Hospital Restrictions Bar Chaplains from Ministering Bedside

At a time when patients and staff are desperate for hope, many spiritual leaders must offer their solace from a distance.

As medical facilities restrict visitors and ration protective gear amid the coronavirus pandemic, more hospital chaplains have been forced to do their job at a distance, while ministering to an onslaught of weary patients, families, and health care staff.

“Due to supply shortages of masks, this means that isolation rooms may involve phone calls, notes, letters, a wave through the door rather than (a chaplain being) inside the room,” said Heidi Greider, manager of spiritual care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Though individual institutions ultimately determine their own policies, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention play a factor. CDC guidance issued in February urged facilities to limit visitors, and as the outbreak has worsened, hospitals with COVID-19 patients have continued to tighten restrictions, including on chaplains.

Tim Kinnersley, lead chaplain at Northside Hospital Cherokee in Canton, Georgia, just got word this week that his hospital put a hold on all in-person chaplain visits to reduce the number of potential carriers coming in and out of the facility.

His case is not an anomaly. Another chaplain recalled how over two weeks her hospital went from allowing any guests to only permitting visits in end-of-life situations. In some cases, even medical staff are limited to one or two per room when the patient is known to be infected.

As the pandemic spread, CT heard reports of chaplains losing access to facilities—hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and prisons—across the country, including in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Kansas.

COVID-19 represents an unprecedented burden on the health care system and patients themselves, often isolated from …

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To Cancel or Not to Cancel: That Is the Question

A statement from the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today.

A Critical Question

To cancel or not to cancel? That is the Shakespearean question confronting churches today. It is not a question of mere expediency. The gathered worship service is central to the church’s identity, and therefore, cancellation seems to trample on more than tradition. It can feel like a threat to the church’s existence.

Government officials, medical experts, and civic leaders have all asked citizens to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by practicing physical distancing. According to leading experts, churches are one of the top places of community spread. Why? Christians shake hands, embrace one another, and kiss cheeks. Some are liturgically directed to drink from a common cup; others pass the peace with a warm touch. Our bodies do naturally what our souls do supernaturally. We connect. And we do so intergenerationally.

What are churches to do?

Our mandate as Christians to obey governing authorities (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17) is a good reason for churches to cancel worship services. But there are other Biblical principles that help us embrace this difficult decision.

Canceling in-person worship services is not the same as canceling worship. Christians should never stop worshiping, because God is worthy of all our praise. Those in the persecuted church have long worshiped God without buildings, because they know that church is not primarily a place but a people. And technology now gives us unprecedented options. This does not mean, of course, that place is unimportant. God himself authorized the building of a temple that would serve as a place where his name would dwell. Even with that decree, however, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon humbly acknowledged that God cannot …

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The Motherly Love of a Wrathful God

Our perceptions of an angry, Old Testament deity are distorted.

I did not always feel a certain loathing for this phrase. The church tradition in which I grew up emerged from the frontier revivals. One of the marks of good revival preachers lay in their skill of placing sinners in the hands of an angry God, often “the God of the Old Testament,” and then transferring them into the gracious and loving hands of “the God of the New Testament” revealed in Christ Jesus. This strong contrast was basic to my understanding of God throughout my youth.

Only in college and in pursuing work on a master’s degree in the Old Testament did I come to see that this contrast was a false construction at more than one level. In his posthumous collection Letters from the Earth, the theological provocateur Mark Twain hit the nail on the head when he observed that the God of the New Testament, who apparently invented hell, must be “a thousand billion times crueler than he ever was in the Old Testament.” Or how about G.K. Chesterton’s observation in The Everlasting Man that it’s difficult to mesh Jesus’ love and pity for Jerusalem with his dropping Bethsaida lower in the pit than Sodom?

But it was not just that Jesus was much harsher than the Sunday school flannelgraphs let on. On the other side, “the God of the Old Testament” proved more loving, gracious, forgiving, and compassionate than I had heard from the teachers and preachers of my youth.

God of Motherly Compassion

If we do not read the Old Testament, we miss a lot of good stuff, and not only the drinking, sex, and violence. We miss important theological material, words reflecting on the person and character of “the God of the Old Testament.” Our God.

One of the most important …

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Churches Reconsider Drive-In Worship

Faced with COVID-19 quarantines and new rules for social distancing, some pastors are serious about reviving the 1950s fad.

Drive-in church seemed like a joke. And then, in a moment, it didn’t anymore.

The idea was a novelty in the 1950s, promoted as the church of the future. But it’s time didn’t come, and never came, and then it was gone, and the whole thing seemed silly. There were still a few drive-in churches around, of course, but they were curiosities, fading roadside attractions, dingy and decaying outside of town, monuments to bygone Americana.

Nik Baumgart, the pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation in a suburb of Seattle, certainly never dreamed of having a drive-in church. He had thought of a lot of ways to reach people, grow his church, and meet the spiritual needs of his congregation, and honestly the idea of a drive-in church never came up.

But then the staff of The Grove Church in Marysville, Washington was having a meeting to try and figure out what to do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, the church would have about 1,200 people gather in the sanctuary on a Sunday, but health officials were discouraging any groups over 50. There was talk of “social distancing,” requiring healthy but possibly infectious people to stay at least six feet away from each other, reducing human contact to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But how do you have church with people more than six feet away from each other? A lot of groups were moving everything online. Was that what they should do?

Jon Rich, the administrative pastor, thought of something funny. “Maybe we should look into drive-in church,” he said, and the staff all laughed.

There was a beat. Then Baumgart said the sentence again: “Maybe we should look into drive-in church,” he said. It wasn’t funny this time. It was …

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Christians Urge Congress to Incentivize Charitable Giving

As coronavirus spreads, churches, charities, and other non-profits face declining donations and rising demand for help.

As churches and faith-based nonprofits brace for a painful drop in contributions, Christians are lobbying for Congress to incentivize charitable giving in its response to the spread of COVID-19.

Lawmakers spent Saturday negotiating the $1 trillion-plus relief package. The current Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, proposes offering stimulus checks, relief for small businesses, and some changes to charitable giving. The bill would allow taxpayers to claim a charitable deduction for up to $300 without itemizing.

But some from the faith community are speaking up to say that’s not enough to keep churches and other non-profits afloat as demand for social services spikes.

“This level of stimulus does not scratch the surface for what charities, nonprofits, and houses of worship need during this time of crisis,” wrote the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is calling for a two-year universal deduction for charitable giving, with no cap.

The Center for Public Justice (CPJ) in Washington made a similar recommendation, saying the universal deduction should be effective immediately. (Many charities had been pushing for a change in the charitable deduction since before the coronavirus outbreak; because of tax reform enacted in 2018, fewer Americans get to claim their charitable contributions, thereby reducing giving.)

CPJ’s Rachel Anderson and Stanley Carlson-Thies also argued that since faith-based organizations are involved in caring for those put at risk by the pandemic, they should not be exempt from unemployment insurance or reimbursement for mandated leave.

“Religious communities have sprung into action, sustaining …

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The Case for Sheltering in Place Without Screens

Our lives have gotten smaller. We can also make them simpler.

The novel A Gentleman in Moscow tells of Count Alexander Rostov. As communists tighten control of Russia in 1922, Rostov’s aristocratic blood virtually guarantees he’ll be executed. But during his trial, the Court recalls a poem Rostov wrote years before on behalf of the working class. Rostov’s life is spared, but he is sentenced to spend the rest of his days confined to Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. If ever seen beyond its walls, he’ll be shot on site.

And so Rostov embarks on a lifetime of limitation. The man who previously ventured across continents now cannot walk to the corner market. Accustomed to soaring ceilings, he now resides in a cramped attic.

Yet day by day, a marvel unfolds. Rostov doesn’t only survive. Amid the constraints of his new life, he thrives. He forges deep friendships and grows beyond himself. He loves and is loved. He transforms others’ lives and is himself transformed. One cannot help suspecting that three decades of boundedness did not shrink Alexander Rostov. If anything, limitation made his life larger.

Like most of us, the boundaries of my own life have grown much smaller in recent days. A long-planned work trip overseas is a no-go. The church where I was to speak last Sunday canceled services, as did my home church. A conference that I and many others spent the last year planning is postponed. For people all over the globe, COVID-19 has dramatically shrunk much of what we view to be essential, from free movement to public gatherings to financial resources.

Amidst the changes and uncertainties, anxieties rise. Some stem from the obvious concerns, from illness to job loss, fueled by a constant flow of ominous news reports. The loss of routine also contributes, …

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Christians, Let’s Flatten the Curve But Remain a ‘Religion for the Sick’

Physicians reflect theologically on three unique Christian contributions to COVID-19 preparations.

Over the past week, the world has turned its full attention to the protein-thorned crown of COVID-19. It is rare to experience such a widespread global unease, in which we all find ourselves dwelling on the very same thing. In a way, the noise of modern life has been ousted by what C. S. Lewis called “God’s megaphone”: pain.

Patients are dying. People are scared. And we find ourselves stuck between the flippantly arrogant (“The coronavirus is just another flu”) and the fearfully paranoid (“We are on the brink of financial collapse”). Following Saturday’s episode of the “Italian COVID19 Experience” podcast, in which American and Australian pediatric intensivists spoke candidly with intensive care specialists in the ICUs of Italy, each of our institutions are preparing us for the next few weeks with a seriousness that is unique—even for those of us in medicine familiar with suffering, triage, and uncertainty.

It’s okay to be fearful—we are too. However, as Christians working inside and outside the health care space, this is a moment where our response might distinguish us as a people who practice what was once called by early pagans “a religion for the sick.”

