Churches in Floyd County have been canceling Sunday morning services as have other churches and religious bodies across the world, and that should cause us to take notice. First, it demonstrates the serious impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is having on our community. We are, after all, talking about the cancellation of church services in our context where churches remain an integral part of life.

Second, millions of worshippers are now encountering church services in a remote format. This new way of worship for many Christians could change church life, even after the threat of coronavirus has passed. Such a historic moment is worthy of our reflection as Romans and residents of Floyd County.

The coronavirus pandemic has created the eerie sight of empty church parking lots on Sunday mornings. Two weeks ago, if you had polled every pastor and priest in Floyd County, the vast majority would have indicated that it was somewhere in the range of unlikely to impossible that they would cancel services on Sunday morning for more than one week. Even canceling service for one week would only be conceivable due to a severe weather event — think tornadoes or blizzards.

Contrast this with the reality of this coming Sunday in Floyd County. Most of those same pastors who only weeks ago would have thought the cancellation of Sunday service inconceivable will either be digitally streaming church services or canceling services, many for the second week in a row.

If you want an indicator of how seriously to take coronavirus, look no further than this radical change over the last two weeks. What would be a better measure of social impact in our Floyd County community than the almost universal cancellation of church services?

Stock markets rise and fall. In an age of cable news, we may always be suspicious of television personalities conflating current events for the sake of selling ads. However, the multi-week cancellation of Sunday morning church services is without precedent.

The suspension of congregational gatherings has not captured the attention of the media in the same way as has the closure of businesses, government agencies, schools, and colleges.

I would argue, however, that the closure of churches is a greater indicator of the impact that coronavirus is having on our lives. This virus has caused us to change, for a season, the most foundational institution in our community and culture. These changes will have deep-reaching implications that go far beyond the next few months.

For the first time, many congregants in Rome and Floyd County are experiencing a church service streamed into their homes on Sunday morning via Facebook Live, YouTube, or other platforms.

While I, along with countless other Christians, are thankful for such technological advances during this time, I am also concerned that what is now done out of necessity may soon happen out of convenience.

I would encourage Christians to begin thinking now about the role digitally-accessed church services will play in their lives once it is again safe to meet together with their faith families.

My prayer is that the exposure of thousands of churchgoers to this new method of hearing songs, prayers and sermons will sustain them for a time without resulting in less frequent attendance in the gathered body of the church once we are past this season of self-isolation.

There is a theological message to this. Churches have decided to close their doors out of concern for the safety of their congregants and the greater community. This comes from the biblical worldview that recognizes every human being as created in the image of God. For this reason, Christians look upon each human life as possessing tremendous value.

Churches, therefore, are right to take extraordinary steps to protect life in this season of uncertainty. The Christian understanding of the value of those who bear the image of their Creator should also be the driving force in the return to congregational fellowship as soon as this crisis has passed.

Christians are created in the image of God and so we come together to rejoice in the fact that God has redeemed us to the fullness of that image through the good news of Jesus Christ.

Weekly Christian worship is a constant reminder of the certain hope that those redeemed by the gospel will one day live in eternal fellowship, with one another and with God, free from a world marred by the effects of sin such as the coronavirus. Such a celebration calls for more than a digital presence. Such a celebration should bring image-bearers into physical fellowship with one another.

In this time, Christians in Floyd County have every reason to encourage one another and our non-Christian neighbors to follow the guidance of health care professionals and suspend our congregational gatherings.

Christians in Floyd County and throughout the entire world also have every reason to long for the day when we can return to our gathering places in celebration of God bringing us together united in the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Cory Barnes is the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shorter University and the Interim Pastor of FBC Cave Spring.

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