Elsie Froment, PhD, Director of Research, Northwest Baptist Seminary
At the start of the pandemic, I read Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, an account of the plague that occurred in London, England, in 1665. From Defoe’s journal, I learned that COVID-19 behaviour is human behaviour. Though when sickness occurred, the authorities confined citizens of London to their homes and even posted guards to ensure they stayed there, considerable roaming occurred. The carts made their rounds each day to pick up bodies for the mass graves that were established in the churchyards. As in the past two years, disagreements about meeting entered the churches.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, local authorities in the US ordered churches to close. There were complaints. Some church leaders supported the local authorities on the grounds that God is concerned about public health and others did not.
The COVID-19 pandemic is now an endemic in many people’s minds, but not in the minds of those citizens who are still being kept from normal life by various disabilities and vulnerabilities. This raises an important question. Will churches return to church life as it was before the pandemic, or will they exhibit a new awareness of those who would like to attend but cannot for various reasons?
In a 2021 Christianity Today article, the dominant concern is whether the regular congregation will come back rather than whether accommodations may be made for those who could worship with the church during the pandemic but now are being cut off again. Will churches acknowledge that some people are not fearful but wise about their vulnerability? Others are physically unable to attend or are discouraged from attending because their disability occasionally requires them to disrupt the service. All God’s people who desire to participate in the life of the church need to feel accepted, not just in the abstract, and not as a special case.
During the pandemic, churches opened the entire service to the congregation digitally. Various groups, especially staff and small groups, were held together through Zoom and similar programs. Will churches go back to recording only the sermon? Will meetings no longer include a digital component? Why not put the whole service on YouTube? Why not maintain a Zoom component to meetings? The Lord’s Table is best experienced in person with the other members of the congregation. Could the digital members see each other and be led by a pastor?
The vulnerable and disabled had a taste of participation during the pandemic. Some who love God and desire to be part of our congregations will not return or will disappear once more. Are we remembering them in our joy at being able to gather again in person in our churches?
 Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations or Memorials, of the Most Remarkable Occurrences as well Publick as Private, which Happened in London During the Last Great Visitation in 1665 (Project Gutenberg, 1995). https://www.gutenberg.org/files/376/376-h/376-h.htm.
 Jeffrey Rosario, “Staying Home from Church to Protect Public Health is a Christian Tradition,” The Wasington Post, April 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/04/12/staying-home-church-protect-public-health-is-christian-tradition/.
 Kate Shellnut, Why the Church Can’t Be the Same After the Pandemic, June 21, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/july-august/church-after-covid-pandemic-trauma-tension-healing-together.html
 This scenario comes to mind because I am aware of a church that, during the pandemic, broke the congregation into small groups after the service so they could visit as they did previously at Sunday lunches. If this was possible, perhaps a communion service led by a pastor or elder would be as well.