Thousands of Christians in the country attended worship services online on March 15 in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. Many religious institutions went virtual to lessen the spread of the respiratory illness.
President Donald Trump declared Sunday as a special national day of prayer and asked citizens to pray for the safety and well-being of those affected by COVID-19, health workers and the nation’s response efforts to the crisis.
You have to choose faith over fear and so today I believe that we’re here by divine assignment. —Pastor Jentezen Franklin
Trump tuned in to the online worship service of Jentezen Franklin, a Georgia-based pastor and one of his evangelical advisers.
“I am watching a great and beautiful service by Pastor Jentezen Franklin. Thank you! @Jentezen,” Trump tweeted.
Franklin’s message, entitled “Choose Faith Over Fear,” was delivered inside the megachurch’s empty auditorium. Health experts advised against holding mass gatherings for the time being.
“All that’s here are empty seats because the building and the seats are not the church. The people are the church,” Franklin said.
The pastor assured every viewer of his Sunday service that despite the chaotic circumstances, God is in control. “Now listen to me carefully, when God shows up in something that seems like it’s out of control it’s to show that He’s in total control and He’s God. And when He’s near, the fear is dispelled in our lives. And today, there’s no need for panic. But we must make a choice. You have to choose faith over fear and so today I believe that we’re here by divine assignment.”
Meanwhile, in Christ Covenant Church in North Carolina, pastor Kevin DeYoung led an online worship service. The church’s website had a bulletin of the liturgy and songs to guide members during the virtual service, reports World Magazine.
The Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. suspended Sunday worship after more than a century—services were last cancelled during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918. “Let’s pray for God’s mercy and grace on us and our community in these days,” Pastor Mark Dever wrote. “And for it soon to be safe for us to meet again.”
In West Virginia, the only state without a confirmed case of COVID-19, the Cross Lanes United Methodist Church in Cross Lanes was mostly empty, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Senior pastor, the Rev. Krysta Rexrode Wolfe, advised Christians to use the time to do something productive such as reconnecting with family or sharing groceries with elderly neighbors.
Religious leaders are following government protocol to safeguard their members. In addition to having worship services online, churches have cancelled large weddings, funerals and other festivals. Some groups provide services through phone and social media.
“Our goal is not to frighten anyone, but reduce public gatherings where there is an increased risk of exposure,” said Rev. William Watley to congregants of St. Philip African Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta.