Coronavirus: Advice for Churches
How should churches respond to the Government advice during the coronavirus pandemic?
The Prime Minister has taken unprecedented steps to help halt the spread of coronavirus by insisting that people stay at home. Except for daily exercise and picking up necessities, Britain is being told to stay in. But what does that mean for your ministry?
It’s vital to remind ourselves that we cannot continue with “business as usual” during this period. This is not normal life, and everything about our work and ministry will look different. A number of questions have come into the FIEC office about church ministry during coronavirus in light of the latest Government advice.
While it is ultimately up to independent churches to interpret the guidelines for themselves, here are some practical points to help advise you.
Published Thursday 2 April by Phil Topham.
The Lord's Supper
As nobody knows when churches will be able to meet in person once again, we have been asked the question about what advice we would give on sharing the Lord's Supper during this period?
There is no simple answer to this question and it is ultimately a decision for each Independent church to take. The reality is there will be a whole host of different views across the Fellowship and amongst the members of the FIEC Pastors' Network. That means each church has to consider this for themselves before making a decision on it.
Lots of helpful blogs and resources have been written in this area but here are two views from The Gospel Coalition to help your thinking:
Published Wednesday 25 March. By Phil Topham and Johnny Prime.
Weddings and Baptisms
Places of worship are to be closed until further notice in line with Government advice. That means all weddings and baptisms are postponed. Gatherings of three or more people cannot take place so - for the moment - you cannot host these ceremonies.
This advice will be revisited around Easter weekend, so it might be that this restriction is relaxed. For now, though, the guidance is clear. Weddings and baptisms cannot take place for at least the next three weeks.
Funerals can continue. It is likely that for the coming months they will be very small affairs, perhaps with only funeral directors and a minister in attendance. The government advice allows for close family members to attend, but even then great care will need to be taken and social distancing followed.
Funerals are for the benefit of the living, not the dead. Bereaved relatives of believers who have died need to be reassured that their loved one is with the Lord and that a funeral has no bearing upon their eternal state.
One possibility is offering some kind of live stream of a service. It is understood that this is available at some crematoriums. You could also suggest a live streamed thanksgiving service to help family and friends to have some kind of closure. If a bereaved family wish, a later thanksgiving service could be planned once things are back to normal.
Nothing we do at the moment is likely to be as it has been; we simply need to use the means we have available to serve those who have lost loved ones as best we can.
In this unique and constantly changing situation, churches and their leaders will face questions and situations they have not faced before. No situation will be identical and in each circumstance leaders will need to seek wisdom from heaven as they seek to care for the flock. Let’s pray for each other in this.
One question that arises is about church members who succumb to the virus and are seriously ill as a result. Should pastors visit such members at a time when they may be very lonely and afraid?
We appreciate that a pastor’s instinct will be to visit and serve those who are infected. However, it is wise and right for us to follow Government advice about physical social distancing. The reality is that we can phone such folk each day and share with them from the Scriptures; assure them of the presence of the Lord Jesus and pray with them.
If they are very seriously ill, they will be in hospital where they will be quarantined from all but medical staff. If we persist in visiting folk who are ill, we ourselves would then have to self-isolate for 14 days and that would restrict our usefulness to the flock as a whole.
More generally, perhaps the current restrictions are an opportunity to develop a ministry of telephoning, texting and WhatsApp-ing God’s people.
Church When You Can’t Meet
The Government have clarified that a pastor can go a place of worship to record or broadcast a service over the internet.
Some pastors have reported to us that non-Christians and guests joined their live streams. This is a timely reminder that we are presented with a great opportunity for the gospel - people are “attending” church who never had done before. It is worth remembering that you’re not just speaking to your usual church family during a live stream, so plan accordingly.
Make Ministry Sustainable
There was a novelty factor to the first week of virtual church. But for many pastors, it was a hugely busy time as they tried to set up remote-church for their congregation.
We would urge you to ensure that your ministry is sustainable during this crisis. Don’t take on more than you can comfortably deliver. Make sure that everything you set up can be sustained for at least the next 12 weeks - possibly even longer.
You are likely to be drained as demands on your time shift and you cannot continue the regular rhythms you are used to. Take time to rest and ensure you are looking after yourself.
Published Friday 20 March. By Phil Topham.
'Religious Staff' as Key Workers
On Friday 20 March, the Government published its list of “key workers” who will be able to keep their children in school during the pandemic. It includes “religious staff” which has prompted a question to us in the FIEC office. Are pastors and gospel workers included in this group? Does this mean that pastors and gospel workers have the freedom to move around like NHS staff, teachers and supermarket workers? And are they therefore entitled to keep their children in school?
While it is up to you to interpret the guidelines for yourself, we would suggest in this scenario that loving your neighbour means not considering yourself in this category.
To insist on it would mean that as a key worker you could (for example) continue to send your children to school. We think that as communities practice social distancing, pastors and gospel workers should be caring for their children at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, we would advise against pastoral visits in line with the Government advice, but instead encouraging a ministry of phone calls, WhatsApp and Facetime. This should mean that pastors and gospel workers are therefore at home and able to provide childcare.
Published Tuesday 17 March. By John Stevens.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, churches have been asking for advice on what they should be doing about services, gatherings and events.
While it is up to each independent church to interpret Government advice for themselves, we believe protecting the most vulnerable means everyone should be avoiding gatherings of people.
So, in light of the statement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a clarifying statement by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday 16 March, our advice is that churches should not meet for the foreseeable future. A number of FIEC churches have already taken this decision.
In practice, we would advise cancelling services and activities for an initial period of four weeks, and then reassess this on a rolling monthly basis as the situation unfolds and Government advice is updated.
Of course, this will make ministry very different for the coming weeks. In the days ahead we will be publishing further advice on what pastoral ministry looks like during the pandemic – beginning with advice on livestreaming Sunday services.
For now, we want to reiterate that we would advise churches not to meet together – in any setting – and follow Government advice accordingly.
In all this, we need to keep praying, remembering God is sovereign and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will continue to pastor his people, by his word, through his Spirit.