Mid Week Blog | Final stretch of the pandemic | Robin Walton

I am not sure what all will happen in the final stretch of the pandemic, but I guess we can call any point the beginning of the end. How do we know while we are still in it? There are some who think we are still in for some ups and downs rather than a steady decline of infections and a return to normal. I want to use this mid-week blog to examine the pandemic as an experience that we have shared in common. I want to spend some time recognizing the psychological and emotional experience we have been through. I will end with Some things you need to know. If you want, you have the option to skip ahead to that.

One of the authors I have continued to read since seminary is Diana Butler Bass. She has written several books about church in our times. She also blogs and has seminars. I attended an online seminar this past spring entitled, “Breathe!” It was intended to be a provocative title, because if it is one thing we have become very aware of during this pandemic is our breath. We have even questioned where it is safe to breathe, with whom it is safe to breathe, and the covering of our breathing. None of these questions were common issues in our “former” life. Breath also has the connotation of the breath of life, the wind of the Spirit, the rhythmic intonations we make with each other as we lift our voices to God. Breathe! as a command, or even just a suggestion in many ways goes without saying and seems ridiculous to say out loud. But when we have stayed home and breathed only among our closest folks, to hear the command, “Breathe!” leaves us with many questions that we never asked ourselves before.

The purpose of the seminar was to give woman leaders a time to catch their breath after a difficult year and find encouragement and new grounding for the final stretch of the pandemic.

We find ourselves at a symbolic moment, hearalding the final stretch of the pandemic: we are going to begin to gather together in church, something we haven’t done for the past 16 months.

This has been a massive interruption in our lives. We thought that we would never forget where we were when JFK was shot or when 9/11 happened (yes, I’m a Boomer). Even though those were momentous days, 2020 as a year was anything but normal. For the rest of our lives we can gaze at someone with a knowing look and say “2020” to convey “could anything else go wrong?”

The pandemic threw us into new territory. In many ways, we were in suspended animation. Seeing family, our elders, going to school and in some cases work suddenly stopped and restarted in new and confusing ways. Each of the changes we made required reorienting ourselves into very different ways of doing things and relating to the people we work with or the people we care about and cannot see in person. Even though the exact way it impacted each household was particular; we each had to renegotiate the normal things of life. For some of us we grew to enjoy the home-bound, quiet life; but for others, homebound meant figuring out how to get each person the bandwidth and the space they needed to keep up with life. For others it meant that they became more isolated and lonely, rather than life being more complicated, it became more mundane and each day the same as the one before.

The seminar focused on the pandemic as a time of dislocation. It hoped to help us name some of those dislocations to see how we surmounted them, how they changed us and how we adapted to them.  We  have been through something big and the fact that we survived to look back on it, in fact means that we are resilient and have gained some life skills that we can benefit from for the rest of our lives.  She described 4 dislocations and you could likely add to the list.

Temporal dislocation is characterized by a lost sense of time. I know that I often did not know what day it was. The normal things that reminded me of the day of the week were gone. The established routines were gone and it took a long time to feel comfortable that a predictable routine had actually begun. Beyond that, we as a society were witnessing unbelievable things. Our leaders were no longer behaving in predictable ways. Even before the pandemic many things were shifting and the meta-story that we had told ourselves about the country in which we lived no longer made sense. The pandemic seemed to make the pace of change staggering.

This overlaps with the next dislocation - historical. This also was already in progress. Our politics, public decorum, the rules we followed so that we all get along were no longer the norm. The events of January 6th brought all of our historical dislocation into focus. It was unbelievable what was going on in the country we identify with and thought we knew. All of a sudden, we were derailed from the notion that we were progressing as a people, becoming a more perfect union, growing as human beings into a greater humanity. We lost the meaningful story that we had been living into.

Geographical dislocation simply refers to our inability to allow our bodies to locate themselves in the common places that are familiar in life. Especially difficult was not being able to visit our loved ones. If you would have told me that we would not see our family for either Thanksgiving or Christmas I would have thought it impossible. Yes, we Zoomed with family. We exchanged food with friends on our front porch. We found fun ways to be “with” our small groups for holiday celebrations. But for all of the creativity to connect in different ways, we were physically separate from the folks with whom we usually share our holidays. This dislocation speaks of the fear of putting our bodies near another’s. We were exposed to the plight of many who suffered in ways that we would not have imagined. People died alone, others were desperately lonely, children longed for normal contact, and even worse situations for those who had to continue to work in unsafe situations. We won’t be able to count the cost until we look back and see what the effects of the disconnection were.

The final dislocation is relational. Now that we sense that we are coming out of the worst of the pandemic, we find some of the ways relational dislocation lingers. Have you hesitated to hug a friend? Do you remember the calculation you went through to go out to eat for the first time? Or maybe you haven’t gone and sat in a restaurant yet. Have you gone to a family gathering and felt the relief of gathering without worry?  If so, you are feeling what it is like to come out of relational dislocation.

