I still remember the conversation, on February 29, after our Moving Mountains Youth Celebration dinner. News of the COVID-19 breakout in Kirkland was on everyone’s mind, and earlier that day the CDC announced the first known Covid-caused death in the United States, about fifteen miles from us. I pulled aside one of the medical folks in our congregation and asked about our scheduled worship service the next day, which included communion. I was the only pastor in town that weekend. Any decision made would be up to me.
Following the advice I got that night we did have worship and communion the next morning. We all washed our hands just before we served communion. We did not use a common loaf- only the individual squares of bread. But we did use a common cup in which to dip the bread. We encouraged people to “pass the peace” without touching, but as I looked out over the congregation I saw that some folks hugged anyway.
I do not remember what I preached on, though I could go back and check. What I do remember is your faces as I offered the benediction. So much seemed the same as always. And yet I do believe some of us sensed that there was an approaching storm, and we didn’t know what it would mean.
I remember the congregation filing out the back of the sanctuary in that line that forms as folks wait to shake hands with the preacher and other worship leaders. But most of us were not shaking hands. If we made any contact at all, we were bumping elbows, kind of smiling to each other in an “I don’t know if it is necessary to be so careful but I guess we should err on the side of safety.” I also remember some folks threw caution to the wind and insisted on a hand shake.
None of us knew it at the time, but that was the last time we worshipped together in person, the last time we sang together in the sanctuary, the last time we prayed together gathered in the same space.
Now it is a full year later. We have lost so much in the last year—including close family and friends who have died of Covid. We have lost others in our congregation and have not been able to have in-person memorials.
We have struggled. Parents have been suddenly faced with more demands than they could have imagined as they manage work requirements and family needs. Children have missed their friends tremendously. Seniors have missed graduation. Freshmen have missed the wonder of going off to college. Many among us have lost jobs. Others have seen their jobs become almost unbearably hard.
We have changed. Couples have gotten married in tiny ceremonies, babies have been baptized with just their parents and one or two other present. Members have moved away and we haven’t gotten to say goodbye. We have called a new pastor whom no one at our church has yet met in person.
We have grown. We have learned how to worship, study, pray, hold meetings, make congregation-wide decisions, have dinner together and go on retreats all on line. We have come to treasure the possibility that at any gathering folks might show up from across the country or around the world. We have discovered that God is with us even in the midst of this devastating disease.
We have seen even more clearly the brokenness of our world. The inequities in health care and economic security and the systemic racism that is a part of this nation have been stark and heartbreaking.
And we have heard anew the call of God to us. We have studied and shared and marched and spoken up and changed, as we respond to that call. It is the same call we have always heard, and one we will continue to answer, whatever our circumstance:
“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Sovereign One require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)