By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
It’s hard to believe, but one year ago, the world was introduced to COVID-19, a deadly virus that has taken to date more than 500,000 lives in the United States and nearly 11,500 lives in Tennessee.
Within a matter of weeks, churches had to cancel in-person gatherings. While some were equipped to livestream services, many were not. The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board went to an “all in” mode to provide churches with resources and help. Before long, even the smallest of churches were able to broadcast in some manner, either through Facebook Live or other alternatives.
When it came to COVID, everyone was in the same boat. There have been other pandemics, but this one effectively brought the world to a halt. There was no “normal” or business as usual. People, businesses, churches and governments had to adjust “on the fly.”
In his Clarity column on March 18, 2020, just a week after TBMB took the unprecedented action of canceling two of its most strategic and best attended events — the Youth Evangelism Conference and the WMU Get-Together in Gatlinburg — TBMB president and executive director Randy C. Davis challenged Tennessee Baptists to “keep calm and carry the gospel.”
Davis wrote: “Tennesseans, like everyone else, find themselves adrift in the global sea of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that has washed across the world like a biological tsunami. …. One easily becomes disoriented physically, emotionally, spiritually. People are bordering on panic (many are already there). Desperation looms.
“Some mockingly scoff at the situation’s severity, but others look to the horizon and see dread tumbling in their direction. Many are without hope. Take heart. It may feel like crucifixion Friday, but resurrection Sunday is coming. Yes, we find ourselves in a serious situation, but we are not without hope.”
Those words from Dr. Davis were timely and relevant in 2020 and they are more so today.
COVID is not going away. People are still catching the virus. I know of several pastors who have been in the hospital with the disease in the past few weeks. But, there is hope. Numbers are declining somewhat, and more and more people will be able to get the vaccinations in the weeks and months ahead. Some people, however, will not take the vaccine. They see no need for it, just like a lot of people saw no need for masks and other precautions.
No one is more ready for COVID to be behind us once and for all. I hope I never see a mask again at some point. But, unfortunately, we are not there yet. Precautions still need to be taken. I wear a mask in stores and when I am around large crowds. I hate it but I do it for my safety and the safety of others.
As the year progresses I expect we will see more and more churches open up and begin doing more live person events. I hope that is the case. We need fellowship and interaction with each other, But, if COVID spikes again, we have proven that we can continue to minister effectively.
One lasting benefit of COVID is that churches were forced to rid themselves of that Baptist mantra — “We’ve never done it that way before.”
Hopefully, that mantra will go the way of the dinosaur. Change is not always bad. In fact, it is needed at times and can be beneficial. I have talked to leaders in churches that never had livestreamed a service before. They have discovered they have reached people they would never have reached had they not been forced to adapt.
What’s more, COVID provided opportunities to share good news and hope of Jesus Christ with non-believers. We have heard story after story of people coming to Christ as a result of ministry during a worldwide pandemic. People were afraid when the pandemic started and many people are still afraid, but Christians can point them to the hope that can be found only in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Davis concluded his column last March with these words:
“While we may be facing some significant challenges, please understand these days also offer significant opportunities. As with 9/11, people are deeply unsettled and more aware of their spiritual uncertainty when there is a “catastrophic” event. This is not only a great opportunity for us to be the hands and feet of Christ in a very practical way serving our communities, it is a prime opportunity to press into the world with the hope of the gospel and be Great Commission disciples of Jesus.”
Those words are as applicable today as they were on March 18, 2020. COVID-19 or not, we still have a job to do and that is to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Let’s do it. B&R