Pastor Jonathan Alvear, Conyers Apostolic Church

Our nation, as everyone well knows, is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis brought on by the spread of the New Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, a very dangerous and all-too-often fatal disease for which there is no known cure at this time. In order to slow the spread and “flatten the curve” in the critical weeks ahead as we move into the “spike” period of the virus in our country, our government has asked that every citizen put in place certain guidelines and precautions that can be undertaken to limit its infection and resulting harm to the populace, including the suspending of assembly in larger groups. I realize that every state is responding in different ways, so I am referring to the mandates pertaining to the state of Georgia where our church is located. I view these guidelines as being reasonable in the face of the great threat we are dealing with and NOT as religious persecution, as they apply to virtually EVERY segment of our society, including churches, restaurants, and even bars and nightclubs, sports arenas and entertainment centers. Exceptions are made for services deemed as necessary to the acquiring of groceries, goods and services needed for daily life and survival. For even those, the public is being encouraged to procure and acquire them in ways that put them at minimal risk of exposure when possible.

As a pastor who strongly believes in the biblical mandate to “not forsake the assembling together” of believers, I naturally view church as an “essential” service and am not comfortable with having to suspend church services and not come together to worship God or hear His Word. Nonetheless I understand the grave danger that exposure to this virus can have on our congregation, and especially those more vulnerable among us. Thus I have elected to COMPLY with the federal, state and local mandates, decrees and recommendations to NOT assemble in groups larger than 10 persons, etc., on a temporary basis. I have always considered myself to be a man of FAITH, and so if my position on this diminishes this perception in the eyes of some and makes me appear weak and faithless, then so be it. I feel it is only prudent to protect our assembly as much as possible by taking shelter and practicing “social distancing” and any other reasonable measures that would reduce the risk, much the same as if we were taking refuge from a hurricane, a tornado, a blizzard, fire or flood. I have loved ones who have conditions that put them in the higher risk category, and I am simply not prepared to put them in unnecessary danger. It is my understanding that it is possible for young and healthy individuals to pick up the virus while out and about, and yet show no symptoms for a number of days, and maybe never. These may feel it is safe to congregate together and yet they may go home and spread it to others who may then become dangerously ill.

While I may not like having to operate this way, I am prepared to make use of other options provided to us through modern technology to remain connected to our families and church members by having remote “services” and Bible studies, etc. I am not comfortable with these formats and am looking forward to being able to meet together in our beautiful sanctuary as soon as the worst of the crisis has past, or it is deemed reasonably safe within acceptable limits to do so. In the meantime, we are not in competition with any other church or group resorting to these technologies and do not view ourselves as professionals or entertainers. We are merely attempting to fill a need and bridge the gap. As for future use of these technologies once things return to a semblance of “normal,” and we are able to congregate physically, we will evaluate and determine what role our use of such platforms will take going forward.

This position is not intended to disparage any other “stand” that other pastors and assemblies have decided to take. We are all in unchartered waters and trying to navigate the best way we know how going forward. Everyone will have to make the decisions they feel comfortable making, realizing that each will also have to bear the CONSEQUENCES of those decisions, good and bad. I DO have difficulty accepting that God has spoken to only a select few and instructed them to take positions that are different from the vast majority of other concerned and conscientious pastors and leaders in this crisis, while ignoring the rest of us. I well understand what the Bible has mandated us to do with regards to assembly, and I assure you that if the day comes when churches and religious institutions ALONE are being singled out for closure and persecution under the guise of public safety, we will emphatically resist.

And yet I have seen no evidence so far that our government is using this crisis to limit our rights in a way that goes beyond the crisis at hand, although I am certain that many would love to do just that. That is not to say that it couldn’t happen in the future. But I cannot believe that our leaders would be willing to tank our thriving and growing economy within a few weeks’ time if the threat were not real and considerable. We must also remember that we are not the only ones in this peril, as there are over 150 other nations dealing with this virus crisis as well, some with great loss of life already. In many of those nations, the restrictions imposed on their citizens are even more stringent than those being asked of Americans, and the punishments much more severe. In some parts of Brazil, for instance, churches and other institutions are being told that if they persist in defying the directives, they could be shut down permanently.

I mean no disrespect to those who are choosing not to comply with the COVID-19 mandates regarding assembly. Some of them are men I have known and loved a very long time and admire the great work they have done in the Kingdom of God. We have fellowshipped and even preached conferences together over the years. I refuse to jump on the bandwagon to assail them. However, I think it is unfortunate that their posture has made many who have long despised the Apostolic and Pentecostal doctrine only too happy to seize on these opportunities to ridicule and berate the movement as a whole for the stand of a few. I have thus instructed our church congregation to refrain from joining in the chorus of outrage and insults being heaped upon those with whom we may disagree on this. I see no benefit to getting involved in fruitless discussions and arguments with some who will never like or approve of anything we do or preach anyway. We must all pray for each other and our families and church assemblies across America and around the world. These are dangerous times and this virus is a killer. May God bless and grant all of you safety and health, and may we soon be able to worship Him together in one mind and in one accord as we have long enjoyed and for too long taken for granted.