Saturday, May 23, 2020

COVID-19: The Church Between Wonks and a Hard Place

NOTE: On Friday, May 22, The Centers for Disease Control issued Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith (link:

Churches should read the entire document, including these lines: “CDC offers these suggestions for faith communities to consider and accept, reject, or modify, consistent with their own faith traditions, in the course of preparing to reconvene for in-person gatherings while still working to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This guidance 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).”

Nothing in this essay contradicts any of the guidelines issued. In fact, the CDC’s guidance confirms my reasonable conclusions and recommendations.

Many churches are struggling with the contradiction of the continued ministry of the Gospel and government-mandated shutdowns imposed by COVID-19 mitigation strategies. This essay explores risks and resultant damage imposed as we pass yet another week with empty churches.

What’s at Risk?

A risk analysis seeks to express the intensity and likelihood of harm and the most effective ways to mitigate both the probability and severity of risks. We applied this approach in establishing our church security team and protocols. We desired to mitigate risks within the constraints of our facilities, available personnel, resources, the law, congregational sensitivities, available intelligence (sources of threats and intent), and existing capabilities.

The US military mission is a continuous process of collecting, aggregating, and analyzing information, identifying existing and emerging threats, and amassing the capabilities required to deter, disable, and/or destroy specific threats. While military risk analysis is process-heavy, it reflects what we do “naturally” as we conduct risk assessments continuously (and often subconsciously) nearly every waking moment. We take in a situation, determine what path presents the least overall risk within the objectives we have in mind, and then choose the best option. For example: to cross a busy street, we assess the density and speed of the traffic, the availability of pedestrian signals, the likelihood that drivers in this location will act in accordance with laws, and the distance across the street. We then consider our ability to cross the street within the allotted time. Then we might re-assess whether the shop across the street is worth all the trouble.

In this essay, I will review the current COVID-19 and ancillary situations within a risk assessment framework as a contribution to a church’s decision-making process.

Risk Assessment Process

A risk assessment is a structured, objective method of cataloging potential threats to business, organization, or church’s mission and goals (why it exists).[1] A formal risk assessment groups findings into categories: probability, threats, vulnerabilities, variables, harm, and assets.

Once risks are identified, mitigations are employed to reduce the probability, vulnerabilities, and/or the potential harm. All mitigations are subject to constraints: the limitations of resources and time.[2]

Mission and Goals

Before risk can be properly addressed, we need to know who or what is subject to harm or loss. Where there are people there will be a need for a church whose purpose is to teach, model, encourage, support, and conduct outreach to those who are not believers.
Implied in this mission are several goals:
·       Teaching (instruction) and disciple-making (modeling, encouragement, mutual support)
·       Fellowship (the facilitation of free communication and open dialogue)
·       Witness (the establishment and sustainment of the church’s reputation in the community as representatives of God and the proclamation of the Gospel)

Activities Support the Mission

A church’s mission requires both individual and corporate efforts. The primary corporate activities are Sunday morning worship, weeknight teaching times, small groups, counseling, and formal instruction (Sunday school). Supplemental and supporting corporate activities include bible studies, nursery and childcare, music, drama, youth activities, workdays, and meetings. Other supporting activities occur outside the church, such as visitation, hospital visits, fellowship and care of the aging and infirm, counseling, and other outreach. This brief catalog of church activities reinforces the conclusion that gathering and personal interaction is essential in fulfilling the goals and mission of the church.


There are many external and internal threats to the church, from overt hostile actions (i.e. active shooter) to latent hazards (icy walkways). As believers trusting in God, we leave many threats in His hands (meteorites striking the building, nuclear war, giant sinkholes, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.). Many churches have worked to address more likely threats such as fire, theft, child abuse, aggressive intruders, protestors, deranged individuals, child abduction, and more.

COVID-19 Risk Assessment

The most recent threat to directly impact the ministries of every church is the COVID-19 epidemic. The virus poses a direct threat of infection and subsequent sickness to individuals. Secondary effects of the virus include lack of elective and primary care and deferred tests.


