How can we safely worship at church in a pandemic?

Many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being; religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment.

in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:21-22, ESV

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

(Although this post addresses the Christian faith, I hope other communities of faith find this useful.)

San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, Texas

 “Closing” our churches

Many of us have not attended a religious service in person since March, when almost every activity outside our homes ceased in order to limit spread of SARS CoV-2 infection.

Unfortunately churches were lumped into the category of “non-essential”, although we all realize how essential our religious establishments are. But in the context of a serious viral pandemic, our public health professionals believed it was necessary to prohibit all large public indoor gatherings.

Of course, the “Church” never closes; people who consider themselves the Church practice their faith in places other than a designated building-in their homes, in a park, at work, online. My local church already had an online presence so we’ve never missed a week of having teaching and prayer.

My state opened relatively early, and my church reopened soon after. They arranged the sanctuary for social distancing, performed extra cleaning, and now require masks. However, due to our age, my husband and I have chosen to continue worshiping from home.

St. Hedwig Church in Chicago Illinois
St. Hedwig Church in Chicago Illinois

“Reopening” our churches

The CDC, state, and local health departments have issued guidelines for reopening public facilities of all kinds, including churches, and I encourage you to consult those. A private association of Christian physicians and dentists also developed guidelines specific to the needs of churches. (Although these guidelines are directed toward those who practice the Christian faith, I believe that others can apply them to their worship practices.)

7 recommendations for church gatherings during COVID-19
7 recommendations for church gatherings during COVID-19 from the Christian Medical and Dental Associations

The Christian Medical and Dental Associations, CMDA, had a specific purpose in writing their guidelines. As stated-

Part of the mission of CMDA is to glorify God by caring for all people and advancing Biblical principles of healthcare within the Church and throughout the world.

With that in mind, CMDA has enlisted several expert members to provide guidance to church leaders as they wrestle with the problem of re-opening their services within the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the association are all physicians and dentists-students, residents, clinicians, teachers, missionaries, and retired. And they are active members of churches all over the world. So they are in a unique position to consider both the needs of the Church and the needs of public health and safety.

CMDA Guidelines For Reopening Churches

  • Consider size of the area for enclosed gatherings to accommodate social distancing.
  • Offer communion using single use, prepackaged supplies.
  • For baptism, use heated and disinfected water .
  • Limit choir participants and assure adequate social distance , especially if unmasked.
  • Use extra precautions for congregational singing if not done outdoors.
  • For instruments, ensure social distance and limit sharing of equipment.
  • Social distancing, hand hygiene, and masks are recommended for all attendees.

I encourage you to follow the link to the full document which explains the reasons for the recommendations and includes links to pertinent references.

a simple white church flanked by autumn trees
a church in Talulla Falls Georgia

There is no guarantee that even with these measures cases of COVID-19 will not occur due to transmission at a church. Ohio has had several COVID-19 outbreaks recently, many of which the Ohio Department of Health traced to bars, restaurants, churches, and day care centers. Outbreaks in other states have been linked to attendance at church events, including weddings and funerals.

the purpose of these guidelines is to provide evidence-based recommendations for Christian communities who wish to reopen safely.

Though evidence-based, however, these guidelines are not intended to replace government ordinances or health regulations and should be considered in light of local guidance which account for the community prevalence of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 and available resources.



The Constitution and the CDC

Does closing churches for health reasons violate the Constitution? According to the First Amendment (the first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights)

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

Amendment 1, the U.S. Constitution

I suppose it depends on your definition of “the free exercise” thereof.

  • Have we been told to renounce our faith?
  • Are we prohibited from owning or reading our Bibles and other spiritual writings?
  • Can we watch or listen to religious programs on television, radio, and the internet?
  • Can our clergy and teachers continue to preach and instruct?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“This guidance (about church activity during a pandemic) is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).

The federal government may not prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship, and in accordance with the First Amendment, no faith community should be asked to adopt any mitigation strategies that are more stringent than the mitigation strategies asked of similarly situated entities or activities.

while many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being, religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment.

State and local authorities are reminded to take this vital right into account when establishing their own re-opening plans. “

Here’s another post you may enjoy reading
an open Bible next to a world globe

The place where God lives

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.








sharing the HEART of health, faith, hope, and love

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

I took all of the photos in this post on vacations over several years. They are for illustration only, and do not represent CMDA or the guidelines described in this post. I am a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations but had no part in writing the guidelines,with which I agree.



FAITH LOVE HOPE- words created with letter tiles
These three remain, faith, hope and love, and greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

                              Dr. Aletha 

Pearls, pigs, Pickles, and Zits

Pig tries his best to navigate a world that is often unfair, unfriendly, confusing and conflicting, and his friends do their best to help him muddle through. But as Stephan wrote, their efforts often fail, at least in their eyes.

If my local newspaper quit publishing comic strips I would probably still read it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much.

Cartoons share information in a unique and effective way; in just a few words and/or pictures, the artist can convey ideas and emotions that make us laugh, cringe, seethe, evaluate, examine, and change , often without feeling diminished or threatened.

I’ve read the “funny papers” since I was a child, and if you follow me on Facebook you know I post a cartoon there weekly, a “Friday Funny”. Through the years I’ve had several favorites-Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbs, Doonesbury, -some no longer in production. But I’ve found new ones that I like and read regularly.

