mgyORJII appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

In this strange new age of COVID-19, “two or three gathered” is some ten days  in my past. Thursday, March 12 was my last day of direct human contact. This retired pastor spent the day in one of my favorite ways: as a teaching assistant in a special education class at a local school. One of the life skills we had begun teaching more consistently was handwashing, a two-fer as they practiced the ABC song or counting to 30. 

At noon, the principal announced: “Out of an abundance of caution, all visitors in the school have been asked to leave. From now on, no parents or other unauthorized adults will be permitted beyond the office.” 

After school, I filled up my car with gas, replenished my supply of Costco coffee, and did a grocery run to Sprouts. I bought stuff, true, and — I recall now — I was with people, interacting with persons, one in the crowd. I only wish I had stopped by to see my grandkiddos and their parents.

School was then canceled Friday before a week of spring break. There were  ever-more-frequent calls for age 65+ persons to stay home.  I decided that, “out an abundance of caution,” I would self-isolate for a few weeks. 

No biggie. This introvert is still settling into a new (to me) house, with an awesome fabric stash and numerous unfinished and potential projects just waiting for “enough time.” This looked more like opportunity than awfulness. 

I started things.
I cooked stuff.
I ate. A lot.
I binge watched.
I went to our church’s virtual worship service. 

And it was good.

Until . . .
I realized in my life — and in my body — I missed human contact. We introverts are recharged by being alone. Then what? Let’s spend that energy, right? 

Normally:
Hugging loved ones.
Lunch with a long-time friend.
Singing together in worship.
Greeting my new neighbors.
Going to the gym or therapy or . . .

Now, none of that.

Best-practices isolation has political consequences, too.

In the United States:

  • In-person voting is too risky. Primary elections have been postponed. Until when? 
  • In the United States Congress, some of our elected officials are quarantined, and some are in self-imposed isolation. Will the Senate and House convene to pass the needed legislation to provide relief to persons and businesses who are suffering?
  • No campaign rallies. 
  • No town hall meetings.
  • How can we ensure a free and fair general election in November?
  • No more protesting injustice in groups large enough to make a difference.

Some alternatives:

  • Resistbot: text RESIST to 50409 to contact elected officials
  • FaceTime beloveds.
  • Gather the gang for Zoom happy hours! 
  • Virtually embrace the congregation.
  • Phone home. 
  • Send an email or a letter. 

Even with these ways, unknown are the lasting effects of the social and physical isolation. Unprojected are the political consequences of our democracy being diverted from “we, the people” way of voting and legislating predictably.

What we do know is that hugs are holy and healing. Go ahead and google  “study about hugs” and check out the science that confirms what our hearts know. Especially now, hugs are a balm for where it hurts. Hug someone, if you can.

The pastoral and the political and the personal . . . are all relational ways of being and doing. To what extent does each require face-to-face (sometimes embracing) interactions? For how long can we effectively work around being together?

For who knows how long, we self-isolate — social distance — quarantine. In the un-gathering, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice for the common good. We hope to discover and receive “what is is good and acceptable and perfect” in the midst of anxiety and grief and loneliness and helplessness.

Yet, it sucketh. Until we meet again.

[Full disclosure: The day after, I have edited the ending of this post. The first ending bugged me for 24 hours after I posted it, and that’s too long, especially now. This one is more “me” and I needed to ease that anxiety. “Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better” (Maya Angelou)]


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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2 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: When Two or More Can’t Gather

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