The likelihood of church members being infected by COVID-19 remains unknown. The guidance on mask-wearing as a prophylactic measure varies (guidelines form the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control, state and local Departments of Health are not consistent). Many who have tested positive remain asymptomatic or suffer only mild, cold-like symptoms.
In addition, poor use of statistical analysis has skewed perceptions. In the most egregious example, “Fatality rates” were reported as: Total Fatalities/Total Tested Positive. This is flawed as the numerator should not be “total tested positive” but “total with the disease.”

“But how would we know how many have the disease if we don’t test?”

This is an excellent question, but guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the most state Departments of Health was testing was not recommended if symptoms were mild. The direction was to “stay home.” There is no way to know the total number with the disease until an antibody test is used to ascertain exposure. This would provide a more realistic denominator.

The severity of COVID-19 varies tremendously. Those infected by COVID-19 experience symptoms ranging from “none” to severe breathing problems and a patient’s condition can deteriorate from mildly ill to fatal in days.[3]   

In North America, up to 75% of all reported COVID-19 fatalities have occurred in long term care facilities. This aligns with reports from other countries.[4] The CDC stated that “... older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.” The CDC also listed pre-existing conditions that increase the likelihood of fatal complications due to COVID-19. These include asthma, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, hemoglobin disorders, liver disease, serious heart conditions, serious obesity, and those whose health is immunocompromised.[5]

Threats and Harm

COVID-19 threatens the health of individuals directly (sick with the flu) and indirectly (lack of access to routine medical testing, “elective” procedures, and testing).
Very often fixation on a single threat obscures other risks. The  COVID-19 mandates place risks on several essential church ministries. In addition, new risks have manifest due to the extensive use of online tools for maintaining communication.
It is important for church leaders to understand these risks to establish an overall context. Despite reductionist arguments on both sides, the issue is not binary (e.g. “Abide by all state requirements vs. people die.”)


The state-mandated lockdowns directly affect the teaching and disciple-making efforts of the church by forbidding all activities. While online communications can act as a stop-gap, it can never replace in-person interactions (and presents new risks as described below). The risks are short term (e.g. lack of exposure to regular teaching) and long term (e.g. an increased tolerance for missing church activities move to parachurch online sources, inconsistency, lack of continuity, and breaking bonds that encourage disciple-making).

The lockdowns also threaten the critical fellowship aspects of the church. There is the threat of community dissolution due to friction over the perceptions, political implications, and the narrative of the pandemic. In-person interactions have been severely curtailed (this problem is exacerbated for those who do not have local family or friendships outside the church). Outreach efforts have been halted as personal interactions with the aged and infirm are severely limited. In-person counseling has been paused, as have any evangelistic efforts. Less demarcated but as important are the everyday interactions of believers with non-believers in workplaces, recreation venues, and other public areas. There is also the threat of stress-related issues due to worry, fear, concern that can manifest as sharp responses, anger, impatience, and other unpleasantries.

The church’s witness also suffers through this time. There is an emerging threat of division over the method and timing of resuming the ministries of the church, compounded by the politicization of all aspects of life fueled by reductionist media outlets that thrive in conflict. The risk to the church’s testimony is binary, for there will be those who arguing that by open “too soon” a church will be “risking peoples’ lives” while those that argue the church should reopen immediately will question the commitment of the church to scriptural mandates that place ministry over government edicts.
A church can be accused of “breaking the law” even as the governor’s orders are contradicted by other levels of government.[6] There may be disaffection with church leaders who are perceived as abiding by state orders that directly contradict scriptural mandates.

While some will argue that abiding by the prevailing norms is a “good testimony,” this approach ignores all other risks and consequent harms this imposes.

No matter the response, compromise, in this case, is difficult: The church either resumes ministry or does not. Any decision will be met with dissatisfaction from some elements of the congregation and the greater community. Therefore, the leadership’s decision-making process must consider perceptions by various interests across the spectrum. Maintaining the status quo is a decision and not necessarily the most effective testimony.  


