By Calvin Lane
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
It may be a platitude, but there’s truth in it: challenges make us who we are. The lapidary effect of wind and rain beating on rocks makes them into jewels. Many of us, in addition to much prayer (and, to be honest, not a little worry), have started to think about some of the potential benefits of this experience of pandemic. How will we come out on the other end of this season of challenge, a time of social distancing and shuttering our schools, businesses, and churches? A recent story noted that global pollution is plummeting, a side effect of China shutting down so much of its industry While that particular benefit may be temporary, what will some of the good effects be from this experience on our churches?
Most obviously, this is a time for intense prayer. Historically, Christians come through plagues with a deeper reliance on the living God. There is so very much to say about this, and one doesn’t necessarily have to make recourse to Jeremiads, that genre of Christian thinking that asserts God’s agency in sending the disease as punishment. Many are sharing extremely helpful texts from our shared Christian legacy, notably pieces by Luther and John Donne. And of course, there’s more material out there. Beyond a deeper faith and trust in our living, loving, and merciful God, here’s a very short list of some possible outcomes.
Gratitude. Gratitude for being able to worship in-person with other believers. Gratitude for being able to go to a restaurant again, a library, a store. Gratitude for being able to do simple things that I have absurdly taken for granted.
Better digital communication and online content from our congregations. How many of us have easily doubled our communication methods in the past week? For some of us, we’ve gone from zero to sixty in a minute. If they didn’t have them already, churches are creating YouTube channels, expanding their social media presence, utilizing Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, and FaceTime. If churches didn’t have it already, many will have online giving options. When this is over, the norm will be to have more and better materials at hand for those who aren’t with us in person, including the home bound. And our vestry, special committees, and youth families will have experience using Zoom. We are forced to be creative now, finding ways to be present with one another though not in person. Surely, being together in-person is better than these alternatives; we aren’t gnostics. Christians value the body as God’s good creation and destined for resurrection. Yet there are tools we can use when being together is not possible.
Deeper respect and understanding for our schools, including home schoolers. I am committed to public schools, and I stand in awe of public school teachers (full disclosure I was one for two years between college and graduate school). I am amazed at what my son’s first grade teacher has been able to put together, and her on-going engagement with her students using the internet. Even so, I also respect families that discern the call to home schooling.We’re all getting a taste of their lives now. I hope through this experience I will grow in that respect and admiration. And consider the resources that are exploding around us. Notice how many zoos, museums, and libraries are developing easily accessible online content. This will bless not only home-school children, but anyone who is homebound.
Deeper Community. We’ve been living in a deeply divided culture for some years now. And even with a small fringe who still don’t take this situation seriously, many of us are coming together with empathy and patience. I pray that this experience will draw people together, perhaps giving opportunities for healing common wounds.
There are other benefits that may arise, and I would love to see comments on this blog. Please share them so that we can all be edified.
The Rev. Dr. Calvin Lane is associate rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio, affiliate professor of church history at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of history at Wright State University in Dayton.