Please be kind. Even when it's hard to be kind, be kind, be tolerant. This is our COVID year. We're gonna get through this. We just have to get through it with as much grace and class as possible. Be safe. Be kind.
—Dr. Michael Osterholm, Osterholm Update Podcast, Episode #24
I have always had this simple dream for the church: that we would be known by our love. I know, it seems so sappy and simple. Love.
But…what about our great online presence? Our awesome children’s ministry? Our famous pasties/apple pies/roast beef dinner…? Our beautiful building? We have invested so much in these things. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone knew about them? Maybe. But perhaps the world needs something very different from us right now.
Bishop Ough shared at this year’s Clergy Session what he called the four “P’s” affecting our lives: pandemic, protests, politics, and postponement (of General Conference). I think he could have added peril given the increase of natural disasters related to climate change that we are experiencing. All those pressures are having an impact. People are angry. We are scared. We are tired. And we are divided. More divided as a nation than I can ever recall.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control seem to be in short supply. Oh, certainly there are daily acts of kindness in our communities and our world, but overwhelmingly the airwaves are filled with animosity. We don’t give each other the benefit of the doubt. We don’t have the patience to listen to others. We are easily irritated. We have little appetite for nuance. We have made up our minds and don’t you dare infringe on my rights.
While out conducting community surveys and doing random testing to better understand the spread of COVID-19, state and federal health workers were threatened not once, but twice, in recent weeks just for doing their job, for trying to figure out how to manage this pandemic. Really?
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. You know those words, right? Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Calling them to a more excellent way.
So here is my little proposition: The church is supposed to be an alternative to the culture. We are to embody what the kin-dom of God looks like. God is love—and if we do not love our brother or sister whom we can see, then we cannot say we love Godwhom we cannot see. Love is the heart and root of who we are. It is our calling. It is what sets us apart. They will know we are Christians by our love.
There are a zillion articles and webinars out there about how to navigate this pandemic and what church will look like into the future and what we need to do as we adapt to a new reality. And, yes, we need to pay attention to some of that. But I wonder if what we really need to be doing in this time is going back to our origin story, steeping ourselves in 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 12, Philippians 2, and Colossians 3, to name a few…and becoming people who truly embody that vision of the church. If we commit ourselves to those practices and attitudes, and we keep striving to live them out collectively and in our daily lives, can we infect the world with a different kind of virus that multiplies—one of love and compassion? I find it ironic that an epidemiologist (and a good Lutheran to be sure) is the evangelist for a “pandemic of kindness,” as Dr. Osterholm calls it. It’s what we need right now, he says. I couldn’t agree more.
I am under no illusion that this is easy. I live with people, and we get on each other’s nerves. I know the challenge of choosing love rather than harboring resentment and irritation. But I also know that I would be drawn to a community that is serious about helping people grow up in love because that is the kind life I want to live and the kind of world I want to live in. So church, a pandemic of kindness. An outbreak of love. Can we start something that would change the current trajectory of our nation? If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.