All the church’s ministries are vulnerable to harm at this point as a large part of the church has been suspended.


The only variable to consider is time: the longer the shutdown orders last, the more harm from some risks will increase, though an accelerated opening may increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure or infection.


The primary assets at risk are the reputation of the church and the commitment of its members. The longer the shutdown order lasts the more likely fissures will arise between those that differ on timing. Some may choose to break fellowship to attend other churches that more closely aligned with their preferred re-opening strategy. While this may seem a less than compelling reason to leave, it must be considered, because the underlying assumptions are not trivial (Does the church answer to the state when the state directives contradict the clear teaching of scripture? Do we believe God is still in control during a pandemic? Do we place fellowship and ministry high enough to risk exposure to this disease?)

Capabilities and Constraints

Constraints are limitations that preclude total mitigation of a risk. Constraints are always present and include money, time, law, facilities and equipment, social tolerance, and available information. Fire is a threat, but lack of funds will preclude installing a whole-building halon fire suppression system.
Capabilities are inherent or available actions that can be taken to mitigate a risk. Fire suppression capabilities include observation, fire extinguishers, and fire prevention practices.

Constraints in the case of COVID-19 are incomplete information[7], state mandates[8], testing limitations[9], health data access[10], limited indoor space to accommodate “social distance” requirements, and limited cleaning staff. Several of these constraints are limited by budget (i.e., indoor space and cleaning staff). Others are externally imposed (state mandates, testing, information).
Despite these constraints, many churches have several inherent capabilities. These include compliant congregations, modern facilities, and a growing expertise in communication technologies. Many churches have volunteers with medical, risk management, technology, building, fabrication, and legal expertise. A unique capability advantage is that a church is not a business dependent on production, inventory, or foot traffic.

Mitigation Strategies

The mitigation options for the health risks of COVID-19 are: comply with all mandates, comply with some mandates, or ignore all mandates. However, there is significant ambiguity as to which mandates apply to churches. Furthermore, the United States Attorney General has warned that “[E]ven in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers...”[11] On May 16th a federal judge reversed North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s restrictions on indoor church services.[12] On May 15th U.S. District Court Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove granted a temporary restraining order Friday against the Democratic governor on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville. The decision allows in-person religious services that follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines, two weeks ahead of the governor’s reopen date.[13] The legal system is slowly reaffirming the unique protections afforded by the First Amendment.

Since ignoring all mandates can be perceived as reckless, a reasonable course would comply with the mandates that apply to churches and accord with the best interests of the congregation and the ministry (a recommended list based on CDC guidance can be found at the end of this essay).

Beyond the health risks are risks to the teaching and disciple-making efforts of the church. The lack of exposure to regular teaching, the increased tolerance for missing church activities, the move to parachurch online sources, lack of continuity, and breaking bonds that encourage disciple-making are threats that need to be addressed. Mitigation can take many forms, but total reliance upon online communication cannot be the sole mitigation strategy (in the section “Other Threats: Online Communications” below I lay out the limitations and risks of this dependence). Efforts need to be made to extend in-person teaching in whatever forms are possible without irresponsibly flaunting health best practices.

The loss of fellowship threatens the community. Creative approaches need to be considered to replace or supplement in-person interactions – especially with the aged and infirm. Leaders need to resume in-person counseling using virus mitigation best practices such as distancing and frequent cleaning. Church leadership must also acknowledge and continually address stress-related issues due to worry, fear, and concern.

The church’s witness must be carefully guarded from the emerging threat of division over the method and timing of ministry resumption. The church must clearly articulate the division between mandates of men and mandates of God and stand firm on those issues without apology. The church must also be sensitive to the wide variety of opinions within the congregation, and work hard to provide frequent, well-reasoned, and scripturally sound guidance and policy explanations. Leaders must also recognize differences of opinion and remind members that those differences do not grant superiority or favored status. People who argue for immediate reopening must be treated no differently than those in favor of continued quarantine.

