On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization officially categorized the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) as a global pandemic. COVID-19 has resulted in events being postponed, schools moving online, people being quarantined, and churches left trying to navigate the continuing shift.
Mark and Summer Morlang, pastors at Sanctuary Christian Reformed Church in Seattle, halted their services as of March 8. Their worship venue and strong recommendation from their county’s department of health influenced the decision. “We meet in a theater that we rent, which is one of our unique factors. A lot of advice we had seen was how to prepare your space, but that’s not something in our control,” Mark said in a March 12 interview with The Banner.
“We didn’t want to be people responding to fear, but the more we talked about it the more we were able to say, ‘This is how we love our neighbors right now.’”
Recognizing that though congregation members have to remain far apart, Mark said they are exploring other ways to be the church. Summer continued, “I think this is a good opportunity to equip folks to embody the gospel that could have a long-term positive impact.”
(Washington) DC CRC has made the decision to move worship services online until the end of March. Many congregations are doing likewise. In an interview with The Banner on March 13, lead pastor Meg Jenista said this option communicated care to more vulnerable people. “What you may accidentally communicate if you continue worshiping, but tell people who are older or vulnerable to stay home, is marginalization toward people who already feel marginalized in society.”
As DC CRC anticipates people being self-quarantined, they recognize that the physical crisis could easily become a mental and spiritual crisis. They plan on providing opportunities for people to connect throughout the week through video software.
Sang Hyun An, pastor of Hana Seed Church, a Korean congregation in Palo Alto, Calif., also faced the issue of having a public venue. “Our place of worship is a community center and is used by various gatherings. So we have already canceled offline worship and switched to online this week,” he told Charles Kim, diversity leader at Resonate Global Mission, who provided English translation to The Banner March 13. “Everyone is worried and anxious. However, in the midst of this, I shared the feeling that those who are marginalized will face greater financial hardships. Through a special donation, we donated to Korea’s free food service ministry and the World Vision Corona Virus Emergency Relief Team.”
Trevor Vanderveen, pastor of First CRC in Vancouver, B.C., spoke with The Banner on March 13. “As a multiethnic church, we have friends and family from all around the world … it’s hitting home even if it hasn’t hit Vancouver in the same way,” he said.
First CRC moved to online worship, starting Sunday, March 15. Vanderveen said they made the decision after hearing recommended guidelines in a conference call for faith leaders hosted by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
While that first decision was made, they are still asking questions. “We want to navigate between paranoia and apathy. How do we do that well as a worshiping and trusting community? We need to reimagine what this all looks like.”