Pandemics and baptismal living

Photo by Katie Sherrod

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

COVID-19 is, of course, THE pandemic of our time, and quite probably for a longer period than we would like to contemplate. Already it has altered our patterns of living, some of which could be permanent. We don’t know yet, and it’s that rub of uncertainty which clouds our thinking and unsettles our well-being.

But in the wake of COVID-19 I believe there are three other pandemics that, while disturbing us, yet posit the possibility of initiating long-overdue changes in American life and living. I believe the church should look and listen carefully and welcome them for their possible outcomes that coincide with God’s purposes, Jesus’s mission, and our baptismal ministries “on earth as it is in heaven.”

These other pandemics are:

      • our battered economy;
      • the reckoning of systemic racism engendered by white supremacy, privilege, and power; and
      • the rescuing of our strained democracy from the political clutches of a presidential administration gone amorally amok.

Some folk who practice their faith in the variety of American denominational churches will accuse this kind of thinking as being just too political, too secular, and not religious, nothing sacred, at all. To which I quote Mohandas Gandhi: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”  I agree, because the opposite of secular is the eternal; the opposite of sacred is the profane.  Our pandemics are giving us the unique opportunity to deal with some of our chronic medical, economic, cultural, and political profanities.

This portion of a sermon that appeared in an April op-ed piece in The New York Times captured what this opportunity could be:

This is a powerful moment in human history in which we can examine, individually and collectively, the unnecessary decadence and cruelty of our contemporary society that we have accepted without sufficient scrutiny. …

 

Having tasted a simpler life (in the pandemic shutdown), perhaps we will shift our values and patterns. Having seen the importance of community, maybe we will invest more in the well-being of the collective and not just the individual. Having seen the suffering of others anew, we may find it impossible to ignore it in the future.

 

And having seen the ease with which the forces St. Paul called the ‘powers and principalities’ can mobilize to defend entrenched interests, maybe – just maybe – we as a people will feel empowered to demand the same urgency of action on our planet’s climate, domestic and global poverty, the health and education of all people, and the myriad pressing problems for which future generations will judge us harshly for tolerating.

Steven Paulikas, rector

All Saints’ Church. Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY

Might this be an agenda for the Church and all its baptized ministers? I think so. I hope so. May it be so.

Editor’s note: June 23, 2020, the date this blog was posted is the 85th anniversary of Edward’s baptism – June 23, 1935, one week shy of his first birthday. Edward writes, “My parents told me it followed the 11 o’clock Morning Prayer service (’28 BCP of course) in our home parish, officiated by a much beloved rector (and deservedly so). So began my baptismal journey in TEC. It’s been a wonderful and interesting ride.”

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