Many of us are being called upon to make difficult choices right now. Whether or not to attend a family reunion, a wedding, a child’s sports event, a Fourth of July picnic or parade – summer activities that most of us would have participated in without a second thought just a year ago – are now choices fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. Whether or not to attend a protest march or a Black Lives Matter rally has become a heart-wrenchingly difficult decision.
Each choice we make will be scrutinized – not just in our own conscience, and by our own families, but by friends and complete strangers alike. Each choice we make potentially has very serious ramifications. And each choice we make, sadly, has become politically charged, having the potential to spiral into a socially polarizing situation.
This is what the pandemic has done to us.
Wearing a mask in public – politicized. Common sense health choices – polarizing. Family members, people who live in the same house, sometimes do not agree on what level of safety measures to take. Church members, people who share a beloved faith community, are experiencing the same thing. Folks with whom we seem to agree on almost everything else, may not agree with us on what are perhaps the most important choices we can be making right now. It can be very disturbing, and disorienting. We have come to expect that so-and-so will agree with us on everything that really matters – but not so, any longer.
I want to give voice to these feelings because I hear them being expressed to me, nearly every day, by members of our community. So, too, I want to lift up those among us who have the most pertinent first-hand experience – those who have suffered from COVID-19 already. (Thankfully, we have not lost anyone in our church family to this terrible disease, although some of us have indeed lost members of our extended family, friends, co-workers and colleagues).
As a result of all these realities, some of us have made a carefully considered choice not to go out into the world, not to attend public gatherings, not to come back to church – until a vaccine is available and they have been vaccinated. Others have made a different choice: To resume travel, to take vacations, to go to public events and eat out at restaurants, to gather at church (outside).
We do not, and will not, all agree on the choices we make during this pandemic – or after. In one respect, that should not be surprising. Yet in this particular case, it is proving to be quite painful. I encourage all of us to take a deep breath. To grant grace and forgiveness. To affirm individual choice, even as we acknowledge the importance of the common good.
As your Senior Minister, I continue to find myself torn, with the choices I must make. Most of you know that I’m a “hugger.” I miss those physical expressions of love and support in our congregation. I miss being in the same space together, singing together, holding hands around the sanctuary during our weekly benediction. I miss visiting you in hospitals. I want to attend events at the church such as outdoor vespers, commemorations, meals, discussions. In happy times, and in sad – I want to be with you. In person, not just on a Zoom screen or smart phone.
But the fact is, I do not feel safe doing so at this time. It does not feel prudent, for me. I could offer explanations about age, underlying health conditions, science and statistics, the fact that COVID cases are rising dramatically in Hamilton County, and in Ohio – but those things, frankly, should not even matter. Because my choice, is my choice. Just as your choice, is your choice. And all our choices will not be the same.
For the foreseeable future, I choose to avoid large and even smaller in-person gatherings, in order to minimize the risk to myself and others. I am only comfortable being with a very few people, outdoors – more comfortable, if we are all wearing masks.
I recognize that I am privileged to be able to make these choices. To choose not to be indoors at grocery stores or the pharmacy, even the library. That I am blessed to have a job that allows me to do most if not all of my work virtually during this time. My wife’s workplace is beginning to hold in-person events again this month, and of course many among us hold jobs that have required us to interact with countless other citizens since the beginning of this pandemic. My appreciation and admiration go out to our health care workers and first responders, and to all those working in the various service industries. My heart breaks for those who have been furloughed from or have lost jobs, all those whose businesses have suffered, and all those whose livelihood and well-being are threatened by the economic fallout of the pandemic.
This virus has made one truth inescapable: We are all – each and every one of us – deeply interconnected. Being Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and celebrate “the interconnected web of existence.” That shared principle can often give us a warm, fuzzy feeling. But Coronavirus has highlighted the flip side – the inherent challenges – of such profound interconnection. As we each make our choices, during these difficult days, may we remember to honor the Spirit of Life, in each and in all. May we remember to give, and to receive, the Love that is the spirit of this church.
Until we meet again –