A Message to the Diocese of Virginia
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic
This meditation is available in video and written form.
Yesterday in our lectionary reading from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we heard these words:
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
A new creation! What a marvelous promise, and a timely one. Because as we emerge from the pandemic and gather again in groups, we want to go back to the way things were, to the old creation. Of course we do! So, how do we as people who follow Jesus acknowledge our human impulse to go back to the old, even as Jesus beckons us forward into the new?
When the pandemic first began, we fasted from in-person worship and from the Eucharist. We made sacrifices for the sake of those over age 65 and those with compromised heath, since they were infected and were dying at alarming rates. We made sacrifices for the sake of black, indigenous and persons of color who were dying at disproportionate rates. Our actions helped protect our communities, our families and ourselves. Even with those sacrifices, some 600,000 people died of COVID-19 in this country alone. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. May their families and loved ones know God’s peace in their grief.
At first we thought the sacrifice would be for a few weeks. Little did we know that those weeks would stretch on for over a year. Now, fifteen months later, we are finally experiencing release from many pandemic restrictions. Congregations across the Diocese are making their best decisions about regathering. Since we bishops began formal parish visitations again in the Easter season, I’ve visited congregations via ZOOM, in person outdoors, and in person indoors. People are returning to in-person worship slowly, many choosing to continue to tune in to live streamed services. Congregations seem to be embracing hybrid worship -- a combination of in person and virtual worship -- in order to reach and nourish as many people as possible. Church staff members are returning to work in Church buildings. Preschools, outreach programs and other activities are re-engaging in their mission and ministry in groups again. The faithful are being faithful yet again, as they were throughout the pandemic.
Because we did not worship in person for over a year, young people and adults who prepared to made a commitment through Confirmation, Reception or Reaffirmation were not able to receive that sacrament. To give them an opportunity to make their commitment and receive the laying on of hands of a bishop, we will hold a Day of Commitment on Saturday, September 18. We will do services of Confirmation in four or five locations around the Diocese that morning. We look forward to great joy as people come together from different congregations and different regions to celebrate our life in Christ. Watch for details in upcoming diocesan communications.
Now that we are emerging from pandemic time, we so long to get back to the old, familiar ways of doing things, the ways that feed our souls. But there is no going back, not completely, because we have been changed by this pandemic in ways that we are only beginning to understand. We have lost much, in addition to those who have died. Many have lost health as they continue to live with long-term effects of COVID-19. Many have lost jobs. We have lost favorite restaurants and shops and other services. We have lost some confidence in ourselves and in each other.
And we have gained much as well. We have learned new ways to worship and new ways to connect with people who didn’t come to worship before. We have rediscovered our resilience. We have discovered ways of being family when the activities that kept our calendars overly full were cancelled. We were Church when we couldn’t worship in person. People joined our churches during the pandemic. There have been many COVID calamities, and even more COVID keepers, things we’ve learned that we want to hold onto.
As we reflect on what we have lost and what we have gained, we continue to exercise some restraint for the sake of the most vulnerable, including children under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated. Rates of infection and rates of death are decreasing in our Commonwealth and in our country, but the virus is still active and people are still dying. So we continue to wear masks indoors public places. We do well to follow the two out of three rule -- outdoors, distancing and masks. If we do two out of three of those each time we are with people beyond our household, we protect the children and others who remain vulnerable.
Throughout the pandemic, we pivoted many times, each time responding to the latest change. With so much pivoting for so long, with so many changes from week to week, even day to day, it it not at all surprising that we are a little dizzy right now. Some people are frustrated that a complete end to pandemic living is not coming quickly enough. Some people are in grief over the things that were lost. Some are angry. Many are exhausted, just plain exhausted. We all are feeling some combination of those experiences as we come out of the disruption, challenge and trauma of the past year. It’s ok to name and acknowledge all the feelings before God and each other. And it’s ok to rest a bit as we move toward the new normal.
Because we who are in Christ are a new creation. The old has passed away, God is making everything new. The old normal is gone. The new normal is still being shaped. And we are a part of the shaping.
What are you feeling in this time as we emerge from a difficult 15 months? What died in your life during the pandemic? What new things did you learn? What do you hope for? What do you fear? What will you take into the next chapter of your personal life, your family life, your parish life? When you wish you could just go back to the way things use to be, how is God leading your forward?
As we go forward to Church, forward to the new normal that is emerging, remember that God is holding you tight in arms of love. And God will never let you go.