SOME THOUGHTS ON THE POST-CORONAVIRUS WORLD AND CHURCH
To paraphrase Amos, “I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14), nevertheless I have a few thoughts concerning some changes that I foresee coming in the post-coronavirus world and in the church of our Lord as to how we all might be forced to “do business.” Once again, I will remind my readers that these are “HUGH’S News & Views,” that they are only my thoughts, and are not intended to represent the thinking of anyone else. No one has to agree with me. And since I am not omniscient or divinely inspired, I may very well be wrong about some or all of my observations.
In the everyday world of human interaction, there may well be a certain amount of social distancing that will continue to be observed. Large crowds in a single venue may still be unwise. Many people, especially the elderly and more vulnerable, may continue to wear masks when they go out in public. Seating arrangements in restaurants may be different from what we have been used to in the past. There may not be as much eating out as in the past, at least in the early stages of “rebooting.”
We sports fans may have to learn to get along without college and professional football, at least for a while. We may no longer have major league or minor league baseball, at least for a while. Basketball, hockey, soccer, and other sports may have to change. Musical concerts may not be possible for a while, though “Bonaroo” has now been rescheduled for September of this year, because by all means, “Bonaroo” must go on! (I speak with tongue in cheek in case you do not know). The honky-tonks and bars on “Lower Broadway” in Nashville (and in the rest of the country) and the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas may not operate at full capacity. All of these changes will have a great impact on our economy and on the finances of colleges and universities.
Grocery shopping, as well as shopping in general, may be different in the post-coronavirus world, again, at least, in the early stages of recovery. During the shelter in place mandate, Jan and I ordered our groceries online and then at a stipulated time I would go and pick them up in a dedicated area, with the attendants putting them directly into my vehicle without me touching them until I got home. Our local Kroger Marketplace has a special hour of grocery shopping for “senior citizens” early in the morning, and we have taken advantage of that a few times. Crowds are small and nearly everyone wears a mask. In the future, we may very well see times of shopping that are limited to “senior citizens.” Some of us may continue to use the shop online option. I now use the drive-through at our pharmacy to pick up our prescriptions.
Telemedicine and the way we see doctors and nurses may undergo some changes, at least for some illnesses. How dentists and eye doctors may have to alter their practices yet remains to be seen. Will barbershops and beauty salons return to business practices as before the pandemic or will they have to make adjustments? During the quarantine I have gone almost two months without a haircut (though Jan has given me a trim or two). Jan has gone almost two months without her weekly appointment at the beauty salon and she still looks beautiful to me! (The shop was to open this past weekend, but then it closed again before it ever got opened, which may be a sign of things to come).
As a result of the above travel may be lighter. Older people may stay home more. We may learn that we do not always have to be on the go somewhere. A modified version of the shelter in place practice may well continue to be observed by at least some of our senior citizens. Just because we are told that it is safe to “go back to life as it was” does not mean that all of us will “go back to life as it was.” Many of us may decide that we did not really need to do all of those things that we thought we had to do or the way we thought we had to do them.
Because of the nature of some businesses, the rolls of the unemployed may grow considerably longer. The effect of this on the overall economy of our country is yet to be seen. With government stimulus checks and assistance to small businesses (for which I was in favor), as well as other additional federal expenditures, our country is now running a tremendous budget deficit. Even before the current Covid-19 crisis hit, we were on track during the first five months of the fiscal year (which runs from October to September) to increase the deficit by $1 trillion! What will it be as a result of the crisis?
With reference to the church, I can foresee some weak members becoming weaker and more spasmodic in their attendance at the public gatherings of the church. They will reason, “I did not have to go to the church building to worship God during the pandemic, so I do not have to go to the building to worship now that the pandemic is over.” Local churches will face the possibility of losing the “family feeling” that once characterized the congregation. A certain amount of social distancing may still have to take place in the assembly. Handshakes and “holy hugs” may be a while making a comeback. Social fellowships (covered dish dinners) may be greatly altered if not completely curtailed. Very small congregations, especially rural ones, already on the brink of having to close their doors, may never make a comeback. That, of course, will be sad.
In the post-coronavirus world the church building may become less important and our Christianity may become less building centered. Some may even learn that the building is not the church! Elders and deacons may not spend an inordinate amount of time on the building, its upkeep, and its safety as some have done in the past. Elders may no longer have the “luxury” of saying, “We have a nice, comfortable building, a good preacher, good Bible classes and good teachers; come to the building and be spiritually fed.” Elders may take on more of a true shepherding role and have more direct contact (personally, by phone, by emails, by texts, etc.) with the members (see I Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28) and less of a “board of directors” mentality when it comes to “overseeing the flock.” A replication of some of the features of the first century “house churches” may occur, especially with reference to Bible study groups and social fellowships.
The finances of the local church could change. All Christians are to “lay by in store” on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:1-2). That command of God will not change, but if members become inconsistent in their giving or if they become unable to give because of the loss of their jobs there could be an impact on the amount of work a church may be able to plan to do locally, in missions, and in benevolence. Churches with huge auditoriums, many classrooms, and large gymnasiums (fellowship halls) may find these to be a “drain” on the church’s finances. Evangelism may change from being “building centered” to something more intimate and effective.
What changes will our Christian secondary schools, colleges and universities, and Schools of Preaching have to make? I suspect that Boards of Trustees and administrators are trying to get a handle on this question even as we speak. How will the work of the preacher change? During the pandemic many ministers did not keep regular office hours at the church building. Sermons were delivered, not to a live audience, but into a camera. Many preachers were dressed informally and sat behind a table or desk to deliver their message. How much of this will continue in the future?
No one has the ability to look perfectly into the future and to say what will or will not be and what changes will or will not take place. I may be wrong on every point I have touched on, and no one would be happier than I if at least on some them I am completely wrong. I have no sympathy for the prophets of “gloom and doom” or for conspiracy theorists. We may all be able to return fully to life as it was before. If we are, may we do so with a bit more humility on our part, a lot more trust in God and His word, and a greater love for all mankind, especially those of the household of faith, the blessed church of our Lord. Hopefully, during this time of quarantine all of us have learned to have more patience and to develop a more God-centered perspective on life as a whole.
In the meantime, let us drink deeply of such passages as Proverbs 3:5-7; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Jeremiah 10:23; Matthew 6:31-34; Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:35; Romans 8:31-39; Romans 12:1-21; I Corinthians 13:1-8a; Hebrews 1:10-12 (quoted from Psalm 102:25-27); Hebrews 12:25-29; I John 2:15-17; Jude 24-25. Read these passages, absorb their message, and resolve to spend more time in God’s Book. Come to know it as well as you know the players, coaches, and statistics of your favorite sports team or the names of the entertainers of the world!
May 5, 2020