinners means an interruption in the fellowship. Missing rehearsals means that concerts and other special presentations will suffer. Though not popular to mention, missed gatherings also means missed financial contributions.

Will there be any silver linings to all this? If there are, we will have to work creatively to find them. Maybe we could try some new old-fashioned things again. For instance, what if you made a list of fellow church members, friends, neighbors or family and then phoned them all? What if younger folks checked in with older ones and asked if a grocery store run might be helpful? What if you made a list of people to email, or hand-write a note to, and told them you were thinking about them? What if you made out a list of folks and then, if you are the praying type, you lifted them toward the Almighty?

Everything I think of to say, do or check on during this odd little season of illness seems inadequate. If we’re honest, we’re all making this up as we go. Like school, government and other leaders, we pastors will be second-guessed not only with our decisions, but also in our communications. I definitely didn’t take this class in seminary. One thing I do believe I can count on is this: Every time we have suffered a crisis in our nation, or in our world, sources of hope emerge. Stories of unthinkable good and tales of brave, deep sacrifice rise to the surface. I’ll be listening for those to be told. I want to be one of those stories for someone, and I’ll try to do the right thing.

Actually, doing the right thing may mean that we roll with the inconveniences and practice some social distancing. Doing the right thing implies that even if you feel brave or healthy, that you stay in and don’t risk passing this virus on to those who are vulnerable. It may mean that you take care of someone, above and beyond. It may simply mean that if my city, county or state asks something inconvenient of me, that I grumble a little and then comply. Come to think of it, “Love your neighbor as yourself” might not be a bad road map through an unprecedented time.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.