As we entered the season of Lent, we quickly discovered that a global pandemic—Covid-19—was beginning to spread. We didn’t know what to expect. As I write this, we’re at the beginning of a three-week order from the Governor to “Stay Home and Stay Safe.” We had already begun that process. On March 8th we began practicing social distancing by not shaking hands and with encouragement to wash our hands. Then we began streaming our service from our Facebook page on March 15th. The first week we had eleven of us gathered for worship, and then we moved to just Pastor Rick, Pat, and me. We canceled every in-person meeting, and closed the church, except for staff. As we look into April, I don’t foresee much changing. Hopefully, we can regather in May, but I want us to take every precaution, so we don’t get infected or infect others. That will affect Easter, but more about that in a moment.
Even as we were facing the challenges posed by the pandemic, we lost one of our beloved members to death. On March 21st Russ passed away after several weeks of hospitalization and surgery. We want to continue lifting up Susan and the family as they grieve their loss, even as we grieve our loss. Russ was an Elder and served as Council Secretary. He had served as a Trustee and chaired the Growth and Stewardship committees at some point. And, as his family would tell you, he was known for his bad puns and jokes. He will be greatly missed. Because of our current lock-down, a memorial service will be postponed until we can safely gather as a community.
The important thing right now is finding ways of keeping in touch with each other. I’m posting a message each day on our Facebook page and then sharing that in our Facebook Group. Sometimes this is simply sharing news about the virus and its effect on us. Sometimes it might be a YouTube version of a hymn or one of my blog posts. Whatever it is, we’re trying to keep a flow of information into the congregation and beyond. I know that many of you are already finding ways of keeping in touch, calling one another to make sure you’re doing okay. That’s important. We’re working on getting a Zoom membership so we can gather on-line. That should be up and running by the time you receive this. By using Zoom we can hold our Elders meeting and Council meeting in April without having to gather at the church. We can also use it to check in with each other and possibly host study groups. This doesn’t replace in-person meetings once we’re able to safely regather, but it might offer important support to the congregation going forward.
Now regarding Easter and life together going forward. Pat and I have been in conversation about finding ways of creating a special service that can be broadcast on Easter morning. We will likely be recording pieces, editing them together, and then uploading for your participation. Then, when we regather in person, we want to create a special celebration, a sort of delayed Easter morning with all the typical elements that we had planned to use. Hopefully, we can do this is May while we’re still in the Easter season. If not Easter then we’ll make an even grander Pentecost celebration.
As we move through April, not knowing what the future holds, with most of the events that had been scheduled for April and May either canceled or postponed, I am doing my best to put my trust in the God who hears my cries and is attentive to my supplications, “for with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (Psalm 130). Taking hold of that promise, might we also take hold of this word from pastor and theologian Bruce Epperly who wrote a short book titled Faith in a Time of Pandemic, (Energion Publications, 2020). He recognizes that fear is part of our lives. It has its place, but it can’t define who we are and how we respond at this moment in time. Thus, he writes:
Though we are tempted to circle the wagons in fear, God wants us to expand the circle of love. God wants us to go beyond binary thinking — in and out, saved and unsaved, and friend and foe. God wants us to see the holiness of all creation, “something of God,” as the Quakers say, in everyone.
He continues by writing this word of guidance:
The Spirit in Me Greets the Spirit in You. Though you may be a self-imposed hermit or have restricted social encounters during the time of pandemic, you can still practice this spiritual exercise. Take a moment to bless everyone you meet, either silently or with words of kindness. Look for the holiness in people walking by your home, newscasters on television, politicians with whom you disagree, and most importantly those with whom you most intimately interact. See the holiness in them, greeting them in silence or with words with God’s spirit of peace, affirming their holiness. [Epperly, Bruce G. Faith in a Time of Pandemic (Topical Line Drives), (Energion Publications). Kindle Edition]
Easter is a celebration of life. It’s fitting that we celebrate Easter at the beginning of spring as the flowers and trees begin to blossom and life that has laid dormant comes back to life. We will need the spirit of the Resurrection of Jesus to move us forward as we move from this moment of isolation and concern to life its abundance. Things will be different. The economy is being hit hard. Jobs have been lost. Industries are threatened. We don’t know the future, but as Psalm 23 reminds us, we are not alone: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”