Another Casualty of Covid

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I do not mean to speak lightly about the casualties of COVID-19. Globally, it has been a disaster for the human race. I acknowledge that many are left in deep pain over the losses in their homes.

There are many casualties of COVID … but one I am not sure we’ve paid attention to is the unity to which Christians are called. The pandemic has set us all on edge and in some congregations it has delivered a fatal blow.

Just scrolling through the social media of Christians and hearing reports from across the nation, I am caught by surprise. Examples?

  • Christians who refuse to attend worship because the congregation is observing the mask mandate of the Governor.
  • Arguments that break out over whether or not to be vaccinated. I’m not talking about expressing opinions – we can learn from one another. But I’ve seen too many seek to ridicule and embarrass those who disagree.
  • I read of a minister who was fired because he asked parishioners to wear masks.
  • There are those who say crude things about those who choose not to wear masks.
  • Some have been at home alone for so long that they are no longer interested in being with other Christians.
  • Members who made it hard on church leadership teams who were doing their best to keep the congregation as safe as possible.
  • Church leaders who have pressed congregants into gathering when they didn’t feel comfortable doing so yet.
  • People flinging Bible verses at one another (from any perspective) to try to crush their opponent (and fellow Christian) with the Word of God.

It’s my guess that if you have been on social media at all, you’ve seen these things happening. More, the entire world has watched this play out among Christians. So, our witness to the lost world may be a casualty of COVID. But in many cases, the unity that we talk about has taken a fatal blow. We’ve rejected unity and embraced a crass and casual weapon of words.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV

I realize someone may even think I’m using that verse as a weapon. I mean it as an appeal to build up, not to destroy. Our world has been upside down for a year and there is a lot of anger attached to that. But I am to make every effort. I must focus on the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God … these things call me to be united with all who believe in them. Even those who differ with me in the details of life.

I’ve seen enough angry fingerprinting and belligerent name calling. Really. Nothing forces me to keep reading the things that discourage me so much, so I don’t.

Finding and keeping unity has always been hard, but it’s worth the effort. It is what God has called us to pursue.

Further Reading:

Ten Tips For Disagreeing in Love

Covid Undermines Relationships

Covid Undermines Relationships

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The devastation that COVID-19 has caused in the global community is difficult to assess, but I think everyone would agree that it has been massive. Painful realities accumulated day by day. There was a staggering loss of life. Heartbreaking stories of loneliness as people suffered in hospitals and nursing homes alone. Many of us settled into a foggy mental confusion as we tried to figure out how we were going to address this in our own lives. The vulnerable have never been more vulnerable.

One area that is often overlooked is the way that Covid undermined relationships among friends and family. One family member is quarantined while another family member is maskless wandering around the grocery story. One friend is carefully sanitizing hands while another friend is still shaking hands with people. We can be standing six feet away from the person in front of us in line at the store while we can feel the breath of the person behind us on our neck.

The messaging didn’t help at all. I don’t have to point fingers. We all know that there were mixed messages. Some of them were from scientific gains in knowledge. When you learn more, sometimes the message changes. Some of the messages were politically motivated. Massive organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization had problems with succinct and consistent instructions and information. Daily ‘updates’ from Governors and Presidents were common.

Even so, there was massive disagreement about the nature of COVID-19 and how to deal with it.

That’s where I saw relationships being undermined. Friends were leaving snarky posts on one another’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Blanket expressions of dismissal and pronouncements about motives cut away at relationships. Accusations abounded. Reposting half-truths as if they were the total picture. Labeling people who do wear masks and people who do not. Ridiculing people who were vaccinated; ridiculing those who would not be vaccinated. People lined up behind their favorite sources of information and took offense at any challenge to them. I think people stopped listening to one another and took to their feeds to participate in a war of posts.

I’d like to say the Christian community did better.

I’d like to. But I can’t.

I wonder what damage has been done to our relationships in the church? Will those harsh words and accusations be forgotten? Will we be able to talk to and love one another while the names we were called linger in our thoughts?

