Real coronavirus toll may go well beyond obvious physical victims

I work bi-vocationally as a pastor and as an educator.
Before the COVID-19 mandates to “shelter in place” I used to tell people that I had one foot in the church and one foot in the school. Now it is more accurate to say that I have one virtual face in the church and one virtual face in the school.
My days now consist primarily of virtual meetings over a platform called Zoom and recording video/audio to encourage, inspire, coach, and teach those who are willing to listen. A typical workday starts with an 8 a.m. virtual meeting followed a 10 a.m. virtual workout with my children, then capped by two more virtual meetings at 1 and at 2. After virtual meeting time, I work on recording church services and/or recording podcasts.
My work went from face-to-face interactions, to screen to screen interactions in just a week. My work went from 40 hours of week working with people, to 40 hours a week working with a screen, camera, microphones, editing software, and a mouse.
I have heard people reframe this shelter-in-place mandate as “a great opportunity for much needed family time.” I’ve also heard people reframe it as “good for churches because many people will watch a recorded sermon who normally would not step foot in a church.”
While these might be true for some, my mind goes towards some of the vulnerable and underserved/underprivileged populations who might be most negatively affected from the long-term effects of this screen-time laden shelter in place time period.
For example, I work with at-risk-youth in the Lebanon School District. By definition, an at-risk-youth has an elevated Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Score. This means they have experienced a combination of abuse, neglect or household dysfunction such as divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, and/or mother being treated violently. The more of these a child has experienced the more they are at risk of incarceration, mental illness, early death, divorce, and developing chronic diseases. High ACE scores have also been linked to unemployment, social impairments, and increased rates of teen pregnancy.
I worry that for some students, extended time at home will be an extended time exposed to toxic home environments. I am not necessarily only talking about overt child abuse that needs to be reported and penalized, but I am also talking about the Adverse Childhood Experiences ACEs that many students might be facing at home that are not necessarily “illegal” and a child must endure such as household members dealing with stress toxically, emotional neglect, homelessness, parents with mental illness, divorce, and parent substance abuse. For many students living in such households, school and sports are safe-havens. School and sports might be the only place where they feel safe, protected, and the only time where adults function in a healthy and uplifting manner. I worry about these students not having a place to escape or break-away.
I have recently made it public on my podcast that I have an elevated ACE score. During the hardest times growing up I knew that I had school and sports as safe-havens and sanctuaries. Knowing what a difference the gym, the football field, the basketball court, or the classroom made in my development, worries me that some students are not getting that relief.
Now I briefly turn to my concerns with the church. Currently churches are turning to online platforms to record videos and live-stream sermons. For example, the Community Chapel has created two online sermons and we have plans to record a third for this upcoming Saturday. I’ve seen advertisement for Community Bible Church, Valley Life Church, Calvary Chapel Lebanon all doing the same, either in live-stream or pre-recorded fashion. Pastors are delivering messages to screens and video cameras with the hopes of people watching at home.
As I mentioned earlier, some see this as a “good thing” for people to experience church from the comforts of their home. I do not.
I do not because I think that church is much more than delivering and receiving information. Right now, anyone who is interested only in receiving good information can search “Timothy Keller sermons” or “Alistair Begg sermons” on Google and have access to what I consider world-class preaching.
But churches are unique institutions. If they were only about receiving good information and listening to good messages, then no one ought to go to church here in Sweet Home or Lebanon. Instead, everyone should simply listen to some gifted preacher each week.
Church is so much more. For many, church is an organic, weekly reminder that God is alive and well. When Christians see the church gathered, it can remind them that they are not alone in their pursuit of God.
For many, ordinances or sacraments such as baptism, communion and confession can only happen when the church gathers together to meet in person. There are Christians who do not interact with others on a regular basis outside of church, which offers them much needed hugs, comforts, and supports that they will not get otherwise.
I worry that, during this shelter-in-place time frame, not only at-risk youth will be affected negatively, but I worry that watching sermons online will become the norm for some Christians and they will miss out on what church has to offer that goes above and beyond transferring information.
I worry that some people who already shy away from church because they are avoiding social interaction will become accustomed to sitting at home, watching sermons online. By doing so, they will be missing some of the richest gifts that the church has to offer when done in community.
One of the major Christian tenants is that God did not simply deliver information to us (Ten Commandments) but he came to earth in human form as Jesus, eating, drinking, touching and befriending.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. You can connect with me electronically by emailing [email protected] or by tuning in to my podcast aimed at helping at-risk-youth at mentoredpodcast.org. Please no Zoom meeting, I think I have met my quota for the year. 😉