The COVID-19 virus has churches scrambling. In many parts of the world, including North America, many churches have been closed to public worship. Bishops and clergy have been furiously sending out emails and instructions, plotting responses and strategizing about the days ahead. Lists of “10 Things To Do in Your Congregation” are making the rounds. From my observations, I can generalize about elements in these responses. There are outliers, of course, but not that many.
The first thing I see is the insistent call to comfort and be comforting. People are afraid and uncertain, we are told, and they need to be loved and assured. These directives are aimed mostly at clergy, but filter down from them: you can’t hug anybody anymore physically, but you should try to do it in other ways, maybe even “virtually.” Call people up; create email chains; issue little daily meditations of warmth and security. This falls into a kind of “motherly” mode. And with it comes another motherly aspect, which is the disciplinary call to behave: wash your hands; don’t get too close; obey the rules; remember that other people count; be kind; be responsible. All this represents an almost fierce maternalization of the church and especially of her leadership.
The second aspect of our moment’s ecclesial response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a corollary of the first. If bishop and clergy all become “Mom,” everybody else becomes “the kids.” Thus, with the church’s maternalization of leadership comes the Christian people’s infantilization. They’re scared, worried, need direction and hand-holding (well, only metaphorically). They also need to be told how to behave, how to be nice to others, how to organize their time well.
A provocative contrary view about online worship from Ephraim Radner: “When it comes to worship, we might learn to pray alone” https://t.co/5oy6vkBGdG
— Jeff Walton (@jeffreyhwalton) March 20, 2020