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Difficult times bring significant disruptions

The following excerpts are from Mike’s emails sent out via the PNC-UCC Google Group (see next page to join):

Mike Denton - Conference Minister
Conference Comments

2/26 We want to get together when times are hard—related to 9/11, the 2004 Tsunami, acts of mass violence, funerals, tragedies, failures and personal pain. We need each other, we belong to each other, and we want to be together when things go wrong.

We need to ask: What social justice concerns will be exacerbated by this crisis? How can we help and prepare for these realities?

These days ahead are going to be challenging but together, with God’s help, we will find our way through.

2/29 The temptation among some will be to panic or ignore some of the more difficult news along the way. Neither approach is helpful.

These days will pass! With God’s help, we will be able to significantly reduce the impact of COVID-19, together.

3/4 Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.  Take another deep breath. Let it out slowly. When you’re ready, try saying these words from Psalm 56 a few times: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.”

These are not easy days in our corner of the country and in many parts of the world. We’ve all been learning about pandemics, epidemics, and disease outbreaks and much of what we’ve learned has been anxiety-producing.

COVOD-19 is a new disease to humans and there’s a lot of uncertainty about it. Some of what we’re hearing is pretty frightening. I admit I’m eyeing every cough, sniffle and sneeze with more than a little suspicion. I’m thinking about my health and the health of all those I love and care about all the time.

That includes all of you. I’ve had at least one meeting every day about this topic in an effort to think about all the different ways we might cope with this outbreak. Each day comes with a new realization, a new risk or a new solution.

 It will be the combination of a loving absence by many combined with the loving recognition of that absence by many others that will help us get through this moment. We need to figure out how to be present for each other even if we can’t be present with each other.

The next few months are not going to be easy. They’re just not. I’m also confident that God is with us and in the coming days we are going to expand our creativity, love, covenant, and faith in more ways than we could have imagined.

Sometime in the not too distant future, we are going to look back with awe at all the new ways we learned to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. May it be so.

3/5  An 1888 snow storm and a few others that came afterward, spurred on the creation of weather early warning systems that helped people know when a storm so that they could prepare for it; have emergency supplies, limit their travel, and stay at home.

Our public health system was created out of similar experiences with historical health problems. Their job is to let us know about health risks so that we can plan and adjust our behaviors accordingly.

I suggest you not have in-person worship and cancel face-to-face church gatherings and meetings until given guidance that it’s OK to so. I suggest having conversations with groups that use your building about doing the same.

By working together and following the advice of our public health departments, we have a chance of ending this outbreak and helping save dozens of lives. That, my siblings in Christ, is holy, sacred work.

Being together for worship and ritual are vital parts of our life together but Micah suggests that it shouldn’t get in the way of doing justice, doing acts of loving-kindness, and walking humbly with God.

Heeding recommendations of public health departments and canceling in-person worship is ultimately an act of justice, kindness, and wisdom. It is a temporary step but an important one.

3/6 The prayer attributed to St. Francis for us to be instruments of God’s peace reflects a sense of faith and care that so many are expressing these days. In your email exchanges, I have been touched by what you have been sharing with each other.

These times are weird and disconcerting. I’ve found so much comfort and inspiration from what you are sharing and the spirit with which you all are sharing it. The creativity and faithfulness represented in the ways you’re sorting through worship options, pastoral care, and administration are deep and beautiful.

It’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s going to be another side beyond this moment but there will be. Over time there will new cures, practices and preventative measures we’ll learn and adapt to.

We will be changed by this and, while honoring who we lost, we will recognize ways this crisis that, while demanding we are apart for a while, ends up bringing us together. We need each other and that is what makes humanity so frustrating and so beautiful. Today, I clearly see that beautiful part because it’s so easy to see it in each of you.

3/8 I am thinking about all of you this morning as we worship together in different ways and with different concerns than many of us have had as part of our lives before this moment. In a way, we now join those in many parts of the world who have had to deal with similar or worse anxiety more regularly than we have. We join with those in our history who had to deal with it, too. 

3/9 I know many of you, based on health department suggestions decided to simply close your doors this week and are looking for remote worship options for next week.

