Light at the End of the Tunnel

Dear friends,

As we round the corner of a new year, and the old year grows smaller in the rear-view mirror, it seems that there may be light at the end of this tunnel we’ve been in since March of 2020. And, although we likely do have some difficult months before us, and as many medical experts say “the darkest days of the pandemic” may still be ahead, I can’t help but feel optimistic.

Effective vaccines have been developed, and are in the process of being distributed: a monumental task, but one that I have every confidence will be accomplished. And while the solution to this global health crisis will not be instantaneous, and will indeed take months, and cost more lives, it seems realistic to hope that the worst will be over this spring.

Many years ago I read John Barry’s book “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.” It was scarier than any Stephen King novel.

As a child of the 1950s and 1960s, who only saw the tail-end of the polio epidemic that swept our country for generations, I could scarce comprehend what it meant for there to be a health danger of such proportions as influenza. In many ways, my most formative years were lived in a sort of bubble, a not-quite-illusion that humanity had eradicated every deadly contagion.

Since then, however, that bubble of perception has burst. Infectious diseases have tested us again and again in the late twentieth century. And in this new century we have had to relearn the meaning of an old word: pandemic, an epidemic that spans the globe and leaves us no place to flee from it.

Those of us who have survived till now have much to be thankful for, but we also have much to grieve. The loss of life worldwide has been staggering; the loss of life in our own country has left me speechless.

Throughout this health crisis, a phrase from the Hippocratic Oath (which has guided doctors throughout the centuries) has also guided me: First, do no harm.

A pastor is the shepherd of a flock, first and last, and the flock’s safety must be his or her primary concern. I cannot comprehend the recklessness of some pastors around the country who have placed their people in danger to prove either a religious or a political point, or just to keep the programs running. Our first obligation, as pastors, is to do everything in our power to preserve the most precious gift God bestows – life.

God has blessed our congregation this past year. We have not suffered an outbreak of COVID-19. Our session has seen us through almost unimaginable situations with integrity, care, faithfulness, love, flexibility and imagination. Our marvelous staff has worked hard and so creatively to provide on-line worship opportunities, Christian education, youth ministry, spiritual formation and Bible study in small groups, even some modicum of fellowship despite social distancing and other limitations. And as the year neared its end, we realized that even in this tough year, our congregation had added thirty-one new members, met our budget and exceeded our pledge goal. For three short weeks the church was even able to restart face-to-face worship with elaborate health protocols, and even had a modified Christmas Eve program.

It is my hope that by the end of January, the session can take up the question of when and how face-to-face worship can begin again. What I can assure you of is this: our decision-making process will be guided by sound medical and scientific research and reasoning. The health and safety of our entire congregation will be the primary concern. This is a pledge I make to you, as your Interim Senior Pastor, and I am sure your session joins me in this commitment, because they take seriously their own pastoral calling as elders.

Let us all pray that this will not only be a happy but a much safer new year.

God bless you,