The nation’s largest church said Wednesday it would not hold its upcoming weekend services due to the coronavirus threat, as churches across the country – big and small – grappled with how to respond to the outbreak.
Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston said it would not hold public in-person services in light of an emergency health declaration by Mayor Sylvester Turner, as well as “the fact that Lakewood draws such large numbers of international visitors each week.” Instead, church services will be broadcast online only this weekend. It is the largest church in the United States.
The Episcopal dioceses of Washington and Virginia are closing or canceling services at more than 250 churches in the region.
Meanwhile, congregations across the U.S. are facing similar tough choices – and in some instances, are being ordered or strongly urged by government officials to cancel.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s public health officials on Wednesday said “non-essential gatherings” of more than 250 people should be postponed or canceled “to protect public health and slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday he is recommending that “local municipalities and private entities to strongly consider limiting or postponing mass gatherings in the state of Florida.”
“This is an opportunity, our health officials believe, where some of these large-scale events can be postponed and do it later,” DeSantis said, according to WPTV.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday banned gatherings of 500 or more people.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday issued an emergency proclamation prohibiting events in three counties that attract 250 or more people, including churches, concerts, festivals and sporting events.
Christian colleges and universities are facing tough decisions, too.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., also said they were moving to online classes. Boyce is an undergraduate seminary school.
“We’re driven by love of God and love of neighbor, and right now, love of neighbor means that we’re going to have to interrupt the way we do theological education and college education,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, said in an online video.
Photo courtesy: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Facebook
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.