The Rev. Dr. Maria Evans is serving as the Interim Rector at Christ Church in Rolla. She is also a pathologist, board certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, a laboratory medical director, and has served on hospital infection control committees for over 30 years.
During the coronavirus outbreak, The Rev. Dr. Maria is offering her expertise to help us understand and make our way through this unprecedented experience. If you have a question you'd like to ask The Rev. Dr. Maria, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This latest news that our churches will be closed until September 1 seems to be going in the opposite direction than everyone else. Restaurants and stores are opening...but churches in many denominations (not just ours) are closing again or remaining closed. Can you talk a little about the epidemiology behind that?
A big piece of what is keeping church leaders in many denominations (not just ours) extremely cautious is the demographics of most mainline churches in the United States, and it's a demographic we've all known about for years. About 1/4 of regular churchgoers in the mainline denominations are over age 65, and more than half are over age 50. That's quite a few folks in the higher risk group.
Even in the best of circumstances, multiple people attending gatherings in indoor spaces is a high risk activity, and we don't have firm data yet on how much ground we gain lessening that risk, even taking precautions. Several charts (like the one I've included below) put churches at one of the highest risk activities, for many of the reasons we've discussed in earlier columns. The fact is, the more people = more risk, and especially indoors. Couple that with the smaller the space, the more risk. Several of the churches in our diocese, frankly, don't have physically large naves, and even if we're fortunate enough to have a larger nave, we're still always looking at only being able to seat some fraction of our congregations. Even when it's safer to open, church isn't going to look like pre-pandemic church for a long time.
The unfortunate reality is this most recent spike in cases has dragged out the timeline. I can remember attending webinars in March, based on what we were seeing in China and Europe, that predicted we should start seeing some downturn in cases in July. Unfortunately, those models failed to consider that those countries were having much stricter lockdowns and precautionary measures compared to most states at the present time. One of the websites I closely follow is covidexitstrategy.org
. As of July 14, 19 states are listed on it as "uncontrolled spread." Missouri wasn't there yet, but we are heading in that direction, and when uncontrolled spread is out there, the relatively lower numbers in some counties are meaningless, as they could mushroom up in a matter of days, given what we know from contact tracing data about how fast this virus is spreading. People are being far more mobile than they were in April, and all it takes is one infected person being in the wrong place at the wrong time to have a dozen or cases traceable to that one person in 48 hours.
As Episcopalians, we actually have a leg up on being prepared for a time such as this, because we have our beloved Book of Common Prayer. In it are all sorts of ways to privately worship as individuals, families, and extended families, most of which don't require a priest or a large community. Our parish leadership is getting better at creating online avenues for worship, study, and fellowship. No, it's not "church the way we used to do it"--but remember, "Grace ain't groceries!" We don't have to physically walk into a church building to receive grace.
We also know that risks are significantly reduced outside. Grab that prayer book and head out to the back deck with a family member or a trusted friend who's being equally cautious, or videoconference with someone on your phone, and find new ways to privately worship. I know, it's hot out there, as Missouri summers tend to be, but early mornings and late evenings are still one of the most pleasant parts of a Missouri summer. Join your words of praise with the sounds of the birds and bugs and other assorted critters, and rest assured you are part of Creation's Chorus of Praise.
One of our most beloved prayers in our book of Common Prayer is the prayer of St. John Crysostom, and in this time, it becomes even more important to remember he was exiled from Constantanople twice. I'm willing to bet he felt just as lonesome as we feel on some days. Yet in his prayer are the words we need to hear:
"Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen."
Following Jesus has always been looking out for others. Not accidentally spreading viruses, and setting an example of kindness for others to see, are ways we can do more than talk the talk, and instead walk the walk. Let's keep praying together--safely--and supporting our parishes and those who lead them, as we continue to wind our way through COVIDtide.
The Rev. Dr. Maria Evans
who doubles as
Maria L. Evans, MD, FCAP, FASCP
This material is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. The Episcopal Church and its affiliates do not provide any healthcare services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional with any questions about your personal healthcare, including diet and exercise.