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I am determined to trust God to keep me in the place where He dwells, His church

Jessica Johnson on

As states are outlining their mandatory health procedures for lifting shelter-in-place orders and clarifying their requirements for nonessential businesses to reopen, there are some slight differences. In Ohio, our last day required to stay at home is May 29, but consumer retail businesses will be allowed to welcome customers back this week, which includes outdoor dining for restaurants. Face coverings will be required for business staffs and recommended for their clientele. Those who venture out to shop at their favorite stores will be doing so for the first time since COVID-19 shut everything down during the latter part of March. With this bold move to reopen Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine warned, "The coronavirus presents a risk, a dangerous risk, but we can deal with that in as safe a way as possible." Other states such as Florida and Georgia reopened at the end of April, but California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not provided an end date for the quarantine. While I am grateful that I will have the option to shop and dine out again, one of the in-person gathering protocols that I have been closely following regards church services. During this pandemic, the terms "nonessential" and "essential" have become fully ingrained in our daily lexicon as we have been working from home and basically limited to shopping for food, making runs to the post office or, if needed, getting prescriptions filled by a pharmacist. Many churches, particularly those with large congregations, canceled their worship services as coronavirus cases were peaking across the nation. Now that we are gradually reopening, although not anywhere close to our "old" normal, I believe that it is essential we get back to church.

COVID-19 has greatly altered the manner in which we publicly assemble, whether it be at church or in a movie theatre, and I am in no way suggesting that we return to our houses of worship without using safety precautions. Pastors are going to have to diligently seek God for wisdom and guidance in leading their congregations during this severe time. For larger churches in states that are permitting them to reopen their doors, I'm sure that many pastors will highly recommend wearing masks and probably incorporate temperature checks before members are allowed to enter the sanctuary. Larger congregations will also most likely have to have multiple services with a certain number of people. More efforts will have to be made to get sermons and other needed ministry to the elderly and those who are homebound with critical preexisting conditions. I know that many will ask whether going to church is worth the risk during a pandemic. My answer is that attending church is just as essential as going to the grocery store during the coronavirus outbreak. The latter is for the healthy maintenance of the physical body. The former is for the strengthening of the soul. Spiritual nourishment is vital for our soul, and in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus urges the multitude to feed on Him, the "Living Bread," for spiritual sustenance. When our souls are well fed, God is reflected in "the health" of "our countenance," meaning our mental composure and demeanor. Now, many people would also ask, "Well, can't YouTube and Zoom suffice for church attendance during this time?" Yes, they can for people who are sick and shut in. However, for those who are healthy, churches need to implement safety measures just as businesses that are reopening are doing. We can take turns leading shorter prayer or worship services. There is a reason that the Bible tells us in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake "the assembling of ourselves." It is because when believers come together on one accord, the power of God is manifested through miraculous healing and deliverance. Church is also where we, as David wrote in Psalm 27, "behold the beauty of the LORD," meaning His splendor, and where we "enquire" or seek Him in His temple.

As Ohio reopens along with other states, the words of Gov. DeWine regarding the risks of COVID-19 are definitely true. But as I believe in God to protect me in essential places like grocery stores, and in my place of employment when I return, I am determined to trust God to keep me in the place where He dwells, His church. And I'll faithfully do so with a mask.

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Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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