Other Threats: Online Communications

Most churches have increased use of “virtual” activities as a temporary expedient for ministry. However, online communications are not without risks. All systems have various conditions buried deep in the ubiquitous EULA (End User License Agreements). Most include legal language that surrenders various privacy rights and remedies in exchange for the use of the platform. Even online platforms that tout privacy controls are subject to sophisticated data-gathering attacks.[14]

These abuses of privacy are elusive and therefore underreported. For example prayer requests posted to a church-hosted site may become accessible information through nefarious data-gathering activities. The person may post with a full expectation of privacy yet may never be aware that his “requests” became data about him. He will never know the reason he was turned down for a job was that the prospective employer did not want to accept the risk of a cancer relapse. Another person types “Amen” under a link for a sermon where a specific behavior is condemned may be subject to overt (or more likely covert) sanction as a “hater,” blocked from promotion because her views are “too extreme.”
Online activity must be assumed to be public. Some are aware of this and accept it, but most are not aware how pernicious this invasion into private life has become. Even if people are scrupulous in their use of websites may not be aware how much data is being captured each day. Everyone who carries a smart phone has created a historic trail of locations, activities, health provider visits, buying preferences, associations, and connections to privately-owned corporations (primarily Apple and Google).

Smart Phones have become personal tracking devices (a fact largely unknown by most users, since various aps default to continue collecting data even when the app is not in use). The average smartphone user touches her phone 2,617 times a day, with extreme phone users touching theirs more than 5,400 times a day.[15]

A typical smart phone user has within his pocket a device that tracks where he lives, where he sleeps, who he sleeps next to, that there’s a guest in his house, when he wakes up, his interests, who he follows, his email contacts, what he eats, how long it takes him to prepare his breakfast, who he eats breakfast with, who he is married to, where she works, what time she leaves, when she arrives, how fast she drives, where she exceeds the posted speed limit, his exercise activity, his typical heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature, his medical concerns, his bank account balance, the companies he owes, how much he has saved for retirement, and his Amazon purchase history.

Most people are initially shocked when presented this information, but old habits die hard and they quickly resume “life as normal,” with the assumption, “I have nothing to hide.”

Sadly, this naive approach assumes everyone agrees on what activities should be hidden and which are acceptable. The further we drift from societal moral consensus, the more likely an activity will be deemed as threatening, hateful, or even immoral.

Consider some recent examples:
  • ·    The chairman of the board of the Jelly Belly company donated $5,000 to an organization that provided therapy to children struggling with sexual identity. For this he was widely condemned and Jelly Belly subject to boycotts.
  • ·       The founder of clothing chain Urban Outfitters donated $13,150 to former Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign. For this he was widely condemned and Urban Outfitters subject to boycotts.
  • ·       The Journal News published the names and addresses of everyone with a gun permit in two New York counties. Several other web sites and news publishers followed suit.
  • ·       A student’s parent complained of finding pictures of a Georgia public school teacher drinking wine on her personal Facebook page. School administration said the images “promoted alcohol use.” The teacher was forced to resign.
  • ·       In May, 2020, the San Antonio city council unanimously passed a resolution that makes terms such as “Chinese virus,” “Kung Flu,” or “Wuhan virus” a hate crime. Anyone writing using these terms on a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram post is subject to prosecution under Federal Hate Crime laws.
  • ·       A paper published in the International Journal of Work Innovation warned: "Job seekers should be aware that their future employers are closely observing their Facebook profiles in search of a window into their personality...Though this practice raises many ethical issues, it is an emerging phenomenon that is not slowing."
Anyone that communicates online must be aware that all words, gestures, and behaviors uploaded to websites may at some point be considered “hateful” or “violent.” All past comments, likes, and connections may be surfaced out of context and used to damage reputations of the church and of individuals. In other cases, birthdays, names, addresses, car models and other data may be used to build a digital footprint, used to trace activity across the web or parse out a password to a bank site. Paul warns us in Titus 1:15 that “Unto the pure all things are pure...” Sadly, this often leads to naivete that can be very hazardous in a globally connected online ecosystem. Therefore, while online communication is helpful, it must be used cautiously. Church leadership needs to be aware of the risks and work to mitigate those risks. A careful review of tools, license agreements, data storage and recovery, and privacy must be conducted to identify and mitigate the risks of misused online information.


