This one comes to us from Elaine Howard Ecklund.

“Be not afraid.”

I remember first hearing these words, a refrain found repeatedly in the Bible, in a Sunday school class when I was five years old. If my memory serves me correctly, our teacher was trying to allay our fears about entering kindergarten. As COVID-19 has spread around the globe and through our nation, the phrase has come to mind again: “Be not afraid.”

For the past 15 years, my work as a sociologist has focused on group behaviors, particularly how religious groups respond to societal changes and to scientific information. My research shows that—contrary to popular thought—religious communities have a lot of trust in science. For example, over 70 percent of evangelical Protestants and over 73 percent of Catholics (two of our nation’s largest Christian groups) believe that because of science and technology, there will be more opportunities for the next generation.

For the past two years, as part of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University, I have been inviting 30 to 50 religious and civic leaders to my home once a month. During the time of COVID-19, I have been checking in on these leaders to see how they are responding.

Many think that this time requires what I think of as “creative love” — imagining new ways of supporting and loving even when we can not physically interact — on our part, and many Christians, now and in the past, have not shirked from creative love in the midst of crisis. For instance, the poor and the marginalized will be hit hardest by the pandemic; many are emphasizing that as Christians our directive is to care for the “least of these” — the most vulnerable in our population. Those in low-paying jobs are the most likely to be without adequate insurance, extra food, or work they can do from home.

I have been inspired by watching churches take steps to help. Some are donating to food banks. Some are checking in on elderly neighbors and church members (albeit virtually). I would like to see our churches do even more to care for those who are called upon to protect our health — the healthcare professionals who are working to lessen the spread of the disease and those who are developing technologies to lessen its effects. I am also concerned about those who clean, tasked with constantly wiping door handles and making sure that our hospitals are cleaned to the highest standards; and of course, it is my hope that our churches do all we can to honor these workers with “words and talk but also in deed.” For those individuals who are barely getting by, we want to be sure they are paid above and beyond a living wage for the special work they are doing in this time. I hope that churches continue to lobby on their behalf.

Growing up, my grandmother often said to me, “It’s just me and my God and my Bible.” During this time, however, we need to care for our community like never before and make decisions out of a concern for others. We know that COVID-19 is a community-spread virus; in the past few weeks I’ve seen churches trying hard to act against the sense of individualism that often drives Americans. It is our responsibility to help protect those who are older or immunocompromised, and thus more likely to suffer serious health implications. Perhaps we can begin to see our health not only as an individual but also a community resource.

Faith communities are often rightly critiqued for contributing to rather than combating forms of tribalism, racism, and nationalism. Now, faith communities have the opportunity to emphasize our shared values more than our divisions. I have been encouraged by the many pastors and other church leaders who are doing just this, promoting accurate scientific information as well as emphasizing our common humanity and the common good.

One bright spot I’ve observed in the midst of this pandemic is the churches that are learning to love creatively as they discover new ways to maintain a sense of community when they cannot physically be together. We often turn to our faith communities during difficult times, and many are likely afraid of what will happen now that most places of worship are physically closed. We need to continue to attend to each other’s needs. We can pick up the phone more.

There is another passage from the Bible that I’ve been thinking of lately: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Congregations are places where these kinds of statements of selfless action are repeated and memorized, but we do not always live up to them. I am hoping to hear even more stories about churches helping those in need, especially those who rely on faith communities for their emotional, social, and financial health.

I’ve been meditating a lot on the verse I learned so early in my life: “Be not afraid.” Ideally, congregations are places of love, where “perfect love casts out fear.” In this time when we cannot gather physically, I hope that we continue to dream of how we might love well. This will mean embracing science and medicine. Community health requires attention to the community’s needs rather than just our own personal needs and wants. For the past few weeks, I have heard that a lot from health experts on the news. But creative love is something I first learned at church.

Elaine Howard Ecklund is the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University, where she also directs Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program. Her forthcoming book (in May) is “Why Science and Faith Need Each Other: Eight Shared Values that Move Us Beyond Fear.”