To that end, we want to share some of our experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic as resident physicians and trainees—and as fellows of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellowship at Duke Divinity School, which brings together medical trainees, theologians, and pastors to think theologically at the frontlines of health care—in order to highlight the unique Christian contributions of repentance, hospitality, and lament to our preparations for the new coronavirus.

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20 Prayers to Pray During This Pandemic

As COVID-19 sends the globe into crisis, it also sends us to our knees.

In recent days, as COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and countries have taken urgent measures to stem the spread of infection, I wish I could say that my first impulse has been to pray. It’s probably more honest to say that I’ve obsessively refreshed my feeds.

The crisis is urgent, and I feel powerless. But perhaps feeling small is the best reminder to pray. Prayer is how we actively practice believing, so simply, so confidently, that God has the whole world in his hands. It’s where we “let petitions and praises shape our worries into prayers, letting God know our concerns” (Phil. 4:6–7, The Message). Prayer is never the last resort of God’s people. It is our first point of action.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 20 prayers to pray during this pandemic. Each one addresses the specific needs of a specific community. I’m fortunate to be a part of a church with many medical professionals, some of whom gave me advice on how best to pray for them at this time. I’ve included their responses here. I’ve also tried to think broadly about how the rest of us are impacted by the current crisis.

This list isn’t comprehensive, of course, but it’s a good place to start. My hope is that it can provide words for us as we pray collectively (if also virtually!) as a church body. We believe there is a God who bends his ear to listen, and so we pray:

1. For the sick and infected: God, heal and help. Sustain bodies and spirits. Contain the spread of infection.

2. For our vulnerable populations: God, protect our elderly and those suffering from chronic disease. Provide for the poor, especially the uninsured.

3. For the young and the strong: God, give …

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Is the Coronavirus Evil?

Or is this part of life in the world God made?

The [corona] of the wise is their wisdom, but folly is the garland of fools (Prov. 14:24).

As the coronavirus convulses a planet without immunity, self-quarantine has become a Lenten imposition even upon the faithless. Churches bar human touch and Communion reverts to self-serve, all in an effort to somehow contain a pandemic, a viral villain we cannot see.

Reportedly, Karl Barth wrote at the end of his life of a certain bacillus besieging his kidneys,

… this monstrosity does not belong to God’s good creation, but rather has come in as a result of the Fall. It has in common with sin and with the demons also that it cannot simply be done away with but can be only just despised, combated, and suppressed. … the main thing is the knowledge that God makes no mistakes and that proteus mirabilis has no chance against him.

The theological tendency is to view God’s creation as a good thing gone bad—all due to our avaricious overreach as humans. Any cursory survey of human history confirms this. “Wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6), along with every imaginable and unimaginable wickedness, ravage human life as God made it and causes love to “grow cold” (v. 12).

With Barth, the inclination is to ascribe bacteria and viruses and the diseases they cause to Adam’s folly. But unless God’s creation defies every characteristic of biological reality, bacteria and viruses are not bitter fruits of the fall, but among the first fruits of good creation itself. If the science is right, there would be no life as we know it without them. God makes no mistakes, and bacteria and viruses indeed are mirabilis (from the Latin meaning remarkable, or even amazing or wondrous, adjectives frequently …

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Whatever Your Secret Sins, the Psalms Will Give You the Courage to Come Clean

Hiding from God (and neighbor) is dehumanizing, but honest prayer and confession bring healing and freedom.

In February 1995, I confessed my sins publicly in front of 500 fellow students at the University of Texas at Austin. This took place at a concert of prayer sponsored by a parachurch campus ministry. Standing on the auditorium stage of a large classroom, I confessed the sins of lust, pride, impatience, anger, and others I have now forgotten. While I had previously confessed my sins to a pastor or a group of friends, I had never confessed my sins publicly. (It is rather terrifying.)

Everyone, of course, has a secret. For some it is an addictive behavior. For others it is an abusive or traumatic experience that may only intensify feelings of shame. For still others it is the fear of being rejected, the lust for power, an uncontrollable temper, emotional infidelity, a vicious prejudice, an insatiable jealousy of others, repeated acts of self-indulgence, and so on.

Whatever they may be, with our secrets we hide. We hide from others, and we hide from ourselves. Ultimately, we hide from God, and in our hiding, we choose darkness over light, we embrace death instead of life, and we elect to be lonely rather than to be relationally at home with others.

The psalms understand the human condition. In them we see a mirror of humanity at its best and at its worst. We see our very selves reflected back, “be he a faithful soul or be he a sinner,” as Athanasius once described the experience of looking at the psalms. If we wish to flourish in our God-given calling, then, our secrets must be brought into the light so we are no longer governed by their corrosive and destructive power.

And if we desire to be truly alive, we must abandon all our efforts not just to hide our secrets but also to justify them. This is what the psalms help …

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