Love in the Time of Corona, Chapter 6

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2: 3-4

Dear Friends,

I’ve felt it, and I know you have too.  As the weather has changed and as the weeks of quarantine have become months, that old familiar feeling has crept into my psyche – the urge to gather with people, to go places, to break the routine that we’ve all been following so carefully for what feels like an eternity.  We crave small reassurances that some activities might resume, even while others remain suspended.  We want indications that some version of the “normal” might soon return.  We dream of busting out, breaking loose, and experiencing the thrill of the new.  I’ve felt it, and to judge by the conversations I’ve been having with many of you, to say nothing of the stories from the news, it’s a feeling shared by many.  I get it.  It’s a feeling we’re all experiencing right now, with varying degrees of intensity.

With that has come a push by some to reopen parts of the economy, and to resume some of the practices that were suspended in March.  While the “curve” has been flattened for the time being, the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, and health officials counsel that premature reopenings carry the risk of spreading the contagion all over again.  It’s likely true that there are some industries, businesses, and even particular regions that might be able to return to some semblance of normality over the next several weeks or months.  But we here at FCCOL do not believe that churches should be among them.  Which leads to the question that I’ve heard a number of times over the last several weeks:

Does the church have any plans to reopen anytime soon?

If that question means “do we intend to conduct worship on Sunday mornings in the Meetinghouse in the near future,” the answer is no.  As ministers and staff, we believe it would be the height of irresponsibility to invite gatherings of that sort given all that we know about the virus.  Our reasoning is based on the findings of the CDC, as well as the best information we have from health officials and the scientific community.  Based on everything we have learned, it might be some time before we can safely gather in the Meetinghouse for a service.

But our reasoning is also based on Scripture.  When the Bible counsels us to care for the vulnerable, or, as the book of Philippians has it, to look out not for our own interests, but for the interests of others, those words can well apply to the questions we’re facing about reopening.  One of the most vulnerable populations in the face of Covid-19 are those who are 70 and older, which happens to be a large portion of our community.  And so while many of us feel an urgency around getting back to life as we knew it, and while we wish that included reopening the church for worship, we need to take steps to insure that we’re not recklessly endangering anyone, even from otherwise laudable intentions.  As the book of Philippians suggests, as people of faith, we don’t live as those governed solely by our self-interests.  Our faith counsels us to put the needs of others, especially those who are more vulnerable, before our own needs and desires.

And so we won’t be reopening the Meetinghouse anytime soon, at least over the next several months.  Nor will we go ahead with the White Elephant Sale.  That’s a decision our staff made several weeks ago, out of concern for everyone involved.  It would have put guests at risk.  And it also would have put our many volunteers at risk.  There will be financial losses from that decision, but so be it.  We need to do everything in our power to care for those around us.  And that means holding the line as best we can for now, and not behaving foolishly or recklessly – whether institutionally, or personally.

Having said that, there’s another possible meaning to the question “does the church have any plans to reopen soon.”  And that is to assert that we’ve never been closed.  The building has been closed, true, but the church has never been the building.  As our website says, “We’re more than a building.”  The building is closed, but the church: that’s open!  Our community remains intact.  Our bonds of affection remain strong.  Our dedication to living out the good news entailed in Jesus’s ministry remains powerful.  That won’t go away.  We’ll keep on creating online content.  We’ll keep on offering virtual gatherings.  We’ll keep on reaching out to everyone in our community.  We’ll keep on providing relief to those who need it.  We’ll keep on praying for one another, supporting one another, and helping one another, even if that takes different forms.  We’ll maintain our strong commitment to social justice and outreach.  As the weather warms, we may even be able to experiment with outdoor forms of worship, exercising the appropriate forms of caution.  We’ll see.   The important thing to emphasize is that while the building is closed, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme has always been open.  And so it shall remain.

Finally this: I want to thank everyone who has responded to our invitation to contribute to the Love in the Time of Corona Fund.  I want to thank those who have made special gifts above and beyond their pledges.  And I want to thank everyone who has continued to fulfill their pledges, even in a time of financial uncertainty.  Your support matters, and it means the world to us.  We know that finances for many people are precarious.  But we want to continue to ask that you remember this community with your financial support if you’re able.  For all gifts, large and small, we remain grateful.

We’ve come a long way.  But we still have some ways to go.  We’ll get there.  And we’ll continue to do it together, remaining mindful not only of our own interests, but of those all around us.

We’re with you.  We love you.  Love to all of you in this time of Corona …

Steve, Laura, and Carleen

P.S. A few resources for quarantine:

  • Reading: The Great Influenza, by John Berry; Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades of Solitary Confinement, by Albert Woodfox; Voices in the Air, by Naomi Shihab Nye.
  • Listening: American Routes, at; WWOZ, at; Bob Dylan, “False Prophet” and “Murder Most Foul,” from the forthcoming album Rough and Rowdy Ways; Huey Lewis and the News, “Stuck with You.”
  • Watching: Babylon Berlin (Netflix); Becoming (Netflix); Abstract: The Art of Design (Netflix).