3/10 By the grace of God, the skills of worship leaders, and the faithfulness of those who ventured to worship online, it is clear that this was an overall positive experience. Many of those churches that had the means to see the numbers of folks participating in worship this way actually saw a higher number of people participating than would on an average Sunday!

We’re going to be different on the other side of all of this but we’re going to make it through.

3/13  Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Go ahead and do it again. We’re at another one of those key moments in the COVID-19 pandemic when the Governor of Washington State closed all schools in the state until, at least, April 24. 

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that each church put together plans to prepare for the disruption COVID-19 would cause. I recommended following the direction of your local health department.

I suggest we put these plans into action, so we can join the effort to limit exposure to ourselves, our communities and all those we care for and love.

I suggest that congregations: 

• Not have in-person worship for, at least six weeks.

• Cancel or postpone all face-to-face meetings and gatherings, including funerals and weddings.

• Suspend face-to-face pastoral visits and switch to video conferences, phone calls, emails or letters.

• Set protocols to inform congregations when members test positive to respect their privacy and inform those who may have been exposed.

• Converse with groups who use your building about suspending their use of the building and offer to share video or phone meeting options.

• Promote online and mail-in giving.

• Begin designing a recovery plan for when this is over.

• Decide if you will offer your building for emergency use.

Hospitals are reaching their capacities to care for those who come to them. More space will be needed and, in the 1918 flu outbreak, many churches offered their space for both emergency operations and care of those infected. Let your local health department know and email me  3/18 - There are also requests for space for overflow from homeless shelters.

These days are challenging and they will not be without pain. I know we would rather choose some pain now to protect others from suffering and death, rather than go on as usual and be part of causing suffering and death. That’s our choice.

This is our call at this moment. A conservative estimate is that 480,000 could pass away from this infection. Our behavior and willingness to participate in social distancing, hand washing and disinfecting could lower this number significantly.

There is another side of this. We will celebrate and worship together again. In the meantime, may God help us answer the call before us at this time.

3/14 I appreciate the compassion expressed to folks in recovery who have 12-step programs in our churches.

It’s important to converse with groups who use your building. If things continue to progress, there is a chance one of these groups will inadvertently become a point from which disease is spread and will have to stop for a while. Second, there is a chance that the health department will recommend we close our buildings.

3/15 I know there is a lot of preparing, testing and probably a little bit of finger-crossing going on this morning in many, many places throughout the conference and, actually, the world.

May you be blessed as you do this holy work. May your technological glitches be few but, when they happen, may we receive them with patience and grace. May you feel the presence of a Body of Christ that is bigger than any distance.

We may be apart but we’re in this together. Thanks be to God.

3/16 These words have become part of my daily readings these days:

“The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.” Solnit, Rebecca. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Penguin Books, 2010

The title tells you what this book is about. I read it several years ago. The idea quoted is one that’s helped me remain hopeful at this moment. I know we’re probably not quite feeling that paradise vibe at this moment. We’re still in the middle of this slow-moving tsunami, but these words remind me there will be another side to this. It’s coming.

Take a deep breath here. It’s going to take a bit to get used to this idea. Humans might just be a hell of a lot better than we thought.

There have been some stories of behavior that’s far from ideal but I’ve received far more questions from folks asking about helping others and caring for others than anything else. I’ve heard and witnessed far more words of encouragement and support than anything else. I’ve had more people reaching out to offer help than anything else. I’m hearing account after account of other people experiencing the same.

People are not perfect but they are good. We’re going to do the best we know how through the next months and we’re going to figure it out. Yes, there will be suffering and grieving, but even though we might not be able to be there with each other, we will be there for each other.

This is our opportunity to see how irrelevant and fragile systems are that have held us apart for so long. Solnit says, our tendency to be in community is so strong and powerful it takes a tremendous about of resources to support systems that keep us apart. As they fall, we will rise.

The days ahead are going to be difficult and deadly. However, in the coming days, I think there’s also a good chance we’re going to exceed our expectations. On the day the vaccination comes, I will celebrate with the rest of the world. I will also hold on with my whole being to this new thing we will have built together: this new life.


Copyright © March 2020 - Pacific NW United Church News




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