The people of our nation are in a deep state of confusion and grief in the time of a pandemic. The numbness is wearing off as the reality of illness and death, economic devastation, and an increase of violence sets in. People have stayed inside long enough, now some are getting out and forging ahead, come what may. If we work hard enough, if we move on to other news and go about our business, this new COVID-19 virus will go away, right?
For weeks now during this pandemic, I’ve grown increasingly concerned by the postings of en masse gathering pics from all across the country. First it was the armed protests to reopen our economy and then the beach blanket bingo parties. Now the peaceful protest marches are rightly being organized to protest the murder of George (Perry) Floyd and a never-ending succession of black and brown Innocents who all had names and lives too.
Most of us are firm believers in preserving the rights of all people in these United States to peaceably gather together in civil disobedience, for pleasure, for commerce, and for prayer in our own diverse faith communities. These are fundamental rights of freedom which we are exercising whenever we gather.
The problem is, we’re in a pandemic unlike any we’ve experienced for 100 years. We are in the midst of a public health crisis.
We all know the research by now. This is a novel virus… a new airborne virus… which is highly contagious and is killing a higher percentage of our most vulnerable senior citizens, our health care workers, faith communities, and an inexcusably higher percentage of our black and brown citizens.
This virus is microscopic and airborne. Masks may stop larger droplets as we cough, shout, sing, or sneeze, but masks do not stop aerosolized viruses from riding in an unseen cloud which surrounds any group that gathers for more than a few minutes. When someone coughs, shouts, sings, or sneezes without a mask, the tiniest aerosolized viruses can project 15-20 feet, not six feet.
Our primary and unified mission must be to stop the spread of this virus. We at St. Columba’s Church, in close consultation with Bishop Thomas James Brown, will not be gathering indoors nor outdoors this month until we’re confident that the infection rates in Maine are falling rather than rising. We are gathering in new ways online, across all across all media channels, over the phone, and in helping our neighbors. https://stcolumbasmaine.org/media/
This is the high season of summer when people from Points South pour into Maine. We cannot control who has quarantined, nor who wears masks, nor who keeps appropriate physical distancing. We cannot see who are asymptomatic carriers of the virus. We cannot predict when any of our communities will cross over the high infection-rate threshold. Because of all the protests, reopenings, and beach parties, we’ll know so much more in July than we know right now about how this virus spreads.
Across this nation, the COVID-19 viral pandemic is opportunistic. It won’t take a break for vacation nor take heed of our calls for justice. African Americans, Native Americsns, Asian Americans, and Latinx Americans are in the most vulnerable demographics for high mortality rates with inadequate healthcare, poor nutrition, and with employers which force them to work in unsafe conditions for low wages. So much so that the Maine Department of Health is in Code Red to address these alarming statistics that are emerging across the country.
We are enraged that tens of thousands of our black and brown brothers and sisters of all ages are dead. So suddenly, in a matter of months they are gone, leaving bereaved families and friends. They are gone too soon, as are all who, like George Floyd and countless others, have been murdered by institutionalized violence. Indeed these lives tragically lost do matter. We are protesting these injustices to save lives and yet these good citizens of our nation continue to be at the highest risk for loss of life and livelihood during this pandemic. In our gathering, the virus is still spreading, bringing more harm to the most vulnerable who have the least resources to survive it.
The novel virus does not give good people a pass, even for a noble and just cause. The protesters don’t get a pass, the bereaved don’t get a pass, the police don’t get a pass, the hourly minimum wage essential workers don’t get a pass, the healthcare workers don’t get a pass, the clergy don’t get a pass, the business owners don’t get a pass, even the politicians and the media don’t get a pass from contracting this virus. The highly contagious COVID-19 virus indiscriminately throws out an aerosolized spray of microscopic bullets in slow motion which we cannot see until it’s too late.
In our faith tradition, at baptisms and on holy days four times a year, we renew our baptismal promises. In our regular renewal of our faith in the Way of Love, we proclaim that we will strive for justice and peace among all people. We confess our sins and pray forgiveness. We remind ourselves and each other that, with God’s loving grace, we will respect the dignity of every human being.
We in the Episcopal Church have been protesting racial injustice every step of the way for decades. We are working to address our own blindness to racism from within our institutions and lift up the voices of those who have been silenced for too long. We continue to pray without ceasing that this novel virus doesn’t bring down our beloved ones who have already suffered way too much.
As children of God, in Christ we are called to provide safe harbor and bring healing to all who are hurting. We quietly pray and take action to lift up the voices of all God’s people, so that new life lived in right relationships will emerge from the ashes of injustice and oppression.
We must move through our days in this pandemic as if a new deadly virus is everywhere around us, while also demonstrating that the love of God is everywhere around us. We can keep hope alive, it’s our turn. We can lift every voice and sing with our masks on, but we can’t bring back the dead.
We pray for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and all who have died under the oppression of institutional violence and neglect. We must unite our hearts to stop the spread of this killing virus which has infected our nation for far too long.
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