These have been strange days for all of us as we have watched our world start to feel the effects of a serious new virus affect country after country. I have not been panicked, personally, by what has been happening. I haven’t stockpiled goods, but I have continued a habit that has kept me healthy consistently: I wash my hands. Every single source I have seen has reiterated that instruction at highest prioritity—“Practice good hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.”

On Thursday, we sent out an advisory to our church contact list to summarize the stepped up and intense cleaning procedures we have enacted on our campus. Already, we had advanced equipment that would allow a much more intensive cleaning process than would be normal. We have used it and will use it.

But now we need to consider what is BEST to do to provide the greatest protection for people. Every day the situation changes, and last night, Dallas County announced a prohibition of large gatherings of people, including houses of worship.

I know that many have concluded that this is an over-reaction. I want to encourage you to respect decisions even when they are different from your own. Every church and organization leader is trying to make the best possible decision with the information they have. Some will criticize our decisions, but after talking with medical personnel involved in hospital task forces, reading the professional opinions of epidemiologists, and studying this particular disease pattern, we have come to a decision. And I want you to understand WHY.

This virus has an attribute that we need to give very careful attention. It’s the INCUBATION period. The incubation period is 14-21 days. What that means is this: a person can have the virus for up to 3 weeks before the symptoms make it evident. We can be “carriers” for a couple of weeks and not know it, which means we can infect others for that entire time. By the time we show symptoms, the damage of spreading the virus is already done. Some will experience this as an event like the flu, but others will experience symptoms severe enough to necessitate hospitalization. Last night, Dr. Phil Huang, director of the Dallas County health department, said the prohibition was meant to slow the spread of the virus, especially to help the health care system keep up. What he said mirrored the opinions of two other medical personnel we consulted.

In today’s address by the Governor, every effort is being made to flatten the infection rate and to act during this broader incubation period.

Today in Midlothian, we have no reported cases. But in an adjacent school district, we do have a suspected case. In Dallas, cases are growing in number. Cases in Alvarado are so close that we can’t ignore this. More concerning are the vast numbers of community members who are returning from Spring Break—families have traveled across the country and outside the country for vacations, business, special occasions, and mission trips. The nature of our free society is that we have absolutely free access to travel, so travel we do! I know—I have seen the pictures and posts of great experiences!

We’re connected with the world and with each other in ways that supercede any time in history.

We’re learning that what raises our risks are large gatherings. We shake hands, we mingle in very close proximity with strangers and friends, alike. We care about each other, and our affection is a function of that. What is a blessing during normal times becomes a RISK in times like these.

I started thinking about how we worship—we participate. We sing, we do responsive readings, we talk, we sit together, we pray together. I consulted a member of a hospital task force in Dallas who has been working with the Center for Disease Control for over 6 weeks. I described my concern because of the particularly intimate environment of a church worship service, concerned that it raised the risk even higher because of how we worship. I said, “In some ways, the worship experience we savor puts us at greater risk when we are fighting a health crisis like the one we have at hand.” And the response was simple and to the point: “You are right on that assessment.”

Already, we consulted available resources for best practices in preventing the spread of infection. We talked about a “non-contact” greeting system, single-source coffee dispensing, hydro-static cleaning processes between each hour of services, and a host of other strategies. But all of these still lead us to the same bottom line: every time we gather like this, we are RAISING OUR RISK during this already RISKY CONTEXT.

So here is what we have decided:

Starting this weekend, we will suspend our GATHERED activities on our campus. We will broadcast worship ONLINE at 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. The 8 am service will be a traditional style and the 11 am will be our modern style. Our MIDWEEK SCHEDULE will be suspended as well. We are planning for two consecutive weeks with this plan, mirroring the plans of the schools, institutions, and counties surrounding us.

But our church will still be ministering! The church is people, not a building. And many of you already worship with us online when you’re ill or out of town. We’re all going to get to experience this. And fortunately, we have the technology to communicate with one another this way, as well as make the phone calls and connections we use every week to keep up with each other.

And in the days ahead, many of us will have opportunities to serve each other if this illness does come to our town. We can deliver supplies, we can encourage people, we can support others whose incomes are halted, we can pray with people over the phone, we can protect each other with our responsible actions.

The only way we have seen the spread of this disease slow in other parts of the world were with rather extensive measures to limit contact with other people. Our society does not “lock down” easily. But it is precisely this incubation concern that has led universities, local school districts, and now the counties to announce broad prohibitions against large gatherings of people. Yesterday morning, we were already seriously considering this decision. Last night when we saw the evidence of our concern grow, it made this decision make even more sense.

THIS is the incubation period when so much is at stake and what may seem to be overly cautious very well could prevent a large-scale spreading of this illness. And if all of these entities are suspending activities, then you and I can help by limiting our exposure in our personal activities, as well.

Our office staff will work from home, using our phones and other technologies to continue to contact people, give a listening ear, and work on longer-fused projects. We will continue to provide spiritual resources and content to help sustain our family and community. Our church website provides the emails of our entire staff; we can and want to be reached by you when you are in need! And as long as our staff is healthy, we will provide online options for worship, encouragement, and comfort.

So, to recap:

  • All campus activities at FBC Midlothian are suspended immediately.
  • Worship services will be broadcast on Sunday at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 a.m. You can participate along with us at fbcmidlo.com/live.
  • We encourage you to contact each other with the technologies available.
  • We encourage you to follow the CDC guidelines for good hygiene and protection.
  • We urge you to pray for our community, for the thousands of ill people who are directly affected by this virus, and for the opportunity to live and love like Jesus in the midst of this crucial time.

Friends, I hope to see you online this Weekend as we exercise trust in the Savior and as we do the ministry of helping to meet the physical NEEDS of our community in this strange and unsettling time. You may not be worried about yourself. I understand that. But yesterday I visited with neighbors and discovered compromised health concerns that I didn’t know about. My choices could compromise THEM! So, the most loving thing I can do is to choose behaviors that lower THEIR risk.

And as I considered that, I thought, “That sounds like living and loving LIKE JESUS.”

Grateful for you,

Bruce Prindle