The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down much of what we hold dear and essential. We are no longer gathering in our church buildings to worship. We have put on hold meeting with family and friends, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs and sharing coffee and donuts as hospitality. I have not mentioned singing hymns and songs of praise, baptism and holy communion, and other activities that assist us in feeling connected to Christ and one another.
Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.
I don’t need to remind you that you have moved out of your office to work at home, are giving up prom and graduation, spring sports, shopping, and eating out at our favorite restaurants. Much of our everyday living, which we have taken for granted, has shut down until further notice.
A New Normal
Many of you have done wonderfully well in adapting to these abrupt changes. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. You have been faithful to perfect the use of technology and to step into what is being called “a new normal.”
Over the past two months, there has been very little talk about any subject other than the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects on our lives and on the economy. No other time in my life has there been daily press conferences announcing new deaths, new cases, or new discoveries. Each day bringing another discussion regarding what has been shut down and what we have given up.
As I have reflected upon our current reality as a church, I have discovered there are at least three things the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down:
Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love
When everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love. Whether it is family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, or enemies, the pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another.
You and I are created to love. As I have written before, it will be in our relationships that we will find hope and healing.
I am convinced that our human connections, God’s love in and through each of us as the church, can and will drive real change, even in the midst of a pandemic. When we see, experience, and love one another truly as human beings, we can no longer see each other as anything else.
To love God and to love neighbor is our mission. When what we hold dear and essential has been shut down and put on hold, love will find a way.
Please don’t lose sight of that fact, because it is God’s love in and through each of us as the church that will help us face the other two things that have not been shut down by this pandemic.
Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty
There are more children living in poverty today, one in every five children, than any other time in the history of our nation. Even in Ohio, there are approximately 513,000 or one in five children living in poverty. The poverty rate in Columbus is 20.8%, which means that one out of every 4.8 residents of Columbus lives in poverty.
The effects of poverty contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. It contributes to poor health both physically and mentally. The risks are greater for children who experience deep and persistent poverty when they are young.
Although the pandemic did not cause this poverty, it didn’t shut it down either. Covid-19 has brought this fact to our immediate attention.
Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. The pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another. In the midst of poverty, in and through the church, love can find a way.
Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism
On a warm Sunday afternoon in February 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging through his Brunswick neighborhood. He was an athlete. He had a job. He worked out and jogged regularly.
Ahmaud’s death is similar to the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. Although Trayvon was not jogging, he was shot and killed while walking home from the store where he had purchased candy.
What do the two have in common? According to the men who shoot Ahmaud and to the man who shot Trayvon, “they looked suspicious.” I’m sure there is much more to both stories and maybe I should be more aware before moving forward with what I’m going to say, but I know this for sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down racism.
I have not personally experienced racism like our African American neighbors experience on a daily basis. Until recent years, I seldom thought of being white. But I have learned that my black brothers and sisters think of it and are reminded of it every day.
The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is another example of the distance we still must travel for this land to be a land of “justice for all.”
Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism
Tim Taylor, in his new documentary “Reach, The Documentary” has highlighted the parallels between Covid-19 and racism. Here a few:
- Covid-19 is invisible to the eye but known by its effects. Racism is invisible to the eye, but easily seen by its effects.
- Covid-19 can thrive with no outward symptoms. Racial prejudice can endure with no outward indicators.
- Covid-19 can be carried and spread by unsuspecting carriers. Racism can be carried and spread by people unaware of their subconscious attitudes and beliefs.
- Covid-19 has been spread by intentional disregard (witness the spring break revelers, and the churches that insist on gathering on Sundays). Racism has been spread by institutional disregard.
- Covid-19 hits hardest those with limited means. Racism always has.
- Covid-19 spreads without regard for state lines or boundaries. Racism endures without regard for state edicts or legislation.
Differences between Covid-19 and Racism
Even considering these similarities, there is one major difference between Covid-19 and racism: The virus will pass, but the cancer of racism within our culture and the church, if left unaddressed, will remain.
Tim Taylor writes, “When it comes to racism, however, we don’t seek to “flatten the curve.” We seek to raise up what author Jamar Tisby calls the “ARC” of racial reconciliation: Awareness. Relationship. Commitment.”
Over the past several months much has changed. We have made significant sacrifices in our churches and in our communities. This Covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary stop to much we have held important, but it is undeniable that the greatest challenge facing our nation, our communities, and our churches has not been shut down or gone away. We must acknowledge it directly. We must isolate and attack it. We must pursue a cure, always aware that, even if we defeat this foe in one place, it will seek to regenerate and strike in another.
Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. In the midst of racism, in and through the church, love can find a way.
You and I have given up a lot in regard to Covid-19. What if we embraced this pandemic as a gift that has revealed the truth of what surrounds us? That is what we must do if we are to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity before us. That is what we must do if we are ever going to bridge the growing divide of poverty and the deepening gulf of racism that the church for too long has accepted, allowed, and perpetuated.
Your Next Step
Please know that I am not trying to put more on you as a pastor or congregational leader, but I am writing to remind you that no pandemic has the power to take away the love that can and will address the sins of poverty and racism.
Take advantage of this time to get acquainted with your community. Make contact with community leaders. Get to know school teachers and administrators. Develop relationships with police officers and firefighters. Introduce yourselves to your neighbors. Get to know your neighborhood and community.
Ask yourselves the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” If you decide to provide meals, develop relationships with the people you serve. Come alongside them. Become vulnerable and risk loving others as God in Christ has loved you.
Pray this prayer, “God, send us the people no one else wants and help us love and accept the people you send to us.” Accept each person as a gift from God who will enrich your life and will help you become more who God has created you to be.
This pandemic has not shut down everything. Take advantage of loving God and loving neighbor, so when this pandemic is over, you know that God’s love has made the difference in changing your world.