Two pastors of one of the largest churches in the country may have been exposed to the coronavirus at a leadership conference in Germany and have been quarantined in their homes by local health officials.
Religion News Service reports Craig Groeschel, the senior pastor of Life.Church in Edmond, Okla., was one of the speakers at the Willow Creek Deutschland Leitungskongress 2020, which took place last week in Karlsruhe, Germany. Groeschel was accompanied to the conference with Bobby Gruenewald, another pastor of the 90,000-member church.
The meeting was cut short after one speaker contracted the COVID-19 virus and became ill. There were around 7,400 attendees registered for the conference, according to RNS.
Groeschel and Gruenewald went into quarantine for 14 days after returning home to Edmond from Germany. They have not had any direct contact with church members or their families.
Neither man has displayed any symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
"Pastor Craig and I remain at home and healthy. While en route home from Germany, we were made aware of the situation at the conference. We immediately notified health authorities and have followed every recommendation," Groeschel said in a statement to CBN News.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we have been isolated in our homes the entire time, even limited from interaction with our families. We have no symptoms, and someone is checking on us regularly. In the meantime, we're making the most of this time to focus on ministry work and look forward to getting back to our normal routines."
Gruenewald said he and Groeschel remain in good spirits despite their isolation.
"We're making the most of this time to focus on ministry work and even doing some extra sit-ups and pushups," he joked to RNS.
Gruenewald is the founder of the YouVersion Bible App, which has been downloaded more than 400 million times.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus is also having an impact on a wider range of churches.
Communion and the Coronavirus
Other church leaders around the country are thinking about how to best protect their congregants as they participate in the very reason they attend services in the first place - the observance of Communion.
For Christians, communion or the Lord's Supper is a remembrance of what Jesus Christ did for mankind and a celebration of what we have and will receive because of his sacrifice.
The observance of the Lord's Supper is found in Matthew 26: 26-29.
"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father." -- Matthew 26: 26-29
The Apostle Paul told the Christians in Corinth to continue observing the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
In many churches around the country, servers with trays walk the aisles and pass plates filled with unleavened bread wafers and cups of grape juice among attendees. Health officials would probably agree that letting each person put their hand in the same bread plate during any kind of viral outbreak is not the most sanitary method available.
One pastor in Mt. Holly, NJ, came up with another way to serve communion that takes a little longer, but as he explains it, more "Christ-centered."
"It's easy to get into the mindset that the Lord's Supper is a necessary inconvenience, so you do it the easiest way possible in order to fit in the time frame of your service," Rev. Barry Gray of First Presbyterian Church told The Washington Post. "We didn't want to fall into that. We were thinking: How do we make it intimate and personal with Christ at the center?"
At the appropriate time, all congregants come forward to receive a piece of bread and a small cup of grape juice from one of four servers rather than taking wafers from a tray.
When the news of coronavirus broke, and his church members became worried about the health risks when partaking of communion, Gray decided to take one more step suggested by a deacon: disposable gloves. The servers would wear disposable gloves when passing out the bread and the juice.
And so on this past Sunday, Gray told the newspaper he addressed the elephant in the room when it came time for communion. When he finished preaching, he put on gloves.
"I cracked a little joke about it," he told The Post. I said: 'Well, Dr. Gray is about to do some spiritual surgery!' "