Happy Saturday, and Blessings on this, the upcoming Second Week after Pentecost.
Performing my morning constitution in my close-knit neighborhood, I crossed paths today with a couple of women and a child in a stroller. They were well dressed. Perhaps a couple with child, or a mother and child walking with a neighbor – it could have been anything. Being prepared for just such an encounter, I strapped on my mask, gave wide berth and listened as they passed. As they passed me, do you know what they said? Neither do I! They were speaking RUSSIAN! (This anecdote comes into play in a moment)
There is much underfoot at the offices of St. John’s Episcopal Church and School, and much stirring in the hearts of your priests. We are wrestling with the timing and implementation of what must be done in advance of St. John’s return to in-person worship. There is SO MUCH that has to happen; we are dizzy from the demands being asked of us, of you, and from compliance with the requirements of so many quarters. We are keeping our proverbial noses to the grindstone and hope to have in place what is necessary for us to open – perhaps – by next weekend.
Make no mistake: Reverend Karen and I are EAGER to return to in-person worship when it is permissible to do so. From the perspective of this week, it seems we will be compelled to have more people doing the required tasks than the number of people who might join us on the permitted date.
Additionally, there are so many elements to consider as we take careful steps forward. Most daunting this week is the parade of numbers coming across my desk revealing the increase in cases of new COVID-19 infections in “the O.C.” and the mounting number of deaths in the country. This weighs heavily on the scales, and there are many additional things to consider. Our Anglican history prepares us to live easily “on the horns of a dilemma.” The issues that come up now, though, seem to have come from only one side of the argument regarding further (let alone initial) quarantine.
AS YOU PREPARE TO READ THIS, PLEASE NOTE: I present this here because the argument is an essential part of the formula used to justify our quarantine and its continuation. Overlooking this matter through denial or by classifying it as a loaded, politically motivated issue is to miss, I believe, the hard work that challenges us in such difficult times.
The issue is summarized by this question: Are there more deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus or by the economic consequences of shutting down the economy by our quarantine. The answer might depend on whether your perspective is local (i.e., national) or it is global.
Now, there are a lot of statistics that come to play in all this, and I do not intend to turn this into a bully pulpit arguing the merits of these facts. But the information should squeeze an answer from us on the question of the global impact resulting from the decision to close businesses, to keep us in quarantine, and to obstruct the flow of commerce into and out of the country. (Again, please note: this isn’t an argument asking if the economy is more important than human lives. That is how politicians and ‘talking heads’ are framing the matter. It is asking us to consider whether MORE human lives are lost from the economic impact from the decision to quarantine or from the virus itself) The facts state that more people die on the global stage as a result of a high unemployment rate and the subsequent economic impact in this country than a pandemic has ever exacted in our history. It is compounded when the unemployment and suppressed purchasing of our European brothers and sisters is factored in.
By now, you should have wondered, “What does that story of the Russian-speaking couple have to do with quarantine and Covid and the return to in-person worship?” I’m glad you asked! For, when they had passed me, I realized that I was holding some long-standing presumptions. I assumed they would have been Americans, maybe even native “California Girls” (excuse, please the sexism in that meme) by their blond hair and tan faces. The language that danced from their lips reminded me of something I had forgotten: The World Is Getting Smaller. Decisions made locally and nationally have impacts that exceed our wildest imagination. Do you recall the story that our beloved Director of Music, Johannes told us about the collapse of the Berlin Wall? Can you imagine? A decision by far away politicians and diplomats many years ago, is impacting the beauty and quality of the music we have at St. John’s, let alone the beauty and quality we enjoy in the man who provides it!
And so it is with the decision to quarantine.
It is essential, I believe, that when we (as a nation) consider the call to quarantine, we discern carefully the impact this decision has on others in the world. Are we, perhaps invoking some unspeakable privilege that values our lives as higher than the lives of those who live on other continents?
Despite the tale of the numbers here in the O.C., we are being given both the permission and the requirements for “opening up” again. With masks, hand sanitizers, no-touch temperature devices, six-feet social-distancing, and much more, we are ready to step up. It is a risk that some of us are willing to undertake. I am not recommending for anyone — let alone those of high-risk categories — a return to ‘life-as-before.’ Instead, I ask that we consider our return to in-person worship — with however many or few — is a statement that St. John’s is doing so with an eye to the impact of our ‘coming out’ on the global environment (regarding human lives and economic ones as well). That coming back to in-person worship is an important — dare I say prophetic — statement that we are ready to reenter fully the economic life of our community and of the whole world, sparing more lives than masks alone will save.
Lastly, our return to in-person worship, comes from our holy desire to be a people in communion. It comes from a deep yearning in our souls that cries out for spiritual connection and for communal worship. ZOOM has been (and will continue to be) a friend to us over the last three months. However, I think it has taught me that the Spirit of God has a hard time getting through TO ME via a two-dimensional media. Coming back together for in-person worship with a loving community offers me strength and support and hope.
In the meantime, remember that you are invited to Morning Prayer at 9 a.m. each Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on Zoom. Please consider joining us for Evening Prayer at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Please email me for the meeting link; we do not publish this information due to online security concerns. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
REMEMBER: We also have an opportunity for a Bible Fellowship/Study of Luke on Wednesday Evening. Please email me for the meeting link: cpotter@stjohns-es,org
In Christ and in Love,