COMMAnts from the Transitional Conference Minister

Grace and peace to you,

Four years ago today, the Wall Street Journal ran an article with the following headline:

Coronavirus Cases Exceed 100,000 as Countries Struggle to Contain Spread
Death toll in U.S. jumped to 16 Friday, with fatalities in Seattle area and Florida

Re-read that headline a time or two, and try to absorb it … 100,000 people across the globe were diagnosed with COVID-19 … A rise of COVID deaths in the U.S. brought the domestic mortality total up to 16 people. How does that headline strike you today?

Personally, I find it hard to put myself back in that moment, knowing what would happen next. Compared to the coming years, so few people had been diagnosed with COVID-19; so few Americans had died from this virus; and domestic deaths were largely confined to only two specific corners of the country.

Meanwhile, life was continuing in America as it had for decades: stores were still open, employees commuted to their offices, schools were completely in-person. And across the country, church leaders were preparing for Sunday worship in the way they had for years. With the exception of a few scientific and policy experts, none of us alive that day knew that we were experiencing the last “normal” Friday of our lives for years to come.

The reality today looks so much different. Across the world, more than 700 million cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed, and more than 7 million people on the planet have died from this virus. In the United States alone, we’ve now had more than 110 million confirmed cases and more than 1.2 million confirmed deaths. Of the more than 200 countries publicly reporting this information, we in the U.S. have by far the largest number of confirmed cases and deaths. And bear in mind: these are just the confirmed cases and mortalities.

If you feel overwhelmed by such information, you are not alone. As seen here, hundreds of thousands of years of human history and evolution did not prepare our brains to process such information. As a result of this overwhelm, we have seen an impulse since the very beginning of the pandemic to “go back to normal.” For years, we thought that the combination of vaccines and warm weather would get us back to normal aspects of life like dating (the so-called Hot Vax Summer” of 2021, “Hot Vax Summer 2.0” in 2022) until we realized otherwise (the “Hot COVID Summer” of 2023).

Even professional experts are trying to get back to normal. A year ago this week, Johns Hopkins University shut down its Coronavirus Resource Center, which had been one of the global pillars of data collection about COVID-19. Ten months ago, the World Health Organization declared an end to the Public Health Emergency for COVID-19. In spite of all of this, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) keeps mutating, circumventing our best efforts to put an end to this virus and get back to normal.

When we gather as the church, this desire to get “back to normal” comes with us. It’s understandable. Many of you have said that there’s something extraordinary and ineffable that happens when we gather in person that is hard to replicate online, even with today’s wondrous technology. I have seen this myself, both within and beyond the walls of our congregations.

Still, as we gather and reflect this Lenten season, I would urge us all to consider what we have learned over the past four years about welcoming and protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities. What have we learned about how to embody God’s radical love and hospitality for the immuno-compromised, for those with Long COVID, and for those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of systemic racism and classism

I’m eager to hear what your church is doing especially well around these matters, especially as we consider where and how God is calling us to be church in the years to come.

As the grand experiment of what it means to be church today continues to unfold, I welcome your bravery, your boldness, and your brilliance in embodying who we know God to always be!

Sincerely,

Rev. David B. Lindsey

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023