As we are making plans to re-gather in person, I’m aware that people are getting restless, getting complacent and tired. Many of the churches around us have already gone back, people are protesting, lawsuits were filed and we simply miss seeing each other’s faces. But I also hear stories like this one, where 180 people were exposed to COVID-19 at a Mother’s Day service in Butte County, CA. And this story, in Calvary, Alberta, of a church where 42 members met back in March and gathered for a birthday lunch after, and 24 people got sick, two died.
I think we’re getting antsy, yes, and we haven’t seen the spread of the sickness around us like they have in cities but I think it’s not over yet. We will start to see it spread in rural areas as it has spread through pork and poultry plants. But I can also understand why people who haven’t seen its effect can imagine it is blown out of proportion, what you can’t see can’t be true, right? Jan Edminston, who was the moderator of the General Assembly and is now the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Charlotte, wrote a blog post last week, that hit me right in the gut. In it she posted a picture of one of the people who died in Alberta, Dennis Edmund Morey. He has a kind smile, he was a grandfather, active member in their church. He looks like he could very well be an active member in our church, in our neighbor’s church. She quoted the pastor of the church in Alberta, Rev. Shannon Mang, who offers this reflection: “There seems to be this huge divide between those who’ve experienced (COVID-19) and the majority who haven’t. Think about the oldest person that you hang out with and visit and take care of. Are you willing to give them up?”
Living Spirit United Church tried to do all the right things and this man still died. “Yes, we miss each other terribly. We miss seeing each other apart from screens. But we need to stay safe and keep our loved ones safe. Rev. Mang wishes they could go back in time and cancel that March worship service and birthday party” Jan says.
Brothers and sister, we will gather again soon, I promise. But as the session meets this week to discuss we want to make sure we do it when we are ready to be the safest we can. This might mean gathering outdoors at Old Bluff for a few weeks first. This might mean that not everybody can be in the sanctuary at the same time. This means no communal singing, no meals, no communion for the time being. Services will be shorter. You all sent me a beautiful picture of the congregation, not everybody is in it, but many of you are. I don’t want there to be another one sent out in a year where we talk about how we wish we’d waited, how we wish we’d been more careful. For now, I think, we can worship safely from our homes, for now I think we can still be the church while apart. We will gather again soon, but I want it to be on the best terms possible.
As I often do on Mondays, I want to share Nadia Bolz-Webers’ Sunday Prayers on this Monday because it speaks to me in this time:
I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord.
So, for now I just ask that:
When I sing along in my kitchen to each song on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key of Life Album, that it be counted as praise. (Happy 70thBirthday, SW!)
And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as a Kyrie.
And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.
And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.
And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.
And that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.