When the Church announced in 2018 that it was shifting to less Sunday time in Church buildings and a greater emphasis on learning and worship at home, the reasons for that didn’t seem especially clear to me. Frankly, I missed the three-hour block and was a little frustrated to have Sunday School only ever other week since I really enjoy it (partly because we have had such great teachers and such interesting discussions in our classes with so many diverse and intelligent people from all over the world). But in 2019, the year of experience we had with new programs and a home-centered curriculum and with more flexible approaches to ministering to one another clearly paved the way for the Church in Asia to prepare for the current crisis we are facing with the Corona virus and the disease it brings, now known as Covid-2019.
In China, all organized religious gatherings are forbidden now to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Without the ability to meet as usual, the only way to worship now is at home. Fortunately, we have been prepared for that with a curriculum and some practice. The virus is now starting to rage in other parts of Asia, with some communities locked down in parts of South Korea, Vietnam, and probably other locations soon. Home-centered worship will become increasingly important.
It may become important in some areas in the United States. If you’ve followed the news about the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan where the virus is raging, perhaps you’ll share my dire forebodings about the plane of evacuated passengers that was brought to the US. I’m gravely disappointed that the stern warnings from the Center for Disease Control were ignored when the State Department decided to give seats on that flight to 14 passengers known to have the virus. It was a tough call, but a potentially disastrous one. See the Washington Post story, “Coronavirus-infected Americans flown home against CDC’s advice,” from Feb. 20, 2020. (Further, some people with the virus may have lied about being virus free and were put on that plane without requiring test results to reduce the risk, again raising questions about this evacuation flight.) I hope others were not infected on that flight and that dozens of new disease spreaders will not be walking casually among crowds across America. But with the surprisingly intense virulence of this disease and the apparent gaps in our quarantine procedures, it could strike suddenly and fiercely. Please be prepared. Be prepared to continue worshiping, but also be prepared to continue living. Build your supply of food, water, face masks, sanitation supplies, etc. (Those doing home schooling, by the way, are in a good position to reduce the risk of exposure in schools, which can be potent hotbeds for spreading viruses, and where simple screening measures such as checking temperature will miss many spreaders of the virus. The CDC has already warned that we may see school closures and other restrictions on public events in the near future.)
As COVID-2019 becomes a crisis that affects many lands, I pray that we can find ways to contain it without extreme and harmful measures, and that there can be relief to those areas that are afflicted. Meanwhile, I am grateful that the Church has prepared us with guidance on how to run a Church that is centered in the home more than in its buildings, and, of course, that we have been instructed for years on the wisdom of preparing for trouble with food storage and other forms of preparation. The financial reserves of the Church, the topic of so much unjustified anger, may be called upon in the future to help cope with such trials. The health risks of a world with so much international travel and so much traffic across borders without adequate health screening can be surprisingly high. Continue preparing!
Update, Feb. 22, 2020: The CDC has warned that we may need restrictions on churches, schools, etc. in the US, as has been done in China. See the Feb. 21, 2020 story, “CDC warns community COVID-19 spread could take place in US“:
Today officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that although the agency is taking historic measures to slow the introduction of COVID-19 into the United States, the country should prepare for the possibility of community spread, as seen in China and neighboring Asian countries.
“The day may come when we may need to implement such measures as seen in Asia,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press conference, referencing the closing of businesses, schools, and churches in multiple countries where transmission is now occurring within the community.