One is Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, a strip about Connie and Walt Duncan , parents of a teenage son Jeremy. Jeremy is a typical teenager, sometimes endearing, sometimes maddening. His parents are health care professionals, Connie a child psychologist and Walt an orthodontist. Years ago, when my husband and I still had a teen son in our home, I would almost believe the writers listened in on our conversations since some days I read my own words in the strip.

I assume the title refers to the frequency that teen boys suffer from “zits”, a slang term for the skin condition, acne. Almost all teenagers develop acne; when severe it can cause significant distress; girls have it too, and sometimes it continues into early adulthood.

Now my husband and I identify more with Brian Crane’s Pickles, a strip featuring a senior couple Earl and Opal Pickles, who are enjoying retirement and grand-parenthood. But sometimes the Pickles find the senior years not so golden; the strip portrays their coping with the inevitable losses of advancing age in a bittersweet way.

My current favorite is Pearls Before Swine, a comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis. It chronicles the daily lives of an “ensemble cast of suburban anthropomorphic animals”: Pig, Rat, Zebra, Goat, and a fraternity of crocodiles, as well as a number of supporting characters.

Before becoming a cartoonist, Stephan Pastis was a lawyer. On his blog FAQs he explains the name of his strip this way

Q) Where does the title of the strip come from?
A) Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” (KJV) In the case of the strip, Rat thinks every thing he says is wise, and that it is wasted upon dumb Pig.

Pig tries his best to navigate a world that is often unfair, unfriendly, confusing and conflicting, and his friends do their best to help him muddle through. But as Stephan wrote, their efforts often fail, at least in their eyes.

“Pearls before swine”

Did you know that phrase is in the Bible? Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount preaching to a large group on a mountain, according to Matthew, but Luke recorded it as several shorter talks. It contains some of the most well known, often quoted, frequently preached words in the Bible and to me summarizes Jesus’ message to this world . Like cartoons, these three Bible chapters convey much information and inspiration in short, colorful phrases whose meaning is not always readily apparent.

Here is the verse in context, in modern language , the New International Version.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:1-6, NIV

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

(In many Bibles, words attributed to Jesus are printed in red letters.)

specks and planks

I understand the part about the eye. As a family physician I see patients complaining of a foreign body in their eye. If you’ve ever had something in your eye, you know how distressing it can be. When I examine the eye, I usually find a tiny speck, sometimes so small I need magnification to see it. It may be a speck of dust, wood shaving, or even metal. After applying a topical anesthetic (deadening eyedrop) I can easily remove the speck. The patient usually is shocked at how small it is, because to them it felt like a “plank”.

a drawing of a human eyeball
A foreign body, speck, may get stuck on the CORNEA and feel like a plank in the eye.

A pearl is a “concretion formed around a grain of sand or other foreign body within the shell of certain mollusks.” Doesn’t sound appealing but when we display them around our necks, ears, wrists, or fingers, they are treated as fine jewelry. Thus, the word “pearl” has become synonomous with something valuable, costly, precious, desirable.

a white pearl ring with diamond highlights
Photo by Marta Branco on

There are also several medical terms using pearl.

  • an epithelial pearl-a rounded mass of keratin found in found in some skin cancers
  • a drug pearl- a medication dispensed as a pearl-like capsule
  • pearl disease-tuberculosis (TB) in the chest or abdomen consisting of small rounded lesions

But the medical definition that most fits the meaning of this verse is one that all doctors learn early in their training- a clinical pearl.

Clinical pearls are small bits of free standing clinically relevant information based on experience or observation

Medical Teacher

Usually clinical pearls are shared verbally, then preserved and shared as informal written notes (when I was in medical school) although now disseminated electronically. Often our professors would impart these to us during hospital rounds as we examined and discussed patients; we understood these pearls to be valuable knowledge we would not get from textbooks alone, wisdom they gained from years of study and experience.

Physicians based much of the early treatment of COVID-19 in the 2020 pandemic on clinical pearls, since as a novel disease, there were no textbooks or journal articles to use as reference. Internationally, through social media and email, doctors began sharing their experiences treating COVID patients until the information found its way into mainstream medical journals.

planks, specks, pearls, and pigs

Rather than telling you what I think these verses mean, or telling you what I think you should think they mean, I offer some questions to help you decide that they mean to you.

  1. What measure (or standard as used in the NLT version) do I use to judge (evaluate or examine) other people? Do I apply the same standard to myself, or do I want others to?
  2. What planks (logs in the NLT) are in my eye that I need to remove to see others more clearly?
  3. What specks bother me about others? Should I offer to remove them, and if so, how should I?
  4. What pearls do I “wear” that others might want or need? How do I decide to whom and when to offer pearls? How do I react when my pearls are trampled?
before you leave, here’s another post based on Matthew 7, featuring a poem by Robert Frost
a man reading a Bible standing in a grove of aspen trees

Choosing the road to life and wellness

Despite Frost’s assertion that his poem was a joke, multiple commentaries dissect it extensively and assign all kinds of meaning to it, suggesting that we do believe that our choices matter in life, whether relationships, finances, education, or health.

exploring the HEART of faith, hope, and love

I’m hope you enjoyed exploring these Bible verses with me today, and before you leave I hope you will read some of the other posts about the Sermon.

Please look for these cartoons in your newspaper, online, or in one of their books using the affiliate links above. Affiliate commissions help me continue sharing the HEART of health here and with organizations that do so around the world to those who need it the most yet lack access the most .

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

I appreciate the chance to share this post at