Why Covid Practices? Covid Practices are Love Practices
I want to commend the session for their diligence and hard work grappling with the best way to be the community of faith during this covid pandemic. The conditions in society are ever changing, and there is no one blanket set of covid practices that can stay in effect from now until the end of the pandemic (whatever that means or whenever that happens). They pay attention to the differences in variants, the numbers of cases on both a national and a local level, the saturation of hospital beds, and anecdotal evidence of what's going on in our community. Everything they do is because they care about this congregation.
I have been thinking about the reasons behind the covid practices, though. Are we trying to protect our community with bubble wrap and prevent anyone from spreading any virus at all? To some extent, that would be delusional at this stage of the pandemic. Are we trying to influence society so that our medical infrastructure doesn't get overwhelmed? Are we trying to "flatten the curve?" I think this is a legitimate role for the church, to be a leader in all sorts of social justice, from equality for women and positive race relations, to advocating for fair economic conditions like affordable housing and decent wages and working conditions. That includes also showing by example how we can live responsibly in a pandemic. Whether everyone else is doing the right thing or not, our behaviors can set an example.
For the church, though, I think there is a deeper calling. "Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart." (1 Peter 1:22 NRSV). We aren't trying to legislate other people wearing masks so that others don't catch the virus. We are trying to legislate us wearing masks so that we don't give it to others because we love them. There are people who desperately want to not catch the virus because of preexisting health conditions; they know that even the less severe variants are likely to be deadly if they catch the virus. We practice social distancing in worship because we love them and want them to feel safe enough in our sanctuary to worship with us if they want to. We invest in livestreaming technology so that people who don't feel comfortable worshiping in our sanctuary can still be connected to our community because we love them. I, too, love to sing, but singing produces more aerosolized particles that travel farther and hang in the air longer, and I'm willing for us to not sing in the sanctuary for the sake of others because we love them.
The challenge in the verse from 1 Peter, though, is to not just to love one another, but to love one another "deeply from the heart." Short of putting people in danger from the virus, could we be doing more to make people feel connected to the community? I'm sure we could; I can imagine social zoom calls or outdoor gatherings (when weather permits) or regular phone calls to shut-ins (whether because of covid or any other reason) or taking them meals. I'm sure the priesthood of all believers can think of other means of staying connected as a community. You don't need permission; just always act out of love, and "love deeply from the heart."