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Now we reflect how the pandemic transforms us

Mike Denton, PNC Conference Minister

As I write this, it’s been 114 days since Ash Wednesday. Around the beginning of Lent, we really began to understand what the impact of the pandemic might be and began to grasp what sort of sacrifices and changes we might have to prepare for. In some ways, we’ve adjusted amazingly well, but it hasn’t been without consequences for many of us in our settings. The first part of this pandemic was about how we adjusted. Now, we’re moving into a clearer stage of reflecting on how this is transforming us. The first was temporary. The second is more permanent.

We’ve been on a trajectory of shallowness for a long time. We only have so much energy to spare and much of it has been required to do more as opposed to be more. We’ve confused the idea of more communication with the idea of better communication. We’ve confused the idea of more busyness with meaningfulness. We’ve confused the idea of being seen with being present. We’ve confused the idea of saying the right thing with doing the right thing.

I know I’ve been caught up in this. It’s hard not to. There is this idea of going after the “low hanging fruit” and tackling those things that are easiest in order to rack up something like task points. Respond to a bunch more emails. Post the right thing in social media. Like the right updates. Express the proper amount of outrage. Buy the right thing. Subscribe to the right thing. Listen to another podcast. By the end of it, we can actually feel like we did something and yet...

We may be



that has

the possibility

to change




the world.


Some days I’ve been surprisingly productive and, at the same time, amazingly ineffective. The breadth of what I might have done in a given day was broad but it was shallow. Now that I have more time at home and less travel, commuting, what’s become clear is that too many days, my family and friends get the leftover time; the leftover attention: the leftover me.

I have a love-hate relationship with video-conferencing at this point in the pandemic. In one way, I appreciate the ability to be immediately present in a way that’s feeling more personal as time goes on. In another way, it is so exhausting because it insists on so much attention. I browse faces in a different way and pay a different sort of attention to a person’s movement on the screen.

Think about that for a moment. The reason we might be so exhausted by video-conferencing is because we have to pay attention. I keep wondering, had I really been paying so little attention, before? Was I so focused on, well, everything else that I wasn’t paying attention?

We’re at the early stages of a fund raiser for our camps. Like most places in the world that count on their income coming from being a gathering place, our camps are taking a huge financial hit. They’ve done amazing work transitioning from places where groups can gather to place where people have some time and space set aside. Pilgrim Firs has been a Quarantine and Isolation Center for Kitsap County. N-Sid-Sen has hosted first responders and clergy that have needed a break. At the same time, underneath the service that camp has been, we’ve also rediscovered some of the meaning that camp is a vessel for.

We put together a promotional video for the fund-raising campaign and it’s worth watching. One of the themes that clearly emerges is the reality that camp changes lives. It has me thinking about how. One of the things that many folks who attend programming at camp talk about is how being in these places fosters a sense of community and peace.

More than one person asks what it might take to recreate some of this experience at home. What if it’s all about this “paying attention” thing? What if it’s all about setting this time aside where wifi and mobile phone signals are spotty to be present with each other in a place that gives us time for depth vs. breadth? What if it wasn’t about how many friends you have in your Facebook feed but the depth of friendships and relationships with family, neighbors and friends? Camp sort of forces the container. What if we created it?

This might be the transformative legacy of COVID-19: the community it creates. We should mourn every person who dies but not every practice; not the busy-ness, not the shallowness. We’re paying attention, now, in a way that many of us didn’t previously and we’re seeing police violence and racism in ways that we didn’t before. We’re paying attention to others and ourselves in ways that we might not have a 114 days ago and we’re not just clicking through the list of what’s not right in our newsfeeds but feeling what is and isn’t right in our guts. We’re missing being with each other and being intentional about making space to pay attention to each other.

Regardless of what some might suggest, realistically we’re still at the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic but maybe, just maybe, our attention at this moment is bringing some other things to an end.

We might be overwhelmed with the idea of social distancing but may, just maybe, we’re at the beginnings of a renewing kind of intimacy that has the possibility of changing lives and changing the world.


Pacific NW Conference United Church News Copyright © Summer 2020


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