I had just started taking a weekly training online when Covid-19 shut down the entire world. It was a small group of people who gathered on Thursdays to learn to mentor coach, and I was the only student born in the United States. My classmates dialed in from China, India, Belgium, and Atlanta, Georgia. As we conversed informally and practiced our coaching, the friendliness we established at the outset deepened into a shared experience of the pandemic, which was manifesting in similar and disparate ways in our various locations around the globe.
I saw through this cohort how Coronavirus had the possibility to bind us together the world over, even as we physically isolated in necessary and unfamiliar ways. Nowhere remained untouched by the virus’ effects, and unlike the sometimes problematic ways that countries join forces during wartime, our common enemy was not human. In some instances the pandemic did prompt cooperation across borders. At other points, though, it led to supply grabs and racism against those of Asian descent. And in the United States, reactions to Covid sifted us into polarized categories of those who were (and remain) more or less cautious.
Now vaccines, the primary reason we are starting to emerge from the pandemic fog, have become yet another point of stratification. Some refuse to seek inoculation. Of those eager to be vaccinated, some had their shots long enough ago that they are fully protected, while others don’t know when they will be eligible or able to find an open appointment. So as the CDC changes its recommendations such that the fortunate can congregate unmasked and even hug one another, the vulnerable remain lonely at home. (This is playing out on a micro level in our congregations.) And that’s just in countries that have the means to produce vaccines. In other places, it’s hard to know when safety and confidence in moving about will return.
We missed a collective opportunity here, not just to save millions of lives, but also to understand ourselves as global citizens. For many of us with a progressive Christian bent, this interdependence is core to our theology. We are all made and loved by God, tasked together with caring for one another and for God’s good earth. Unfortunately, we have another pressing opportunity to come together as the window to stop the disastrous effects of climate change continues to shrink. That window will close if we operate out of concern only for us and ours as we often did during the pandemic. So what might we take from our experience of combatting Covid that can help us collectively course-correct our narrow vision? How might we preach and teach to inspire the people who hear us to link arms with our global neighbors so that future generations and the earth herself might have abundant life?
May one tragedy that both caused and resulted in disconnection prevent another.
Laura Stephens-Reed is a clergy and congregational coach working with ministers and churches across the ecumenical spectrum. Having served in a variety of pastoral roles and denominations, she is primarily affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and has ministerial standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Based in northwest Alabama (United States), Laura is married to a United Methodist pastor, and they have a seven-year-old son. She blogs weekly at laurastephensreed.com.
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