San Diego (California) Bishop Robert McElroy preached recently drawing out three lessons from our pandemic which give hopeful signs for the future.
First, he reminded us that the local community we call church is not a fixed structure like the bricks and mortar of the building which will survive, pandemic or no pandemic. A community is a living entity which needs sustenance to survive. If people do not meet regularly for liturgy and parish activities the community is in danger of withering. Many people now go to the church via the internet in Hong Kong this week and New York next. Could this become a habit, a preference, especially as one can ‘shop around’ and find places far more interesting than my local parish? To abandon my parish just because I cannot get there is to expect my community to survive without regular contact. That is the danger.
But there is also an opportunity. Since I can no longer take my parish for granted I have to now actively find ways of reaching out to people so as to keep communication alive. This leads to the bishop’s second point: solidarity. He is a church leader in a country waking up to its imbedded legacy of racism and the drama of ‘Black Live Matter’ – a movement that has gripped people in America and across the globe. It is amazing that this is happening at the same time COVID 19 is hammering us. It is not just religious people who are reaching out to others. Everyone is. Really moving and beautiful things are happening. Nearly all are unseen and unreported. People are showing compassion and this can change the world. It is not just the virus of corona but the virus of indifference to others that has sparked a global response.
There is a feverish search for a vaccine and that will be a blessing when it comes. But we should also relish this time before it comes. We long for the security of a vaccine but there is greater security staring at us if we can grasp it. It is to imbed this solidarity and compassion into our way of thinking and being. COVID has told us no one is safe unless all are safe. This is just a mirror of what we often say: no one is free unless all are free. Our greatest security is within. It is not in vaccines and walls and weapons. We, those of us who call ourselves Christians, should note that the greatest efforts towards solidarity and hope are happening without any apparent input from the churches. If ever there was a dramatic expression of this it must be the 27 nations of Europe hammering out a plan to care for all their citizens including the most vulnerable in the face of COVID. We have to pause and savour this moment. Here are the leaders of many nations sitting down an hour after hour well into the night and early morning to reach a consensus on a way forward in response to the crisis of our time. Anyone who knows anything about how the same nations drifted carelessly into two world wars will be struck with awe. This really is human progress and we should rejoice.