By John W. Fountain
Dear church, there is, in the words of the old congregational song, “a storm out on the ocean, and it’s moving this old way…”
If I were to preach today, I would take as a thought, these four simple words: “Stay in the house.”
Not the church house. Not the schoolhouse. Not the storehouse. Not the movie house. Not even your neighbor’s house. But your house.
Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, stay in the house…”
Let me assure you, dear saints, that this is not a vain or empty exhortation. For in these times, there’s safety in your house, even as coronavirus snakes venomously across the globe, across this great nation and potentially into the arteries of every community.
Be assured that none are immune. Not you. Not me. And certainly not the church.
This is not a storm of your usual garden variety that waters the earth, giving birth to emerald fields and lilies fair. This is a storm that has sickness and death to bear.
An unforgiving storm, highly contagious, it is spread, according to health officials, by physical contact or by being in close proximity to someone infected.
It is a storm that has reportedly infected nearly 5 million people world- wide, including more than 1.5 million Americans, and killed nearly 327,000 globally, among them more than 98,000 Americans and counting, and disproportionately affecting African Americans.
In fact, the disproportionate impact of the virus on African Americans is highlighted in a recently released study titled, “Assessing Differential Impacts of COVID-19 on Black Communities.” The study, conducted by researchers and epidemiologists at four universities, including Johns Hopkins and Georgetown, found that Blacks account for 52 percent of diagnoses and 58 percent of coronavirus deaths nationally.
Now, there are some within the faith community who remain doubting Thomases about the severity of this storm. But let me assure you that the peril is real—as real as the nail marks in the risen Christ’s hands and the hole in his side.
So let us heed the wisdom of public health officials to stay in the house—to practice social distancing—thereby limiting the disease’s spread, though it could still result in 100,000 to 250,000 American deaths. But without it, some models initially placed the toll between 1.5 to 2.2 million.
Dear beloveds, turn to your neighbor and say, “Stay in the house…”
“But how can I be a Christian, brother preacher, if I don’t go to church?”
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Salvation has never depended upon church attendance but on belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and risen savior—on the confession of one’s sins and being washed in the precious blood of the Lamb.
“…When the Bible admonishes us to gather together, it does not imply that that should be a church service or congregational event,” writes Christian researcher George Barna in “Revolution.”
Indeed Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Saints, I spoke recently to a dear sister born and raised in the church. Adrianne Gladden-Young, today an infectious disease researcher, told me that her heart is moved for all humanity amid this pandemic, particularly for the Black church.
For we are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 because of our preexisting health conditions: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity…
Amid the reality that churches continue to hold services, she worries that they have become “super spreader” events.
Dear church, faith and wisdom are not at odds. The fear of the Lord, the Bible says, is the beginning of wisdom. So let us be wise, even as we trust God in the midst of this storm.
We have faced storms before. Amid Passover season,
I am reminded of a people instructed by faith to place the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and to seek refuge with their families inside their house, until the morning comes.
This storm too shall pass. Joy comes in the morning. Stay in the house.
John W. Fountain is an award-winning columnist, journalist, professor, publisher and author of True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity; and Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. Fountain is a tenured full professor of journalism at Roosevelt University. He is a native of Chicago and formerly a national correspondent for the New York Times.