Diana Butler Bass is close to my age so she and I express the dislocations of this past 16 months similarly. I am thinking of our young adults who have a very different way of looking and ordering life and wonder what dislocations they would name. I am always curious about the human experience. Maybe I should have been an anthropologist.

I don’t review those things to bring you down, but to honor the tremendous feats that each of you have performed to keep yourself, your family, your loved ones, your work groups, your friendships, etc. healthy and connected. Each of these dislocations were complicated for you in unique ways. And yet you have relocated and moved on. That is an adequate way to define resilience.

We’re only beginning to come out of this.  Some of the dislocations are not resolved completely. We are feeling our way. In the case of the congregation, we want to come back together as safely as possible. Not only are we dealing with our concerns about the virus, we also have all these dislocations as baggage. I have not yet been in a room of people numbering 125, which is where we are starting our room capacity. I think it will feel wonderful and strange. It will definitely cause me some anxiety at times. You may find me slipping out for a breath of air. Let’s take it easy. We’ll find our way.

Here’s what you need to know:
July 18  --This Sunday the worship participants will be in the sanctuary with the congregation at home on Zoom. We will be trying to work out all of the technological kinks before we have you back at church. Be prepared for some awkward silence or unexpected outages - it’s all part of the learning curve. Sit back and let those of us at church figure it out.

July 25 -- is an outdoor hymn sing. There are details in the bulletin. The risks are minimal in an outdoor setting, so masks are optional. If you feel vulnerable, wear a mask and/or sit at a greater distance from others. Bring your own chair. There will be no Zoom.

Aug 1 –will be our first Sunday back in the sanctuary.
·        The risks increase in an indoor setting.
·        You will need to sign-up so that we don’t exceed our capacity.
·        Everyone needs to self-screen for illness and not come to church if ill.
·        No one will be screened for vaccination (we know that our adult vaccination rate is at least 95%, but we don’t know about visitors).
·        When you come in, you should go directly to a seat without lingering in conversation.
·        You should sit 6 feet from the closest household. It would be helpful for the folks who come in first, to sit toward the front.
·        Masks will be required because there will be unvaccinated people in the room and because we will be singing. To be honest there are authorities who do not think that it is safe to sing indoors.
·        The City of Columbus Health Department asks that we keep very accurate attendance so that we can do contact tracing if anyone tests positive for Covid after attending CMC. This will be especially important for visitors.
·        We will put an offering plate in the back of the room, but if you are comfortable with your current giving method, please continue that.
·        Since a minimal number of hands will touch the welcome registers, we will use them to take attendance, especially the contact information of visitors. If you want to be prepared with hand sanitizer after you touch the welcome register, you may bring your own. There are hand sanitizer stations in the foyer. Masks will also be available for anyone who doesn’t bring one.
·        Some of us may not be comfortable with the above arrangement. We know that there are people who are not ready to return. Zoom will be provided for the foreseeable future.
·        Fun stuff: the graduating high school seniors will be presented their Senior Blankets to take with them into whatever their next endeavor may be.
·        After the service you will be instructed to leave systematically with the back rows leaving first and going outside for a Very Festive Cookie Sunday (Which will be repeated the following Sunday.)
·        Outdoors, masks are optional. Please be aware that someone you want to speak with may be wearing a mask, signaling that they would appreciate it if you put your mask back on to speak with them.
·        Parking: there will be tents for the two cookie Sundays. Parking spaces will be marked off. If you can, park on the street. If you need to use the lot, there will be available spaces. There may be more instructions about parking to come.

Aug 8 –same protocol as Aug 1.

Aug 9 –Monday you will be receiving a survey from the Pandemic Response Team. It will be the first attitudinal survey that you will have received since Covid (unless you are a parent, in which case you got an attitudinal survey about Sunday School). After two weeks in the sanctuary with enough space for social distancing, we want to know what you feel about meeting together. The survey will go out to everyone, in person and Zoomers alike. We want to know what you are thinking/feeling about the future. The results of that survey will inform Leadership Team and help them make a decision about when to open up at 100%.

Aug 15 and 21 will have the same protocols as Aug 1 and Aug 8.

Aug 28 --is Joel’s first Sunday back. If LT thinks it is ok to reopen at 100% (masked) this may be the first 100% Sunday. If not, the same protocols will exist.

We believe that there are people who are very comfortable with Zoom and intend to continue meeting that way. We will endeavor to maintain the quality of Zoom once we are in the sanctuary. There will be changes in how the Zoom looks in that the image will be of the sanctuary, not the screens substituted for the visual element of the service. Our ability to provide quality hybrid worship will increase over time.

Let me say a word about 100% capacity, which may seem like a big jump. Our average attendance pre-pandemic was 183. That figures to be about 75% of the sanctuary’s capacity. So when we say that we will return to 100%, we want you to know that we generally don’t go beyond 75% anyway. Since we will be doing hybrid worship, it is unlikely that we will approach 75% on any given Sunday, at least for the time being.

I promise. I will never write such a long mid-week blog again, Robin