Last week, a community quarantine was ordered by the government for the whole of the National Capital Region (NCR), prompting us to issue guidelines as to how we as a church should respond to that action. Among our guidelines were the strict screening of people entering the premises of the church (ie thermal scanning), discouraging the sick from attending, disinfecting our premises, separating seats to reflect social distancing, and others.
We continued meeting as a church, holding Sunday School and morning worship, and even if some of our members chose to just stay at home, there were at least 50 who were still in attendance at our morning service. Late in the morning, your elders decided to just cancel the live evening service and merely stream it online in order to give due consideration to the well-being of our seniors and families with children and to keep those who lived from afar from violating a curfew that was to be imposed beginning at 8 pm that evening. Off the record, however, we stated from the pulpit that no one who chose to come and attend would be asked to leave. Thus, there were still about 30 who came in the afternoon.
Things radically changed after that Sunday morning, however, when the government later in the day announced an enhanced community quarantine (ie a lockdown) of the whole of Luzon due to the wildfire spread of the virus. One of our pastors (with a family of 5) was placed under monitoring (PUM) by the authorities and another two (one single and another with a family of 5) were placed under similar PUM circumstances. We have members who have come from abroad. We have doctors, members, and visitors alike who work at the front lines. These exposures to the sick could be multiplied. In fact, at this point in time, with a lack of testing, we don’t know who has the virus and who does not. Barangay Moonwalk in Paranaque at the time of this writing has the highest PUI count of all of the 16 barangays in Paranaque city.
The government has prohibited mass gatherings but has hesitantly allowed religious services to take place, recognizing the constitutional right to express one’s faith. But it has pleaded that if possible, in the meantime, church services be beamed online for the protection of all. This is not a case of persecution but rather of protection. The government is not out to stifle our faith but to prolong the exercise of our faith by protecting our health and thereby prolonging our lives.
We do not have a perfect government but we believe that the government has our best interests in mind at this point. Therefore, your elders have decided to cooperate with the authorities so that this problem would be solved soon and life would return to normal. We are treating Covid-19 as a force majeure, a providential hindrance, similar to a flood, or storm or earthquake, where trying to go to the church building would be an exercise in futility if not senselessness. The overwhelming force at this time is invisible but no less debilitating and deadly. We want to protect you all from this.
We are in an abnormal situation in Metro Manila where public transportation has ceased, strict checkpoints abound for those with private transportation, and gated subdivisions, like Moonwalk, are closed to non-residents. We are facing a real challenge so that your elders have found it fit to stream our services online at the moment. But again, this is only temporary. By non-cooperation we prolong the problem, by cooperating with the government, we help in its swifter solution.
We do not believe that this is an issue of faith but a matter of prudence. We believe in the sovereignty of God but we wash our hands. There is a time to risk our lives when faith is at stake and a time to protect our lives when it is not.
There have been no questions asked from among the membership to cause the writing of this letter but we believe it is appropriate for us to give you a rationale as to why we acted as we did. Let’s pray that the infection curve would be flattened soon so that the lockdown would be lifted, our church life would return to normal, our Bible studies and church fellowship would resume and the examination of one of our members for the diaconate (praise God!) would proceed.
May the Lord keep us all.
THE ELDERS OF MCBC