Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Leading the church without becoming an Armchair Epidemiologist with Dr Peter Saunders, Greg Strain, and John Stevens.
1. Evangelical Christians as a small minority in exile in this world can find hope and encouragement from Psalm 138. In this psalm we see the King’s commitment when facing trouble and surrounded by foes to praise God’s Name because of God’s covenant; the King’s concern for God’s glory and that the nations would come to know and worship God; and the King’s confidence in God’s salvation and vindication. Here are truths to sustain and help us in our situation. We must remain committed to praising God’ s Name, committed to mission , and confident that God will save and vindicate us because He has raised Jesus from the dead.
2. Update on Coronavirus Law and Guidance in England:
– Places of worship will open on 2 December.
– Lockdown will end to be replaced by Tier system – Tier 1 – Rule of 6 will apply indoors and outdoors / Tier 2 – Household group inside church – Rule of 6 outdoors / Tier 3 – Household group inside and outside (except public parks etc where can meet as a group of 6).
– A unique ‘Christmas bubble’ of up to 3 households can meeting indoors between 23-27 December. Only form Christmas bubble with 3 households and once formed, that bubble is fixed.
– Weddings with 15 attendees (Reception for 15 allowed in Tiers 1 & 2).
– Funeral with 30 attendees.
– Children’s activities/Sunday School can take place as long as it is COVID-secure.
– Face covering still mandatory.
– Likely to last to end April.
3. Two areas of uncertainty are to do with rules for outdoor gatherings (which will have implications for outdoor carol services) and congregational singing (there are some indications that guidance will be revised and possible it may be allowed).
4. Implications for churches:
– We are back to the system in place before national lockdown.
– Small groups and prayer meeting can take place, depending on which Tier you are in, either in church, at home, or outside.
– Delivery of leaflets, cards, advent bags can take place.
– In-person carol services take place in church. Outdoor carol services likely to be possible.
5. Key questions for churches to ask with regards to Christmas:
– Will unbelievers come to church? Restrictions such as wearing face coverings make it a more unpleasant experience, and family gatherings will be their priority. Important that we have high quality and accessible online/hybrid events and services.
– How do care for the lonely/single in church at Christmas? (e.g. no family, international students).
6. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a worldwide pandemic with every country affected. Worldwide daily cases and daily deaths continue to rise. Different countries have handled it differently with some doing well and others not so well. The worst hit areas are the Americas and Europe (Western). The majority of infections are mild with those most are risk being aged 60+, men (who are twice at risk), Black or from Indian-subcontinent. More are dying from COVID than any other disease now. There are treatments that are effective causing fatality rate to drop 30% since April, and vaccines 90% effective have been developed.
7. How serious is COVID? We have been very effective in slowing spread but…
– There have already been over 1,417,000 deaths worldwide in 9 months.
– At current rate (>11,000 per day) there will be 2 million deaths by February 2021.
– National seroprevalence in heavily infected countries is still <15%.
– Infection Fatality Proportion (IFP) probably 0.5-1.5%.
– Potential worldwide death toil 7.8b x 0.01 x 80% = 31m-62m.
– Four vaccines now at Phase III and treatments giving 30% fall in mortality.
– Collateral economic and health damage overwhelming.
8. COVID is heading towards 8th place in the worst plagues in world history.
9. COVID is causing collateral damage on health.
– Lockdown leading to hunger and famine.
– 71 million being pushed into extreme poverty. 265 million people likely to face starvation by the end of this year as a result of COVID.
– Worsening mental health including psychosis.
– Family breakdown, domestic abuse and stigma.
– Crucial medicine inaccessible e.g. for HIV, TB, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, mental health.
– The number of children dying from missed vaccinations is likely to far outpace the numbers of people dying from COVID-19. It is threatening to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, polio, typhoid, yellow fever, cholera, rotavirus, HPV, meningitis A and rubella.
– Some regions may see deaths related to HIV, TB and malaria increase by up to 10, 20, 36% respectively over five years.
10. The situation is like Odysseus navigating his boat between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side we have the serious disease of COVID-19 and the other the collateral effects of it.
11. COVID controversies.
– Protecting the vulnerable vs protecting the economy (majority of countries are on the brink of recession; global debt is soaring).
– Do you lockdown or do you release? Or take a nuanced approach?
– Elimination vs Moderate Control.
– What is the IFP? (Infection Fatality Proportion). Estimates of the proportion of people who die from COVID-19 have been controversial.
– ‘Focussed protection’ and ‘herd immunity’ vs controlling community spread.
– The real level of immunity.
– Vaccines – effectiveness, equity and ethics.
12. Within the church we are hearing Christian memes:
– The Great Barrington Declaration – ‘focussed protection’.
– Sweden didn’t lockdown and has ‘herd immunity’ with minimal death/economic damage. [DPS: Sweden is not a wonderful success story when you dig deeper into the data available]
– COVID mortality is no worse than the flu.
– People would have died within months anyway if COVID hadn’t killed them.
– Many counted as COVID deaths really died from other causes.
– The pandemic is already over.
– Vaccines are untested, dangerous and unethical.
– IFP overestimated and level of immunity underestimated.
DPS has serious misgivings about all of them.
13. Some tentative conclusions from Dr Peter Saunders:
– An incredibly complex multifactorial problem. It needs experts from every discipline working well together.
– An abundance of exponential curses (including armchair epidemiologists).
– Social distancing, hand hygiene and mask are very effective.
– Test, trace and isolate is incredibly successful in best countries (which doesn’t include Western Europe and USA).
– Lockdown has a role in emergencies to flatten the curve.
– Going for ‘herd immunity’ is an unproven strategy and risks huge mortality.
– Treatments have reduced mortality by 30% and are improving.
– Three vaccines are now available but let’s still be very cautious about stopping prevention.
– I would personally get vaccinated both to protect myself and others.
14. The big ethical concern about the vaccine we should have is to do with equity and availability throughout the world and Western countries buying up all the vaccines to use for their people. It is important that it is widely available.
15. The other concern is the abortion link with 5 vaccines linked to the cell lines developed from two aborted babies in 1960-70s. Christians will disagree on this matter. On one hand abortion is wrong and complicity, collaboration, means to end to create cell lines is wrong. On the other, if effective vaccine is produced and nothing else available, is this a Genesis 50:20 situation where man intended it for evil but God used it for good and the saving of many lives? This blog post looks at this further.
16. It is reasonable for pastors to take this pandemic seriously. This is not the bubonic plague but neither is it seasonal flu. We are in the midst of a serious pandemic but praise God it is not as bad as it could have been.
17. It is reasonable for pastors to be concerned for the physical welfare of others, especially the vulnerable. Church events have the ability of being super-spreaders.
18. It is reasonable for pastors to take Romans 13 seriously. It is easy to be sceptical about government, but we are called to respect and obey and pray for our government. They are placed their for our good, and in common grace they often act for our good and for good of society. We need to have a bit of mercy on our government – caught between rock and hard place – economic damage and mental health – as they have a difficult task. We want too much from the government, expecting them to be Christian and give us special place when aren’t and don’t, whereas non-Christian often expect to solve all their problems. This is not to say that down the line we might have to consider civil disobedience.
19. It is reasonable for pastors to prayerfully do our best before the Lord. All we can do is weigh up the arguments and make the best decision before the Lord and for our churches with our elders.