Social distancing is keeping church doors closed for now
By Per Peterson
A snow day would look pretty good to Thor Burntvedt right about now.
Burntvedt, the pastor at Tracy Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, doesn’t like to see the church doors close on a Sunday. That made his decision to cancel traditional services because of the coronavirus outbreak a rather difficult one.
“I get anxious when we have snow days,” Burntvedt said. “When there’s bad weather coming on a Saturday night, I’m up all night and I hate cancelling church. On Sunday night (March 15) when the CDC recommended groups under 50 shouldn’t meet, I was so anxious. We’re going verse-by-verse through Matthew and we’re on Matthew 6, and I looked at what is the next section I’m supposed to preach on and it’s ‘Do not be anxious about anything.’”
Tracy Christian & Missionary Alliance Church did have service on March 15, but not last week, and it will continue to be closed until further notice. In lieu of the traditional service and because of potential technological issues, Burntvedt decided to pre-record services — the first debuted this past Sunday. He said some people were resistant to the idea because it gave the impression that they were afraid of the virus.
“We’re trying to show them that we’re not closing because we’re afraid, we’re closing because we care about people who could catch it — and there are people in our congregation who are on the very-highly susceptible list of severe reaction to the disease,” Burntvedt said. “We don’t want them to catch it because we were too afraid to have church online.”
Burntvedt’s presentation was recorded, edited and uploaded to the Internet on Saturday. He conducted the service solo with the behind-the-scenes help of congregation member and technical guru Ben Sahlstrom, who has his own successful YouTube channel.
Burntvedt said everything went better than even he could’ve anticipated.
“It was pretty cool that we were able to reach a wider group of people than usual,” he said. “I’ve gotten reports that we had people watching from at least five different states.”
Burntvedt, who has been in Tracy for six years, is trying to take a balanced approach to everything that is going on and said he is doing his best to stay informed about the pandemic and keep pace with the news that changes on a daily basis. He’s doing his research, and thinks from a non-scientific point of view, the reaction to the coronavirus has been “super drastic.” It seems like the number of people who are infected is really small, but that might be because we’re also not testing very many people, either,” he said. “I think a lot of the actual statistics are invisible.”
Outside of the physical harm that has been inflicted on people across the world, one of his main concerns from a societal standpoint is how fear has crept into people’s psyches.
“I don’t think fear is a productive thing, and I think the Bible is pretty clear that you shouldn’t fear anything, except God himself,” he said. “Fear is not something that’s supposed to master us, but at the same time we want to be people that show that we care about other people’s health.”
To that end, Burntvedt said the majority of his parishioners — he averages about 90 to 100 every Sunday — are not afraid of the virus or afraid of catching the virus. But he explains to them that what they should be afraid of is spreading the virus to their fellow man.
“Even if it’s not scary to catch the virus from your perspective, we don’t want to be the ones who are spreading it and making it worse,” he said.
Burntvedt said there will be no more AWANA for the time being; smaller Bible studies will remain open if people want to attend.
“It seems like the saddest parts for people are the things that are being cancelled — things that have been planned; I’ve heard of weddings being cancelled,” he said. “What are you supposed to do?”
Burntvedt said that while worshipping God can happen anywhere — that people can be their own temple — it would be nice if the fog lifted soon.
“Most churches are praying that this will be over by Easter, because nobody wants to have Easter online. We’re going to be closed for as long as we have to be, but we obviously would love to be back in the room together for Easter.”
See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.