A Letter to Congregants at Unity in Baltimore
Sunday lesson NOT given at Unity Center of Christianity in Baltimore, Maryland, March 15, 2020.
Dear friends and members of Unity Center of Christianity in Baltimore -
You and I have a moral/ethical decision to make this Sunday morning. Should we go to church or should we stay home? If you attend church then you practice your faith. If you stay home then you practice social responsibility as recommended by health professionals.
Since no one reading this email knows right now if they have been exposed or infected by the coronavirus, we simply do not know if our every cough, sneeze or handshake puts someone in our vicinity at risk. We may know more a week from now, perhaps two weeks, but at this point in time none of us knows what we’re really facing.
The choice is clear for me. Unity is my faith, but family is my life. I am the minister of our Unity Church, but we moved here two years ago to be close to our daughter and her family, which includes two grandsons, aged 4 and 2. The grandkids call me Gippy and they call my wife Maman, which is Mommy in French.
I can come to church, minister to you and expose myself to a risk that is deemed too high by Methodists, Episcopalians and many other churches in Maryland. Or I can stay at home and continue to keep grandkids one or two evenings per week. But I can’t do both, at least both with a clear conscience. Not until we know more about how this epidemic is unfolding. That is why I will be staying home this Sunday.
Coronavirus is a serious virus, like HIV. We don’t mess with HIV and we shouldn’t mess with coronavirus either. Most of us would not consider reusing needles or unprotected sex. But somehow, at least according to some very uninformed people in Unity, we should go to church because God is One Power and one Presence and, even though a thousand may fall on your left and ten thousand on your right, we are protected. That is a very dangerous idea.
Which brings me to a second moral/ethical question—Should we cancel Unity services this Sunday? Dozens of Unity Churches all over the country are choosing to offer services by livestream only. In Maryland, all United Methodist and Episcopalian churches are closed. Johns Hopkins University across the street has shut down class meetings for the rest of the semester and Governor Hogan has shut down public schools for two weeks.
Children in Maryland can’t go to school. Students at most Maryland universities can’t attend classes. Senior citizens throughout the state can’t attend their centers. But I am told that congregants of Unity Center of Christianity will not cancel a single Sunday service to assure that our medical systems are not overrun. Are we privileged? Is our Sunday service of more value than public education?
What’s more, our congregation has a most vulnerable demographic. Our highest responsibility as a Unity church is safety. If we hold services this Sunday and later find out that one of us has been previously infected with the virus then we are all at risk. I do not think that God wants us to take that chance. Life is too precious.
People want to keep a church open for some very misguided reasons. Two people recently declared to me that “the coronavirus does not exist in my consciousness.” They said that a decision to not offer the service would be based on fear. I believe that mindset is extremely dangerous for you and I. That way of thinking implies that we should never cancel a service, regardless of how critical the situation may be. If coronavirus does not exist in one's consciousness then it doesn't matter if there are 1 or 2 confirmed cases in Baltimore City or if there are a thousand or twenty thousand cases.
Choosing to offer services that are dangerous for an elderly congregation to attend shows a misguided understanding of Unity's principles. More important is that it displays a disregard for the safety of our congregants. Finally, don’t let anyone shame you for experiencing fear, nor acting on fear, if fear nudges you to a healthy respect for things to be avoided, like the coronavirus.
Another person recently objected to cancelling this Sunday's service because the virus hasn't yet hit Baltimore City, stating that we ought to continue services until we have more confirmed cases. The problem with waiting until there is a confirmed outbreak is that it’s too late. We expose and transmit sickness before we experience its symptoms, as Seattle and other places have discovered. Johns Hopkins, the United Methodist Church and the Governor of Maryland have chosen to take precautions even though there is no outbreak in Baltimore. They aren't waiting. Their plan is to cancel now and to open up when it's safe. But some people want to stay open until it's dangerous and then cancel when it's too late.
Right now, we do not know whether meeting together is safe or not. The Board insists that we must meet, and so they have taken the service this Sunday. As I said, I will not be there and I hope that these comments have helped you decide what you will do. We got into this mess because we did not have adequate precautions. We will know much more one week from now. Regardless, as I said, safety should be our highest priority. Be safe.
God blesses you,
Spiritual Leader of Unity Center of Christianity in Baltimore
Sunday, March 15, 2020