Severe harm to an individual causes injury or death, while severe harm to an organization results in dissolution. Organizations dissolve every day for a variety of reasons, from market changes to mergers and acquisitions to outright failure. Yet the church is not a mere organization -- it is the local representation of the Body of Christ on earth. Therefore, the consequences of harm to the ministry and testimony of the church are far more severe.

Political matters become unavoidable when state actions intrude upon the church. Various state Governor’s lockdown orders are such a case.[16]

In a free society any panel of experts must be subject to critique. This is true for any scientific, academic, or professional debate: experts disagree on causes, effects, and best paths forward. Within our own congregation, the acceptability of lockdown mandates is a contentious issue.[17] Within any large group of people there will be some who are credulous, others who defer in order to keep the peace, and some who are predisposed to assume the worst. In the ambiguous center are most people who are not quite sure who is right, who has an agenda, or whose proscriptions are trustworthy.
No church that seeks to honor God actively incites divisions that cause separation. Reasonable accommodations can be made or even accepted levels of tolerance enable people to attend and worship in harmony.

COVID-19 has prompted a variety of mitigation strategies, from nationwide lock downs (Spain, France, Germany, Italy) to regional quarantines (USA) to personal awareness and avoidance (Sweden). These strategies have political implications. Therefore, it is impossible to remain apolitical when addressing this topic, for politics are how we aggregate, diffuse, and exercise power. That power has been exercised in such a way that it intrudes upon the ability of the church to function as a church.
Those seeking to resume church gatherings are chided with the cliché that “the church is not a building.”[18] Nevertheless, buildings are where we gather for worship, instruction, and fellowship. These activities are commanded, not merely suggested.

Challenge: Relationship to Government

The current situation raises a key paradox of the relationship of church and individual believers to the state. The church has wrestled with this relationship since Pentecost. Peter and John were arrested because the Jewish authorities were “greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” This was not mere squabble over religion — this was a significant social, economic, and political challenge to the status quo. This “new teaching” threatened the temple economy and the uneasy tolerance of Rome, challenged the established social order, pit the educated against the uneducated, suborned tradition, and exposed the injustice of a system under which Jesus was tried and convicted:
Acts 4: 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened;

In many regions of the world today Christianity is an oppressed minority. In those areas the relationship is clearly delineated, making the choice simple: survive. In most of the West, churches are still open, and Christians gather and practice the norms, traditions, and rites of the faith.

Augustine described this relationship in his City of God, where he described differing domains of interest. Sometimes those domains overlap: an example would be the state’s interest in buildings that meet certain standards of access and safety. In other areas the domains are clearly separate: the pastor preaches the truth of the Word no matter the “officially acceptable guidance” from the state.
But which laws must we abide by? Various levels of government have issued contradictory mandates. Recently several counties determined to open ahead of the state governor’s timetables.

At the same time the Federal government defers on some topics to the states but contradicts state guidance on others. A clear example of inconsistency is the mandatory mask rules imposed by many states. The CDC’s guidance reads: “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain...” Yet the Pennsylvania Department of Health has decreed masks are required.[19]

What is the message if we disregard a law? (We’ll concede for sake of argument that the orders have been deemed “lawful” by the state). Proponents of a “quiet witness” approach will argue that it is our duty to obey the government (Titus 3:1), that governments are ordained by God (Romans 13:1) and upholds the good of all (1 Pet. 2:14), and that Christians should respect and honor those in authority (Romans 13:4). Further, we are commanded “ aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you...” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

These verses are aspirational, but not necessarily normative. Jesus, Peter, Paul and others contradicted edicts when the state overstepped its bounds. Pushback against illegal orders has been essential component of Christian witness: Hus before the Council of Constance, Luther before the Diet of Worms, Wilberforce and the Slave trade, Marin Luther King against separate but equal, and March for Life protests against abortion. Confrontation has been a critical element of the salt and light aspect of Christian testimony since the beginning.

