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Social distancing does not mean spiritual distancing

COVID-19 hits close to home for Maryland journalist and minister.

HYATTSVILLE, Md. — To me, Terrance Burke was more than the head basketball coach at Northwestern High School in this urban suburb of Washington, D.C.

He was more than a guidance counselor and school administrator who at times announced the Wildcat football games.

The 54-year-old educator was my friend and brother.

Coach Terrance Burke is one of more than 2,100 people in the U.S. who have died from the coronavirus.

Coach Terrance Burke is one of more than 2,100 people in the U.S. who have died from the coronavirus.

Now, he’s another victim — one of over 2,100 nationwide — of the invisible killer known as COVID-19. I just can’t believe it.

For nearly two decades, the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville has been feeding Northwestern High football players spiritual food — through the annual Friday night cookout and a Saturday breakfast and Bible study. I first got to know Coach Burke through my volunteer work with that outreach ministry when his son, Sydney, played for the team.

Long after Sydney graduated, Coach Burke and I maintained our camaraderie and had deep talks about life issues. He was one of the last people I talked to during Northwestern’s final football game this past season.

But Saturday morning, the head football coach called me with the devastating news that Burke had died as a result of the coronavirus. Sadly, this was the second such call I had received in just a few days.

The Northwestern High School Wildcats line up during a team practice.

Another unwanted call

On Thursday, a fellow Christian looked like he was sleeping under white linen and a beautiful quilt in the viewing room of a local mortuary.

In my role as a minister, I was there to offer support to the family. This brother, too, was taken too soon from this world because of the virus outbreak. I choose not to name him publicly until his family does so.

COVID-19 has taken too many lives across our nation. Some of those who have died are members of the body of Christ. Because of social distancing, families can’t hold funerals or meet together in  sanctuaries for love, support and consolation. But social distancing does not mean spiritual distancing.

For so many years, America has been the land of the free. But now every aspect of our lives has been turned upside down. Even worshiping on Sunday and the family meal afterward have been replaced by Facebook Live, YouTube and Zoom.

At a time like this, I think about Ecclesiastes 3:1-4.

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every [a] purpose under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

But then there is Ecclesiastes 12:6:

6 Remember him — before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, 7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Dreaded days of death

The book of Ecclesiastes teaches the Christian to remember the Creator in the days of one’s youth before the dreaded days of death come.

Most of us have never experienced this much sickness and death before. This moment is even more than troubling because the coronavirus has been a silent, invisible plague that moves about in those who appear to be well.

“It is troubling, but I know that God is in control.”

“It is troubling, but I know that God is in control,” said Wanda Parker, a school teacher and resident of Pensacola, Fla. “The question is will people heed the call. They had to close the beach because so many people still wanted to go despite the virus.”

But how do we cope at a time when hospital beds are full, grocery store shelves are empty, the president is making promises daily, Congress has passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, and nobody on earth can predict the end of this horror?

In the same way police, paramedics, nurses and doctors are working hard to treat the sick, we as Christians are also first responders: We must minister as best we can. This is what some of our brothers and sisters are doing to deal with the crisis.

As a minister, I believe that it’s important to be with grieving families. In addition, I have volunteered as a police chaplain to hand out fruit, snacks and other items at roll call in the Baltimore Police Department.

As a pharmacist in the nation’s capital, Cyprian Sabah is not only filling prescriptions, but also he has been delivering toilet paper and hand sanitizer to members of his church and others.

“People come to the pharmacy looking for antiseptics such as alcohol, hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and as result, we try to take some of these items to people who can’t come into the pharmacy,” said Sabah, who along with fellow Christian Alfred Addico owns the DuPont Circle Pharmacy.

“This is a big opportunity to minister to the community,” added Sabah, an immigrant from Ghana and member of the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland. “We have ordered several thousand dollars of hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes we are giving them out for free.”

Christians around the world face challenges related to the coronavirus.

Christians around the world face challenges related to the coronavirus.

In Los Angeles, members of the Figueroa Church of Christ have been holding online services. During the week, the congregation’s deacons distribute communion cups in the church parking lot.

“We need to look at this as an opportunity  to reach people who would never walk into a Church of Christ,” said Geri Allen, an actress who is a member of the Figueroa church. “We need to step up right now.”

At a time like this, we need to focus on the goodness and love of the Lord. We see now more than ever the that church is more than bricks and mortar, and God’s will does not change despite what is going on in the world.

It is a call that we will win for Jesus.

The work we do as Christians can be trying, but we don’t have a choice. We have a calling.

HAMIL R. HARRIS is a Christian Chronicle correspondent and veteran journalist who spent more than two decades with the Washington Post. He preaches regularly for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland and monthly for the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville, Md.

Filed under: Coronavirus covid Covid and church COVID-19 global pandemic Opinion Top Stories Views virus outbreak

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