The following blog post is part of a series, the Rev. Christopher Page is offering on his blog site, regarding his experience during the pandemic. It was posted at inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com and is posted here by permission.
It was Monday 16 March 2020. It seemed impossible to imagine at the time when the official announcement came out:
Bishop Logan McMenamie has ordered all churches in the diocese closed for all public use, including worship, for sixty (60) days effective immediately.
This was not to be the biblically significant forty days in the wilderness; it was not a month or even six weeks. Sixty days seemed like an eternity at the time.
What could sixty days of no public gathering for worship possibly look like? What would be left at the end of a little over eight weeks of not being able to occupy the same physical space for prayer? How would we recover from such a long stretch of being unable to connect physically as a community of faith? Would there be anything left at the end of this worship wilderness?
There were no answers back on that sixteenth day of March that now seems a life-time ago. No one had any idea what the future might look like. We were all making it up as we went along trying to find our way in the midst of confusion, uncertainty, fear and doubt.
And now here we are sixty days later. And it is not over yet.
Sixty days has become….? Well, who knows what sixty days will become. The road map forward remains unclear. The only thing that is certain is that we will not be rushing out to fill our church buildings with happy worshipers gathering on Sunday 17 May to rejoice at the end of physical distancing.
But… what we can say is that the past sixty days have unleashed a tidal wave of creativity, new learning, and determination to keep the vision of community alive within our churches.
We have emailed and emailed and emailed. We have made phone calls, hundreds of phone calls. We have mailed cards to people who are even more shut-in than the rest of us. We have shopped for members of our community, delivered meals, driven by homes and waved to the occupants, rung our bells and drawn hearts on our buildings to say thank you to frontline workers. We have live-streamed, youtubed, and teleconferenced. We have learned new technologies. (Who had even heard of “zoom” two months ago? And now every day we do our bit to take zoom from a pre-COVID average of 10 million daily users to 200 million!)
What we have not done is become overwhelmed, fearful, timid or resentful. We have not contracted.
We have continued to find ways to manifest the reality that COVID has made so abundantly clear all around the world. We are united. As much as we may speak of social isolation, the truth is no one lives in isolation. When I cough here, the effects may ultimately be felt with devastating impact in the lives of people I will never know kilometres away.
The seventeenth century poet John Donne was not engaging in romantic hyperbole when he wrote in “Meditation XVII” in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Donne was expressing a fundamental reality of the human condition that churches exist, in part, to affirm and call us to remember week after week. We are one human community.
Our lives are not hermetically sealed individual units circling other individual units each in splendid isolation. We need to consider the presence of other living beings inhabiting this limited space we call home. We are all connected. We belong to one another. Our choices and decisions, as small as they may sometimes seem, have a ripple effect that goes out far beyond our little circle of immediate connection.
Now that sixty days of physical distancing and church closure have passed, we are more than ever aware of how connected we are and what an important role faith communities have to play in affirming the reality of our oneness.
May we carry this lesson with us in a deep place when we are finally able again to gather physically in one place to lift our voices in thanksgiving to the power who makes us one.