While Anderson pondered these questions, on March 12, Matt Fray, an assistant pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, was meeting with elders in his church to discuss whether they should continue holding church meetings and activities. They decided to conduct services as usual that Sunday. Then less than an hour later, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins banned community gatherings of more than 500 people in the county, citing evidence of “community spread” of the virus in the county. Four days later, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson banned gatherings of more than 50.
Fray’s first worry was for his wife and mother. His wife is a cancer survivor, and his mother has terminal brain cancer, so both have compromised immune systems. Fray also worried what the crisis would mean for his congregation—how would church services, worship, Bible studies, and small groups function? How would the church care for victims? But he never considered worrying for himself: “I’ve not had so much as a broken bone or stitches. I’ve been very healthy, and so I couldn’t imagine that I would have the virus a week later.”
On the evening of March 15, Fray began feeling his body heat up. He went to bed early but woke up exhausted. He had a low-grade fever of 99.5 degrees, occasional coughs, fatigue, and a strange sinus-like pressure in his nose. Two days later, a church staff member texted him: She had tested positive for COVID-19. By the end of that day, two more church staff members reported feeling identical symptoms. All their tests came back positive. The church asked everyone on staff to work from home.
Fray was sick for about 12 days. He spent hours calling and texting everyone he had been in contact with in the last three weeks to warn them that he had contracted the coronavirus. As a pastor, that was a lot of people from staff meetings, small groups, worship services, classes, and Bible study groups. People from church and his kids’ school delivered groceries and hot meals at the door. Some sent him warm chocolate chip cookies. But Fray could no longer taste or smell anything.
When I talked to Fray, he no longer had any symptoms but still had not recovered his sense of taste and smell. That’s a small win for the family—he’s now the designated dog poop-scooper of the house. When he came out of quarantine from his home office, his kids’ schools had closed down indefinitely. So for once, the whole family was able to sit together for family devotions, sometimes twice a day. They also played board games and shot basketball together—simple, ordinary family activities that they had missed because of their typically busy work and school lives.
Fray remembers standing in line at Costco for more than an hour the week before he got ill. People were frantically stocking up on household items, and Fray had too—just in case. Everyone was uneasy.
“I think we, before this whole pandemic, especially Americans or Westerners, lived on this illusion of having a pretty high level of control over our bodies and schedules and businesses and even our churches,” Fray said. “We lived under the illusion of control, and I think this virus has shown us a more real picture of the world—that we’re not in control. Only God is in control, and that’s actually not a bad thing. It’s actually a very good thing, a very comforting thing.”