Christians have been at the forefront of many changes to society, culture, and laws. These changes include the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, and universities; the promotion of art, literature, and music academies; outlawing infanticide, pedophilia, child abandonment, and abortion; instituting humane prison reforms; granting property rights and suffrage to women; banning polygamy; advancing universal education; abolishing slavery; and the insistence that every person is equal before the law and before God. In every case these efforts were opposed by some elements of the established order.
The promotion of justice, the sanctity of life, the individual as an image of God, the defense of the oppressed all reflect the Christian understanding of the Gospel. The history of the relationship between church and state in the west ranges from tolerance to symbiosis to adversarial.

It is certainly within the realm of Christian testimony to challenge infringements on religious freedom.[20] This confrontation need not be acrimonious, but it must be unambiguous. As citizens of the United States we can appeal to law in the same way Paul was able to appeal to Caesar as a citizen of Rome. There is no guarantee the appeal will be successful, but it must always be an option lest it become meaningless.

There are many risks in life and one of the dangers of freedom is that we need to assess risk and then determine our level of tolerance. Ignoring risk does not make it go away. There is no time when all risk is eliminated. We may do everything possible and still fail miserably. Or we may continually –and unknowingly -- fail but no threat ever manifests. In either case we can’t claim success. We are charged to do the best we can with the resources available. Anything beyond that is in God’s hands.


Churches should establish a path to resume all ministries as early as practical after adopting the following mitigations:

COVID-19 risk mitigations:

·       Establish a COVID-19 subcommittee with medical and risk management expertise to review and formulate disease prevention protocols and policies specifically for the specific church (the following list is adapted from CDC recommendations for business):
o   Focus protections on the vulnerable: such as the elderly, immunocompromised, those with pre-existing conditions, etc.
o   Provide video stream access to all church events and services, with remote access in separate room for Sunday AM worship.
o   Offer alternate building access pathways for those who choose to attend (to include staggered dismissal).
o   Reinforce basic rules of hygiene: cover when sneezing / coughing / yawning, hand washing.
o   Intensify facility cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation
o   Encourage reasonable distancing whenever feasible. Recommend use of mask when in proximity.
o   Train everyone on health and safety protocols. Encourage anyone who is sick (to include children) to stay home.
o   Establish entry protocols to include observers charged with assessing people for symptoms of illness as they enter the facility. Assign medical volunteers who can assess symptoms. Develop a go-no checklist with recommended responses.

Teaching and disciple-making and Fellowship risk mitigations

·       Appoint outreach lead responsible for coordinating and encouraging modified outreach activities.
·       Develop an outreach plan for the elderly and infirm.
·       Establish small group meetings for those who are under age 65 with no long-term health issues (This may not align with existing small group membership) that can meet regularly at church.
·       Establish virtual small group meetings for those who over age 65 or with long term health issues. Provide technical support and devices as needed.
·       Establish regular telephone check-ins for those who are unable to meet or leave a facility or home.

Church witness risk mitigations

·       Establish a Reopening subcommittee with broad representation to continually analyze and address reopening issues, concerns, policies, and procedures. Publicize the names of the members so that the broader church membership can interact with the subcommittee.
·       Communicate frequently and completely: Reinforce safety and hygiene rules, support those who deny access to someone who is sick or otherwise a health risk (example: turning away sick kids from the nursery).
·       Provide online safety best practices training for all staff, volunteers, and church members.
·       Remind congregants that differences in opinion on this topic are expected and that leadership is working diligently to consider all reasonable courses of action.
·       Set a date for resuming church services followed by a date for all other church ministries.
·       Update congregants weekly on reopening progress.
·       Remind congregants to talk to leadership, the Reopen or COVID-19 subcommittees, or security if there is a concern with any mitigation protocol or any potential risk.

