12 May Called to be Prayerful and Wise
May 12, 2020
The novelty of the novel coronavirus has completely worn off. We are all “over it.” The problem is that COVID-19 is not finished with us. Not by a long shot. Like you, I am soooooo tired of being cooped up, tired of being isolated, tired of my life being disrupted in every way, shape, and form. We want to be together. We want to hug someone. We want some semblance of normalcy. It is understandable that from a place of deep fatigue, anxiety and stress, we long to return to the things that give our lives structure and meaning. Of course, we do. And yet….
It has become increasingly clear that the novel coronavirus is not something for us to “get through” for a few weeks. A global pandemic is not an event, like a blizzard or earthquake or tornado, after which people pick up the pieces and begin to get back to their lives. As catastrophic as these kinds of events are for the town or area in which they occur, that’s part of the point—they occur in a specific location. What makes COVID-19 so devastating is that it is happening all over the world.
With each passing week, I have realized that the impact of the coronavirus will be more like living through a world war or the Great Depression. It took years, not months, for the world to recover, and the scars left by those events shaped not only the people who lived through them but succeeding generations. In fundamental ways, life never went back to the “old normal.” Instead, a “new normal” was birthed.
There are many positive things that can occur as we arrive at a new normal. New opportunities for mission and ministry will arise. The potential for creativity is unparalleled. But arriving at a new normal is painful. We grieve what we have lost and will not get back. We must let go of old expectations. But as we do the hard work of acceptance, we gain increased adaptability which evolution teaches us is critical for long-term health and survival.
I speak of all of this today to prepare you for the long road that still lies ahead of us. The Session met (virtually, of course) on Saturday and had our first discussion of “what comes next.” Many more such discussions will ensue in coming weeks. As anxious as we all are to resume in-person worship, the truth is that this is likely still many weeks in the future. As the governor’s office announced this week, Northern Virginia will not be reopened along with the rest of the state. The case rate and deaths in our area are still too high, the risks too great. Even when the first phase of easing begins, that does not mean Calvary will be ready to re-open. I am in constant contact with clergy colleagues in Alexandria and around the metropolitan region, and our Presbytery is continually updating us with information, resources, and guidelines. Many of my colleagues in ministry are hoping for a late-summer/early-fall re-opening. But as the medical experts have told us, resurgences will occur, and when, where, and how severe those are will be a significant piece of data that informs our next steps.
When we do resume worship in the sanctuary, many changes will be necessary. We will be making decisions about everything from children’s programming to congregational singing to communion; from building sterilization to bathroom use; from requiring masks to implementing social distancing. Nothing will be easy or “normal.”
These are difficult and stressful decisions to contemplate and to make. In many respects there are no “right” decisions; only the most prayerful and wise decisions we can make given what we know at any given time. I ask for your patience, your gracious understanding, and your prayers. I truly do understand the desire to return to worship because I share it. We miss church. We miss each other. We miss being in God’s presence together. But, please know that the Session must make decisions with the entire community’s safety foremost in mind. We will not be reckless with your health, either physical or spiritual.
Your elders are a wonderful, committed, wise group of men and women, and I am grateful and privileged to serve alongside them. And I am grateful and privileged to pastor our church. Please know that our love for you and for God compels us to seek to “do well” towards each of you, as we learned from Sunday’s story of Cain & Abel.
Stay safe. Stay well. “Be strong and of good courage. For greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world.”
Yours for the Kingdom,