Q: How long will in-person services at the church be suspended?
A: According to guidance from the Upper Columbia Conference, the earliest we could possibly resume in-person services is April 18, 2020. However, the conference will only make the decision to resume in-person services once our civil leaders have declared it safe to do so. Honestly, at this point, we really cannot know how long it will be before we can resume in-person services.
Q: What about planned denominational activities -- Camp Meeting, Summer Camp, the General Conference session, etc.?
A: Camp Meeting has not yet been canceled, but the conference administration is expecting that they will need to cancel it. A final decision regarding Camp Meeting for 2020 will be announced no later than April 3. Summer Camp at Camp Mivoden is still scheduled to take place. This will obviously change if current restrictions continue on into the summer, but as of now, plans are going forward to still have camp this summer. The General Conference session has been postponed until 2021 (see the article here).
Q: Why did the conference make the decision to suspend in-person services?
A: A lot of thought and prayer went into this decision and I want to assure you that it was not taken lightly. To begin with, our denomination has always taught that a part of our Christian witness is to be good citizens and obey all laws and civil authorities, so far as our consciences allow. So a part of this decision was to be in line with guidance and directives that have been put out from the government that restrict gatherings of groups. We also want to protect our members and those who visit our churches, particularly those who fall into the high-risk categories -- we did not want our churches to become places where COVID-19 could potentially be spread. Finally, we are a part of the community that we have been called to minister to. The best experts in the field say that we need to practice social distancing in order to prevent an outbreak here in our local area. So this is also a way for us to communicate to our community that we are doing our part to protect this town and its residents.
Q: Doesn't suspending in-person services at our churches during this time mean that we are giving in to fear or have a lack of faith in God?
A: I genuinely do not believe so. The events our world is experiencing right now are exactly what the Bible predicted would happen. When Jesus predicted the "abomination of desolation" in Matthew 24, He didn't tell the Jews to just stay in Jerusalem and pray, trusting in God to save them from destruction -- He told them to flee to the mountains! Jesus told His followers to take reasonable precautions to guard against the dangers they would face during end-time events. Indeed, even the idea of social distancing is biblical -- check out Leviticus 13. Before we had any scientific knowledge about bacteria and viruses, God gave the Israelites instructions on how to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of disease. Finally, Ellen White had strong words regarding this very subject (emphasis mine):
"A neglect of cleanliness will induce disease. Sickness does not come without a cause. Violent epidemics of fever have occurred in villages and cities that were considered perfectly healthful, and these have resulted in death or broken constitutions. In many instances the premises of the very ones who fell victims to these epidemics contained the agents of destruction, which sent forth deadly poison into the atmosphere to be inhaled by the family and the neighborhood. It is astonishing to witness the prevailing ignorance relative to the effects which slackness and recklessness produce upon health.
When Lord Palmerston was premier of England, he was at one time petitioned by the Scottish clergy to appoint a day of fasting and prayer to avert the cholera. He replied, 'Cleanse and disinfect your streets and houses, promote cleanliness and health among the poor, and see that they are plentifully supplied with good food and raiment, and employ right sanitarium measures generally, and you will have no occasion to fast and pray. Nor will the Lord hear your prayers while these, His preventives, remain unheeded.'
Many expect that God will keep them from sickness merely because they ask Him to do so; but the prayers of those who do not regard the laws of life, God cannot answer, because their faith is not made perfect by works. When we do all we can on our part to insure health, then we may expect that good results will follow, and we can ask in faith that God will bless our efforts. And He will answer our prayer, if His name can be glorified thereby. But let all understand that they have something to do. God will not work in a miraculous manner to preserve the health of persons who are, by their careless inattention to the laws of health, taking a sure course to make themselves sick." -- 6LtMs, Ms 58, 1890