Risk Assessment Glossary

Probability is the weighted likelihood of an event occurring. Many events occur with such regularity we assume a probability of 100% likelihood of occurrence (such as the sun rising in the morning, or snow accumulation in winter). The closer to a probability of 100% the more prepared we should be to mitigate (e.g. address in a useful way) the event when it occurs. Smart people living in Buffalo own snow shovels. Events with lower probability -- such as meteorite striking your house -- are possible but occur very infrequently. Thus, we don’t install ballistic shields to guard against meteorite impacts.
A threat is a person, circumstance, or force with the ability and opportunity to cause harm. Some threats are active, with an intentional malice that seeks to harm a particular target. Other threats are arbitrary and yet can still cause harm. A sinkhole forming in your basement may be very harmful, but there’s no “intent” by the earth to swallow your house.
A vulnerability is an opening or means where harm can be inflicted. An unlocked door makes your house vulnerable to a thief.
Harm is damage or loss if a threat manifest. For example, a fire can cause loss of property, injury to people, and damage to church reputation.
Variables are factors that if changed, increase or decrease the likelihood and/or the severity of the risk. An example of a variable would be the number of people in a building: If a fire broke out, the probability of harm would be greater with 500 people than 50, for it would take longer to get a large crowd out of the building and it’s more likely that someone would linger behind or go the wrong way.
An asset is something that’s been cultivated and demands protection to avoid loss. In business, assets are people, information, facilities, processes, and capital (money). In the military, assets are personnel, information, weapons, support equipment, facilities, locations, and time. Church assets include reputation (e.g. witness), people, organization, facilities, and property.
Mitigation is any effort to minimize the probability and/or consequence of a risk. Any mitigation is limited by constraints that preclude comprehensively addressing all threats For example: To address the threat of fire the church must determine what capabilities already exist (extinguishers, alarms, fire prevention practices, frequent inspections) and which need to be added to address the risk (sprinkler systems, fire drills, annual site survey). Some mitigations are cost prohibitive: a facility-wide halon-extinguisher system may be the most effective fire suppressant, but the cost exceeds the annual budget.

[1] The basic formula to assess risk: R = f(T, V, A)  Where R (Risk) = the P (Probability) that a T (Threat) will exploit a V (Vulnerability) to cause harm to A (Asset)
[2] A Risk Assessment Glossary is provided at the end of this letter
[7] COVID-19 has been muddied by politically-motivated assertions, troubled model-based prognostications, disingenuous statistical analyses, and contradictory pronouncements by equally qualified experts. On statistical bias, see interview with Marc Lipsitch, Professor of epidemiology at Harvard University:
[11] “[Attorney General] Barr says government 'may not impose special restrictions' on religious gatherings.” The Hill, May 2020.
[12] “NC judge sides with churches, blocks Gov. Cooper’s restrictions on indoor services.” The Christian Post, May 16, 2020.
[13] “Federal judge halts Kentucky governor's ban on in-person church services after lawsuit”  Fox News, May 17, 2020.
[16] “This guidance will stay in place for the duration of the reopening process until there is robust testing, community-wide surveillance, contact tracing, or other means to mitigate the spread of the virus.”  “Robust” and “Contact tracing” remain undefined and thus unattainable indefinitely. See:
[17] Dismissing this as the concern of a mere minority further exacerbates the problem. For every outspoken critic of lockdowns there are several quietly assenting.
[18] Christians have known this since Ephesians 2:19-21 was written.
[19] “Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
[20] The US Constitution is unequivocal: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The Pennsylvania Constitution is equally clear in Section 3: “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

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