By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
As I have traveled more in recent months, I have visited with pastors and church leaders across the state. One thing I have sensed is some discouragement that while things have opened up in Tennessee and our nation, attendance at our churches, for the most part, has not risen to pre-COVID-19 levels.
These ministers listen to concerns about the continued presence of COVID-19 and the new strain that continues to infect people. They understand that some members are genuinely concerned for their health. And, they should be.
COVID-19 is still rampant in our state and across the nation. I actually know more people who have had COVID or have died from COVID this year than I did all of last year. COVID-19 is real and it should be taken seriously.
But I understand why many of our pastors are confused. They hear from their congregants that they are afraid to be “in crowds” yet some of those same people can be seen at the local department store, their favorite restaurant and now, with football season well underway, in a jam-packed stadium with thousands of other people. So much for fear of catching COVID.
Let me be clear. I am glad people are moving on with their lives. We saw what happened last year when we were forced to stay home and could not have contact with people. It was a miserable time for most of us who like to get out and do things.
But at the same time, we need to be cautious. COVID-19 is not a figment of someone’s imagination or a government conspiracy. It is a real disease with deadly consequences. People are dying from COVID every day.
Yet, I have not gone into hibernation. I go to church. I also go to stores and restaurants. I don’t go to large sporting events, not because I’m afraid, but because I enjoy the convenience of watching my favorite team from my recliner with a large glass of tea and my favorite snacks by my side. And, I don’t have to stand in line at the restroom.
I am not a mask advocate and I don’t think masks should be mandated by the government, but I do carry a mask with me and if I am in a situation where I am around a lot of people in close quarters, I will wear my mask. I did that just this past weekend. I attended a cousin’s wedding in South Carolina that was in a smaller venue with a lot of people. Rather than not attend, I took my mask to wear if needed.
We can’t let COVID dictate what we do or don’t do. At the same time, we need to use common sense. I believe that is what God expects of us. I hear people say they trust God to protect them from the virus. I trust God too, but I am not going to knowingly allow myself to be in contact with people who have the disease. My friend and co-worker Chris Turner likened it to Pentecostals and others who believe in handling snakes. They may have faith that God will protect them, but the snake doesn’t know it. The virus attacks believers and non-believers alike.
Whether you wear a mask or not, be considerate of others and whatever you do, don’t ridicule someone for either wearing the mask or not wearing the mask. It is a matter of choice and we should be respectful of another person’s decision.
I have made the choice that until I know more about the coronavirus, I am going to live my life while exercising some common sense and taking precautions as I can. Will it keep me immune from the virus? No, probably not. I know a couple who are friends of mine who took every precaution possible and still contracted the disease. It happens. Fortunately, they both have recovered.
The bottom line is we have to live our lives, and as Christians we should want to be in church, fellowshiping and worshiping with like-minded believers. When all is said and done, I am willing to predict that our church buildings will be cleaner and safer than your local store or stadium.
So, if you’re going to stay home from church but don’t hesitate going out to other places, just admit you didn’t want to go. Don’t blame it on a virus. B&R