Reflections in the Time of Pandemic: Deborah Weiner

I am not unacquainted with trauma and stress and the unexpected.  Twenty years ago, while serving on the staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters on Beacon Hill in Boston, a perfectly ordinary day turned into a rolling horror show as planes flew into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and crashed in a field in Shanksville, PA. Our offices—at the time, next to the State House—were evacuated and we were sent home. There, I worked for up to twenty hours a day, interviewing families of Unitarian Universalist families who had lost loved ones in the tragedy.  I tried to tell readers something about who these people were—beyond the numbers—and wrote stories and provided resources that would share, with care and compassion, the ways in which people from our faith community were showing in the face of unspeakable horror.

This time it was different.  This time the enemy wasn’t coming from the sky, it crept up and was unseen.  I kept thinking about how everyone seemed just fine, carrying on life as we had known it—but the invisible plague of COvID-19 could creep in and snatch your health – or worse, your life—and you wouldn’t even know it had happened—until it did.

At First Parish, which sits so majestically on the Bedford Common, the ministry team started making plans during early March as concern grew.  We would start streaming worship services with a few of us in the sanctuary, we thought. What other emergency preparations could we make?  No social hour food, and did we need to get a plan together to deliver essential goods to parishioners who were in lockdown or ill? And then: what would we do with religious education classes?  Other programs? What about choir and musical events?  Those…those that provided comfort, enjoyment, inspiration, building community…those seemed the most risky of all.

Like almost every other faith community First Parish in Bedford shut down within days of that conversation and immediately switched over to Zoom for our worship by mid-March, 2020.  We did pretty well all things considered, right from the get-go.  Lots of folks tuned in to worship, often more than would have been in the sanctuary if we had been in person on a spring Sunday.  And there were folk from other parts of the globe and other parts of the US joining us—the former members who had moved to Florida years ago, were back. The former ministerial intern from Transylvania. It built every week. And more, the religious education programs were back up and running on Zoom within two weeks of our lockdown.  The choir director and children’s music director gathered their groups for connection and support and singing even from their homes.  Other programs continued as well.  In the spring we moved our children’s programs outside, and glory, people showed up!  We kept worship going through the summer—and people were there, and on it went, into the fall—then back onto Zoom—and still, we’re keeping on.

Through it all there’s been a clear sense of how much we need each other.  I’m glad that we didn’t know how long this would go on, for I’m not sure we would have made it (and indeed, I know that some did not, could not, keep going.  My heart aches for those who have struggled deeply with depression and sadness and isolation during this time).

Now, vaccines are part of the picture and we’re in a race against virus mutations and resistance to science, to get enough vaccinations into arms to allow us to resume life.

Not life “as we knew it” before, I’m thinking.  But life, connecting together in some form, in community once again. We will be slow coming out of this trauma, this isolation.  We will not, in most ways, be the same, fully—but we will find restoration and re-connection.  Life as we knew it?  In many ways, I think that will resume.  And at the same time, my prayer is that we will be smarter, more caring for one another, attentive to what really matters, so that the next time (may it not be soon) we’ll remember the lessons we’ve learned.

Deborah Weiner, Director of Faith Development for Children at First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Bedford

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