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Random Thoughts, Statistics, Faith Communities Actions, and the COVID-19 Pandemic - Carl Carmichael

This started out to be just another weekly message from yours truly, but as I dug into the reams of information available out there, I thought, just cherry-pick some of the statistics that are making headlines these days, and share some insights of Interfaith work with you, so here goes.

First let’s do the statistics. According to the latest Pew Research Poll, a random sampling of 11,537 people over the age of 18, most Americans say that the coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on their lives, and more than half (55%) have prayed for an end to the pandemic. According to Pew, a whopping 90% of adults say their lives have changed as a result, 77% say they worry about going out to eat, 66% don’t want to go to a public polling place to vote, and 42% worry about catching the virus at the grocery store. Where does religion fit in this picture? 59% have scaled back attendance and giving, and 57% watch on-line or on TV. This is the shocking statistic, though, together, 40% have already or will replace in-person attendance with on-line services. If that doesn’t rock your cradle, I don’t know what will! Welcome to the post-pandemic future.

44% of people say their lives have not just changed, but changed in a major way, and 45% of those over 65 say their lives have changed in a major way. Now for some more religious stats. 82% of Evangelical protestants prayed for an end to the virus, historically Black protestants ran a close second at 79%, two-thirds of Catholics, 65% of mainline protestants, 35% of the Jewish community, and here we go again, 36% of those who describe their religious preference as “none”. 86% of people who pray every day reported praying for an end to the pandemic, and 67% of those who pray on a weekly basis, and even 15% of those who say they never pray, prayed for an end to the crisis. Quite the statistical soup.

Gallup says “the halting of in-person worship is one of the most significant sudden disruptions in the practice of religion in U.S. history”. World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit announced that “this situation calls on our solidarity and accountability, mindfulness, care and wisdom, as well as for our signs of faith, hope and love”. Religious leaders all over the world are calling for solidarity, unity, prayer and community resolve and cooperation with medical authorities and leaders, and science is in high gear in the search for a vaccine.

Here are just a few examples of how various faith communities are reacting and helping those in need. The ELCA has provided PPE and other supplies to China (kudos to the ELCA for that bit of spiritual caregiving), Italy, Palestine and Sierra Leone, to name just a few. The United Methodist Church has suspended in-person worship, nearly 90% of UM Churches are on-line, and food banks and feeding the hungry is one of the UMC’s primary outreaches. Islamic faith communities were forced to navigate the virus during the Holy month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Mosques worldwide were shut down, and the Great Mosque of Mecca and Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina were closed to the public, and continued to be closed through Ramadan. As for the Jewish community, the Rabbinical Council of America issued a guidance saying “that public gatherings in synagogues and schools should be severely limited” and the Rabbinical Assembly, stated that “protecting human life overrides almost every other Jewish value”. Unitarians are strongly recommending that congregations plan for ongoing virtual gatherings through at least May, 2021. (That date is not a typo) According to the news, the Episcopal Churches presiding Bishop Michael Curry extended an invitation to Episcopalians to join in an Interfaith remembrance for all those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

The American Baptists are gathering resources to help churches and communities adapt to the changing needs of the world in this pandemic. The UCC’s are calling for caution and prayer to discern when churches can reopen and is releasing “best practice” policies to guide reopening. The Baha’is National Spiritual Assembly, governing body of the Baha’i community, is monitoring developments closely, consulting with experts, and following advisories issued by the CDC and public health authorities. The Friends want to offer coping resources to their members and affiliated churches “taking steps to safeguard each other’s health is important for the spiritual well-being of the meeting community. Native Americans are among the most severely impacted communities in Wyoming and a lot of outside the community help is happening, and the Wyoming Interfaith Network is playing a big role in that work. Last but certainly not least, the Presbyterian Church’s website has many resources, guidelines and procedures to follow while living through and with the coronavirus. There is a distinct focus on how and when to reopen their houses of worship, advice that is applicable to all of us as an Interfaith Network.

Now, since May 15, in Wyoming, partial re-openings were begun, under strict guidelines as stated in an executive order from the Governor and the State of Wyoming’s department of Health. So far as federal guidelines go, the president last week declared “houses of worship” essential businesses and ordered immediate opening for churches. What remains to be seen is does that declaration override state mandated restrictions. Time will tell, and honestly, most everyone is eager to get back to worshipping in their preferred house of worship, but only if it can be done safely. After all is said and done, we must realize that the church is not a building, but it is the missions and ministries of those who form the congregation. It is crucial to see that difference and act accordingly. Good works can be done by those whose building of worship is closed, and that is what we are seeing throughout our various faith communities. There is a wealth of ideas and options out there, and it will pay dividends for us to look at what all our Interfaith groups are doing. Together we are stronger, and the world is a little smaller.

Peace and Blessings, be safe, be aware, and be careful,

Carl Carmichael

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