By Pastor David Taylor
First Baptist Church – Los Alamos
Like most of the world in January and February I watched as we were introduced to COVID-19 from the corners of the globe. In the months to come I watched as it infiltrated its way into our lives and activities.
I must admit that initially I watched with a bit of skepticism, however that did change. I thought, I am a 41-year-old healthy pastor in a small mountain community in Northern, New Mexico. I thought the likelihood of me ever encountering this virus or it affecting my life in this small town, off the beaten path, was a slight and even negligible chance! What could this virus with “flu-like” symptoms do to me?
I began to wear my mask begrudgingly and was generally grumpy about the whole situation. I complied but I was not happy about it. It was an inconvenience to my day and week more than anything. To my knowledge I had not even been exposed to the virus until very recently. I continued to watch as the virus circled, and counts began to climb. A person I knew from college tested positive for COVID-19. Friends in another part of New Mexico also tested positive COVID-19. I watched people I know lose loved ones to the virus.
As the virus got closer to home, I hurt for the people I knew who had been affected by COVID-19. Then my mom tested positive for COVID-19. It does not get much closer to home than that, and my concern grew even more in the days that she was dealing with the virus. Miraculously, my dad did not contract COVID-19 at this time.
With Thanksgiving approaching, I made my usual plans to escape into nature, fresh air in the middle of nowhere for a few days. As is the usual case around Thanksgiving, I traveled to the great outdoors of Oklahoma with my son, dad, brother and nephew for our annual camping and hunting trip. There were five of us in total. My son and I arrived late Sunday evening and were up early Monday morning watching for deer all day. That evening we heated some soup for dinner as my dad had begun not to feel well. At the time, we did not know that he had COVID-19. The three of us sat in the living quarters of his trailer, without masks eating our soup and breathing the same air for maybe 15 minutes and then went to bed. (My brother and nephew had not yet arrived.)
It was that simple; I took a bite of soup, I took a drink, I took a breath of air, and I contracted COVID-19, as did my son. We did something as natural and necessary as taking in a breath of air, and by Thursday morning, I was feeling the effects of the virus, some of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 had materialized in me. My father at this point had tested positive, so there was little guess as to why I was feeling so poorly.
I wish I could say that the way I felt while having COVD-19 was like a slight flu. It was not. It knocked me flat on my back for the better part of two weeks, and I ran a fever that averaged 101 for 10 days, coupled with severe nausea for several days and the inability to eat or drink virtually anything, COVID-19 rendered me useless. No matter what it was, everything I did was a struggle. There were days that I did not even feel like rolling over in bed. For the first time in almost 10 years as a pastor, I missed preaching for two consecutive Sundays! I feel extremely fortunate and blessed that I did not have a more severe case as others have had. My dad was not so lucky. He developed pneumonia from his bout with Covid-19. Currently, we are all doing well and on the path to recovery.
In hindsight, even as I have watched during the early stages, and as this virus has marched its way through our nation state by state, community by community, for many months in Los Alamos our case counts remained low when compared to other regions in our state. It was in mid-March when it all came home. We were asked and instructed for our safety and the safety others to stay home. We were unable to gather in public and meet weekly for worship as we normally would.
As I watched in frustration, all these closures and restrictions with low case counts in some places and high case counts in others, there was just no rhyme or reason in my mind to what was going on. With little more to do, we followed the rules and abided by what we were being asked to do by those who have been put in authority over us as our leaders by God. I will honestly admit, I did so begrudgingly and crankily, but I did it.
In the days and months to come, First Baptist Los Alamos invested in the technology that would allow us to stay connected with our members. Many of our members who were high risk could remain at home, while being able to engage with the church online. I preached to an empty and dark room every week. My only solace was that we were loving one another and our neighbors well by keeping them safe and healthy from the virus through limiting our contact and interactions.
March turned into June and we were finally allowed to blend the new virtual world of worship we had come to know with beginning to meet in person again. We took the guidelines and created a road map for returning in person to our building. We found that to be safe we had to make several difficult decisions and had to cancel many activities. We have had to forego many of our more popular activities such as our Wednesday Evening Family Meal and children’s activities. We have resumed only those activities in which we could clearly meet the guidelines set before us and we have applied these same standards to those who have wanted to use our buildings. We even took a couple of extra weeks to make sure we had our plans correct according the guidelines.
Finally, we began to meet for worship in mid-June. Everyone is required to wear a mask. (We do provide masks if someone forgets theirs.) We provide hand-sanitizer and encourage everyone to remain at a distance. All our chairs and groupings of chairs have been set 6 feet apart with a tape measure for the protection and health of those who join us for worship in person.
I cannot stand to think of the damage that could have been caused in so many people’s lives had we been careless and not taken those, preliminary precautions as a response to the possibility of the impending virus rather than waiting and having to react to an outbreak in our congregation. I am so grateful that the leadership at FBC-LA agreed that we take the measures we did, when we did, regardless of my skepticism on the necessity of some of the items. My priority was to protect the health of our congregation regardless of how personally inconvenient it was for me or how I felt about the matter initially.
This approach has worked for us as a church as we implemented and met in accordance with the state health guidelines. The results for our church have been incredible. We have made the health and safety of our congregation a priority. It is a matter of great importance to all of us that we protect and love one another well. While we may not like some of the restrictions ourselves, we are determined to love one another and love our neighbors in this way. Doing so has allowed us to escape virtually unharmed by the virus. We have not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases in our church until the week of Thanksgiving. Then, of all people, I was the one who tested positive. It is my hope and prayer that I am the only one in my congregation that gets the virus. I must add that my family, as you would expect, has also tested positive thanks to what my son and I brought home with us. Their quarantine will be complete shortly.
In these past few days and weeks, I was made very aware of how dangerously easy it is to transmit and catch this virus. I know exactly where I was, how I contracted the virus, and who I contracted it from. I do not wish that on anyone. So many people who have contracted the virus are not as lucky. It is incredibly important that we follow the guidelines set before us to the best of our ability. We love one another well by protecting one another with intentionality. The ease and simplicity at which this virus is transmitted is unnerving to me.
If I can be of any encouragement to you as a former skeptic of this virus, I would ask you to join me and embrace these practices that we have established at First Baptist Church of Los Alamos that have allowed us to successfully love and protect one another so well: Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Watch your distance and proximity to others. Withdraw from meeting with others if you do not feel well in anyway.