Today, March 9, marks two years since Louisiana’s first confirmed COVID case, tweets Governor John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov). Since then we have reported over 1 million cases and have lost 16,813 Louisianans to this virus. Two years after the reality of coronavirus gripped the nation and impacted every aspect of our lives, where are we now? I suppose that all depends on how significant your experience with the virus was/is. For many who lost loved ones as they passed from this life alone in ICU wards, I feel sure the aftershocks of coronavirus continue. For others, it may not have been much more than an inconvenience. But for most of us, in between those two extremes, a variety of responses and reflections come to mind as we remember how life changed two years ago.
It’s a hard subject to talk about because it has such a polarizing effect. When we talk about the virus in a crowd, we have input from those who believe we should still be quarantined, those who think it was all a conspiracy, those who think it was just a strong flu, and others who will drag politics into the discussion. For conflict avoiders like me, it’s better not to talk about it.
I spent a few minutes reading my blog posts reflecting thoughts about virus over the past few years (linked below), and I feel good about what I wrote while we were experiencing the greatest part of it. As one of my elders said to the church this past Sunday, it doesn’t take much reading to know that there are many ministers who are resigning, quitting, leaving the ministry because of the toll that this virus has taken and how it has left many churches with significantly less members. I know that there are many career fields about which the same thing could be said, but the one with which I’m most familiar with is church ministry.
As I see it, the struggles of ministry going forward from this two year mark, remain a challenge. While we have now left behind mask discussions and distanced seating arrangements, none of us is left unaffected by the experience we have had these past two years, and what it revealed about us. Perhaps every crisis gives us insight into who we really are. What I’ve noticed in Christianity over the past few years has left me with the impression that we have some growing to do.
We have some growing to do when it comes to judging one another. No matter where you landed in the discussion, it was hard not to judge those who came to other conclusions. It was a national crisis, a couple of years of quickly changing information as we grew in our understanding of Covid-19. We had to choose who we trusted – and if we trusted differing ‘experts‘, then it was hard not to regard the other person as ill-informed or even daft. We saw church members who wouldn’t come to worship because they were asked to wear a mask and those who wouldn’t come because everyone wasn’t wearing a mask. I expect both of them thought less of the other. I would like to come down hard on that, but I experienced it in my own thinking as well. It’s easy to talk about not judging one another based on their convictions, until we have to try to practice it.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.– Matthew 7:1,2 ESV
We have some growing to do when it comes to kindness. As opinions grew wider apart, often Christians felt free to speak unkindly of and to one another. We were influenced by angry talking heads on the 24-hour news shows, who often yell over one another, make faces, and even speak insultingly to one another. Constant exposure to that kind of interaction leaked into churches and caused division and hurt. Even when we weren’t meeting and experiencing quarantine, social media gave us outlets to attempt to quash one another in an ungodly manner. It is exactly in the intense situations that kindness matters most.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.– Ephesians 4:29, NLT
We have some growing to do when it comes to worship. It was my conviction that, as good citizens of the state of Louisiana, we should practice love for one another by not meeting together for a brief period of time, as requested by our Governor. I know everyone didn’t agree – and I can live with that. I still believe it was the right thing to do. That birthed the online edition of our worship time together (many churches had already entered this space and it wasn’t the huge challenge for them that it was for us)! I’m very grateful that the majority of our members were online and we were able to communicate and stay in touch. Emerging from quarantine was challenging, but we did it wisely. Forsythe Church never had to shut down services because of an outbreak among our members. Every church had to find their way through this and not one of them had any experience with it. But now that churches are meeting again, the essential nature of online meeting has now become, for some, an option instead of gathering with the family. I am afraid of the outcome for many Christians who no longer gather. Iron cannot sharpen iron from a distance. There is no accountability, no mutual encouragement, no building relationships when our only contact with the church is watching a video online. Ultimately, I believe the fire of faithfulness will become an ember of interest, until it becomes the ashes of a memory.
Ultimately, I believe the fire of faithfulness will become an ember of interest, until it becomes the ashes of a memory.
There have been some positives. Many have expressed how much gathering together means to them now, without restrictions. Reflecting back on the two years at Forsythe, our contribution seldom was less than it needed to be, a signal of priorities and commitment of our people. I know not every church has had that experience. For now, we do not take for granted the conversations, hugs, and love expressed among brothers and sisters. There is a sense that God has seen us through a storm, and we are grateful for His guidance and strength when we had none. We have seen a return of enthusiasm as new works and groups are getting together to serve the Lord. I hope this is true of churches across the world.
I never thought I would live through a pandemic. That seemed like the storyline of a hundred science fiction dystopian novels. But we did it. It was hard, at times. For those who lost loved ones, the experience has to have lasting effects. I’m sorry, along with you, for those losses. We have been reminded that we do not know what the future holds. It’s important to live each day for the Lord, bless and love those we encounter, and be thankful for those who lead through their professions (medical, educational, scientific research, business, financial, and, yes, ministerial). What I want to encourage most is that we all pay attention to our discipleship above and beyond the events and struggles of each day, allowing Christ to lead us through the darkest valleys. And it’s been a dark valley for a couple of years. I’m happy to see some sunshine.
Below are some posts I’ve written about the experience of ministry in a pandemic. Thanks for reading.