Physically separated, ideologically at odds, emotionally estranged. Covid undermined our relationships and as sure as we are going to have to do whatever we can to win the victory over this virus, we are going to have to rebuild the connections we have with people.

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“I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet…” – Amos 7:14

Depending on who you listen to, we are either headed toward normalizing our lives again or we are headed toward a massive resurgence as Governors remove restrictions. I honestly don’t know. But after all the involuntary losses I do not want to lose the relationships that mean so much to me.

I’m going to have to see the person behind the argument, and love them.

I’m going to have to understand that not everyone will see things as I do. And be ok with that.

I’m going to have to forgive others when they fail to realize how their statements hurt me.

I’m going to beg them to forgive me when I failed to love as I should have.

I may not be able to prevent an invisible virus from creating destruction in our world, but I can do all I can to cultivate love and forgiveness in my personal world.

There have been a lot of losses with covid. Let’s not let our relationships, our families, our churches, our friendships be among those losses.

Refresh

I spent some time with some old friends a while back. They were on a retreat to think through some ministry plans. I’m so glad they decided to rent a place nearby. I’m especially glad that they invited me along for some of the time together. It was a moment of refreshing.

Too often we get entrenched in a hundred different things going on in life and forget to refresh our spirits. Well, at least I forget. This week’s visits reminded me of some simple ways to refresh when we are feeling compressed and distressed. I want to think through the time spent with old friends and make some notes here about why this was such a special time. Maybe these are some ways to experience renewal when the pressure is on.

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Get outside for an hour. Yes, a whole hour. You forgot how good that feels.

Talk to an old friend. Oh, go ahead and do that for an hour also. You need the break.

Laugh about something in the past that continues to bring you joy.

Listen to someone else’s struggle for a bit – not to fix them – just to hear them. What a gift you’re giving. And receiving.

Eat some good food with friends. Practice whatever distancing you need to, but the conversation over a meal can be enlivening.

Reflect on how God has carried you through a lot of stuff just to get to today. And be grateful for today.

If a memory makes you cry, let the tears fall. They are God’s healing balm for broken hearts.

Compare thoughts, share ideas, energize your observations, get excited.

Decide now to do this again sometime soon if possible.

Thanks to Jeff, Doug, and Daniel for a couple of days that have left me refreshed. I hope I never wait this long to refresh my spirits again.

…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. -Proverbs 11:25

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. – Philemon 1:7

…that times of refreshing may come from the Lord… -Acts 3:19

Covid Re-Wrote My Job Description

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Contemplating our year with Covid, it occurred to me that COVID-19 rewrote my job description. It wasn’t an official act or one that went through the process of leadership analysis. It wasn’t even conscious. One week we were meeting at church as normal. The next Sunday, Daniel and I were at the church building standing in front of a GoPro camera trying to act like we’ve done this before.

Like so many other ministers, we entered into a new arrangement of ministry with a Governmental stay at home order. A whole new set of rules were in place and it was a time of endless adjustments. Looking back, so many of the activities of ministry were put on hold, cancelled, or digitized. The stress of having to so completely rewrite the script of serving a church in quarantine led me to write a post that became the only viral post I’ve ever written: The Coming Pastoral Crash.

Once we started meeting again, there were divergent opinions about everything. Should we meet or not? Should we wear masks the entire service or just as we come and go? How are we going to maintain a social distance? Reading new kinds of medical literature and opinion didn’t seem to help me a lot. One reason is that I’m not a medically trained professional! Another reason is that the medically trained professionals didn’t agree and honestly didn’t know what to do either. I think everyone tended to trust the doctors and writers that agreed with the approach they wanted to take.

For a while ministry was totally online. Later it became a hybrid in person / digital ministry. As time progressed new questions about Do we continue with the online presence? Shifting to digital ministry and then back to a more in person ministry but retaining the digital presence … it’s a lot.

I’m not complaining, just ruminating over the way that COVID-19 rewrote my job description without any negotiation.

