by John Indermark

In November of 2000, I received the phone call from my sister in St. Louis, saying that our mother had died. This was 12 years after Mom had been tentatively diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and 10 years after she had been committed to the first of several institutions. Those years were dark times: in her life, and in the lives of those of us who loved her. Moments of clarity grew more isolated, and briefer. Finding a way forward became a difficult task.

I am reminded of those years with the onset of COVID-19. The duration may not stretch out in length like the one I write of above. But in the midst of this crisis, the challenges are similar. Ordinary means of experiencing community (read, “family”) are suspended. The cost of “social distancing,” while necessary, is real. Finding a way forward – whether the context is having to deal with work from home or worse yet no work, or developing new ways of worship and pastoral care and administration overnight – requires extraordinary creativity and hope that we are not just going through the motions until a return to normal . . . whatever and whenever that may be.
And above all, in communities like those that gather us, whether in pews or in front of personal LCD screens, finding a way forward requires faith. Faith that COVID-19 does not hold the last word.

For me, the reminder of faith’s indispensable part in finding a way forward came the same afternoon as that phone call from my sister. The immediate aftermath of that call on my part was a profound sense of sadness and loss. But that afternoon, our local PBS radio station chose to play a set of South African freedom songs. I no longer remember the specific ones. But what lingers is the profound sense of release they affirmed for Mom, and for our family’s long-endured grief. Even in the worst of times, a way forward can be found. And at the head of that way, at the lead of that procession, is the One whose Grace has the last word for us all. COVID 19 does not get the last word. God does.

That does not mean we get to be all Pollyanna about the way ahead for us as individuals and churches and as a nation. We are still, as one commentator recently noted, only at the beginning of the beginning. But in the words of Isaiah, our faith affirms this: Even when we pass through the waters, even when we walk through the fires: we journey with the promise and gift of Holy Presence. Or, to use the words of our sisters and brothers in the United Church of Canada:

               In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.