When the COVID-19 lockdown began in March and most ELCA congregations moved to virtual services, the St. Luke Lutheran Church and Christian Day School community in Silver Spring, Md., felt it was important to hold school chapel virtually as well. “Our children were feeling the same type of loneliness and isolation as the adults, so I began a children’s chapel each Thursday at 10 a.m.,” said Connie A. Miller, a pastor of St. Luke.
“It was an attempt to let the children know how much Jesus loved them and that they were never alone.”
St. Luke has held children’s chapel services every week during the school year and once a month over the summer. For the August chapel service, the congregation planned to emphasize “heroes”—doctors, nurses and essential workers who are helping people during the pandemic. They ended up with a special “hero” guest: Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“The thought occurred to me that one major essential worker was Dr. Fauci,” Miller said. “I was thinking he had not had an opportunity to talk with young children about COVID, so we contacted him to see if I could feature him in our children’s chapel service. We are located not far from where Dr. Fauci works,” at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Fauci agreed, and the service was streamed on Facebook Live. So far, the service video has had about 16,000 views.
Among the questions Miller posed to Fauci were “What is this big word ‘coronavirus’?” and “Can our pets get sick?” (“He talked about his ‘granddog,’ and the children loved this,” Miller said.) She also asked him how he got into the medical and scientific field. “It’s wonderful for the children to think they can do that too,” she said. “God gives us science and medicine.”
“It’s so important to share honest information with children and make sure they know how loved they are and respected as well.”
Directly addressing the young people watching, Fauci said of the pandemic, “Children are going to be an important part of how we protect each other. So when you hear from Pastor Miller or you hear from other people the importance of washing your hands or even wearing a mask sometimes, the reason is, we want to protect you and we want you to be part of the protecting of everybody else. So it’s kind of taking care of each other.”
Miller appreciated the thorough but age-appropriate ways Fauci discussed questions surrounding COVID-19. “He answered them very well and was wonderfully children-friendly—very warm and gracious,” she said. “It’s so important to share honest information with children and make sure they know how loved they are and respected as well.”
In his message, Fauci also offered words of encouragement: “Don’t think, children, that this is going to be the way it is forever. Don’t get discouraged. This is only temporary.”
Throughout 2020, St. Luke has been directly affected by COVID-19 and has found ways to address the pandemic as a community, including a Sept. 30 evening prayer service of remembrance for those who have died from the disease. “Over the past months, I have had burials for members and friends of the congregation who have died of COVID, and then we witnessed the 200,000 mark here in the U.S. and 1 million deaths globally,” Miller said.
The service of remembrance, held in English and Spanish, offered an opportunity for the community to pray for the bereaved and ask God for strength and comfort.
For the St. Luke community, hosting Fauci for the “heroes” service was a meaningful piece of the congregation’s response to the pandemic. “It has been an honor to be in touch with Dr. Fauci—a gift to us,” Miller said. “A person of great integrity and excellence who cares for all of us.”