Moving forward has its own challenges. The perspective of many is to go back, to try to establish a 2019 church and reboot from there. Personally, I don’t think that’s possible. We have a 2020/2021 experience that has changed a lot of things. The truth is our church spent 2019 preparing for a potential merger that didn’t happen. We had about a month between laying that potential down and a Covid shutdown. In reality, our church would have to go back to 2018 to reboot. I think it is much more positive to relaunch right where we are, knowing what we know, and staging for a post-quarantine (to borrow a term from Thom Rainer) church. But maybe that should be another post.

Most ministers can tell this same story, mine is not unique. But I do think it is worth reflection this week. We are approaching the one year anniversary of the stay-at-home order in Louisiana.

Controversial, pandemic, political, opinionated, deadly … all terms that can describe the COVID-19 experience. And it changed everything.

Below are some posts I’ve written about the experience of ministry in a pandemic if you are interested. Thanks for reading.

That First Sunday

How Are We Going to Heal?

Ministry Moving Forward

COVID: Why We Cannot Give Up

In a Weary Land

Adjustments

We Won’t Know For a While

One Year With Covid

One Year With Covid

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This weekend, one year ago, was the last normal weekend we would see for quite some time – but we didn’t know it. At least I didn’t know it. Yes, we were hearing about Covid-19 and it all sounded rather threatening, but not near. This is the time when we were still asking each other, “Do you know anyone who has had COVID-19?” Nobody asks that any more.

It’s about this time, one year ago, that I remember going into the grocery store and seeing someone in a mask. It was an elderly man. And he was giving me that look. I’m glad I couldn’t see his frown, but his eyes told the story. Talk of masks also seemed distant at the time. That’s the last time I went into the grocery – or any other store – without a mask.

A year ago this weekend, I don’t remember any conversation about whether or not the church should meet. Maybe it’s lost in all the details of what’s happened since then, but I don’t remember it. I do remember that it wasn’t until Saturday night (March 14) that we cancelled services (March 15). Daniel Kirkendall and I went up to the church building and set up a GoPro camera and presented a message together that we posted onto Facebook and his YouTube channel. We’ve come a long way after a year of posting sermons and Bible classes on Sunday and Wednesday for a year. Daniel did a deep dive to help us with the technological issues and processes. I’m thankful for our partnership during this time. But we had no idea we would be doing this one year later. Our church meets together now, maintaining social distancing, and we’re grateful for that. And a weekly Sunday service and Wednesday Bible study can be found on our FACEBOOK page and YOUTUBE channel!

One year ago there were so many things that we took for granted.

  • Hugs.
  • Handshakes
  • Going to worship with the church family.
  • Eating breakfast together before worship.
  • Third Wednesday Fellowship meals
  • Bible classes in classrooms
  • Eating carelessly in restaurants
  • Traveling without wondering what restrictions are in place

One year ago there were several brothers and sisters who gathered with us, who are no longer with us. Some passed away from COVID, others from other causes. The end of 2020 and first months of 2021 have brought heartbreaking losses to our church family.

Our lives changed dramatically in so many ways. Churches have scrambled to try to remain connected – and some smaller churches have struggled to stay alive. As vaccinations proliferate and many have recovered from COVID, it seems we are emerging from the cloud in which we’ve been living. COVID has brought out the best and worst of us. There have been so many changes over this past year.

But God has never changed. He never looked away or quarantined himself away from us. His eternal love has given us strength to make it through this year and will continue.

Just as it’s true that one year ago I had no idea how drastically life was going to change, I do not know what the future holds. I don’t know when I’ll go into a store without a mask or try to keep 6 feet between me and other customers. I don’t know when I’ll shake hands and not look around for a hand sanitizer. I don’t know when I’ll eat in a restaurant and not think about the air filtration system and who is sitting nearby who may have COVID. I know a lot of people just ignore those things and do what they want. I observe them out of love for neighbor, family, and church. And self – not going to lie.

I don’t do any of those things perfectly and I don’t know anyone who does. My mantra for the past year has been to ‘do what you can, but at least do that‘.

However our lives have changed since one year ago, I hope you are coping well. I hope you are staying healthy. I hope we really do get to a place where this all seems part of our distant past.

A year ago this weekend, we just didn’t know.