I did not notice anything about how the reaction to the pandemic became politically polarized early on. Responding to COVID-19 became a battleground. I can't imagine people taking sides over which brand of chain saw to us when cleaning debris after a hurricane or tornado, but the steps people took - or did not take - ended friendships, and split families.

Expand full comment

I have been reading Together by Vivek H, Murthy, M.D>The healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world. He talks about loneliness as part of the mental health crisis. It is a fascinating read.

Expand full comment

I find the problem to be Overlooking people I check on and with to renew Friendships. Been so busy with Retreats, Meditations, Prayers, Political News, Donations, Life, etc. that I haven't checked in on people I care about. I seem to get further behind every day and not sure What God is asking me to Let Go Of. Just sharing I miss an ordered life this is Spontaneous Chaos.

Expand full comment

I think the one aspect of renewing is that there are people I just check on periodically and they have been overlooked because so busy keeping up with Zoom, Political requests, Donations. NEWS. Prayers and Meditations and seeing people less frequently. It makes me sad. I am always behind and list keeps growing. I try to Let God Do What God Wants From Me but....... It's hard to know what the message is and what I can let go. Thanks, I needed to say all this.

Expand full comment

The summer of 2020 during the mist of COVID - I found myself missing church, I had been a practicing Catholic. As an artist I had been affiliated with an Episcopal church for arts and craft activities. I reached out to my Episcopal friends and asked if I could join them for service, it was a much smaller congregation and I would feel much more comfortable attending service. They were also following COVID guidelines of masks and social distancing. It was so uplifting for me to be able to attend church and see my Episcopal friends each week. The Episcopal church has been such a blessing for me. New friends, socializing and seeing how a small Parrish supports community and keeps their small church thriving and loving. I am now a member of the Vestry and love my new church. Maybe it was time for a change!

Expand full comment

New Day's Lyric

May this be the day

We come together.

Mourning, we come to mend,

Withered, we come to weather,

Torn, we come to tend,

Battered, we come to better.

Tethered by this year of yearning,

We are learning

That though we weren’t ready for this,

We have been readied by it.

We steadily vow that no matter

How we are weighed down,

We must always pave a way forward.

This hope is our door, our portal.

Even if we never get back to normal,

Someday we can venture beyond it,

To leave the known and take the first steps.

So let us not return to what was normal,

But reach toward what is next.

What was cursed, we will cure.

What was plagued, we will prove pure.

Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,

Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,

Where we weren’t aware, we’re now awake;

Those moments we missed

Are now these moments we make,

The moments we meet,

And our hearts, once all together beaten,

Now all together beat.

Come, look up with kindness yet,

For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.

We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,

But to take on tomorrow.

We heed this old spirit,

In a new day’s lyric,

In our hearts, we hear it:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne.

Be bold, sang Time this year,

Be bold, sang Time,

For when you honor yesterday,

Tomorrow ye will find.

Know what we’ve fought

Need not be forgot nor for none.

It defines us, binds us as one,

Come over, join this day just begun.

For wherever we come together,

We will forever overcome.

- Amanda Gorman

Expand full comment

Just love ❤️ Amanda Gorman! Great choice!

Expand full comment

It it heartbreaking to hear of so many people struggling to reconnect. We have struggled as well, but our United Methodist congregation just south of San Francisco has weathered these past 33 months better than we could have hoped. Beginning on the third Sunday of March, 2020 we had to rapidly pivot and we began livestreaming from the pastor's office (my wife is the pastor and I'm the A/V tech guy/hospice chaplain during the week). Gradually, we returned to worship outdoors in our partially sheltered playground, and finally back into the sanctuary, where we have maintained most of our pre-covid membership and have re-launched our High School programming. How did we manage to survive-even thrive during these very difficult days? I will certainly credit the Holy Spirit for providing energy and an ongoing sense of hope. 11 years of the challenging, everyday pastoral work of building and nurturing relationships has contributed to a healthy level of mutual trust and appreciation that undoubtedly has produced a sense of partnership and shared ministry in the community. I will note one special thing we did very early in the pandemic that did not require a capital outlay except some postage stamps. We wanted to have a way of keeping people connected and let them know that they were not forgotten ("out of sight, out of mind" is a perennial problem) so we put together a "survival kit" of sorts for every household in the congregation, consisting of a hymnal to follow along with the songs during worship, some note cards already stamped, and a church directory. A small team of volunteers delivered these kits in just a few hours to every household that requested one. Every week during the livestream, folks were encouraged to call and write to each other, and for many months after worship we did "coffee hour" via Zoom. We tried very hard to involve as many people from different segments of the congregation in all of these activities, which I believe has contributed to the ongoing sense of community and connection, and even new friendships.

Expand full comment

Maybe new friendship are harder to initiate as people are cautious and hesitant to expand their circle. But I think established friendships became more secure as we became a little more reliant on each other.

Friendship is a core feature of Christian community as long as it is not a goal.

Expand full comment

Yes. Habits are patterns. Good, bad and neutral.

Expand full comment

I think it is not a coincidence that one of the contributors to the Center for Action and Contemplation publication Oneing, Maria Stephan, quoted Hannah Arendt who asserted that " loneliness and alienation (had an) enabling role in the rise of authoritarianism....and the most powerful antidotes to authoritarianism are finding each other, building community, embracing difference,..."

This epidemic of loneliness has profound societal and social implications.

Expand full comment

I have both a personal and communal response. Personally, my wife of 44 years became quite ill at the end of 2021 and died of Covid-related complications in February of 2022. During that time I was her primary (sole) caregiver. Of necessity, there resulted a near-severance of all other relationships (except in the most transactional sense) so that I could focus on her needs.

Now that I'm approaching a year since her death, I'm deeply re-evaluating my relationships. Not only must I evaluate them as a 68-year-old single man, but I need to ask what I can give to a relationship and what it can give to me.

I find the best opportunities occur where a sort of centered quietness and kindness flourishes. For instance, I love my ceramics Resident Artist status but have decided to leave it for now because the additional task of being treasurer for the group is not something I can focus on presently. So, while there is a momentary pause or re-evaluation in my relationships, I'm also being very intentional about where and how I plug back in - so that those relationships are of "real quality" rather than simply casual.

This ties to my communal observation because the ELCA church I'm attending is wrestling with the question of becoming a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation. For those who do not know Lutheran Lingo - that means REALLY welcoming members of the LGTBQ+ community. This too gets back to the question of 'real quality' versus casual levels of our relationships. Our local church 'says' it is welcoming to LGTBQ folk, but what that really means (in my opinion) is... "come in, sit down, don't be too obvious, don't manifest non-hetero-normative behaviors, and make sure you throw some money in the plate." When we have conversations about formalizing acceptance by a modification of the church constitution suddenly questions of "will that split the church, or cause some to leave?" arise. So, were we ever really welcoming?

There is such a difference between mere tolerance and actual acceptance. I keep reminding folks that anything less that an open-hearted acceptance of others results in making a category of people's humanity "conditional". You are not really fully human because you are (pick the category) gay, a person of color, not of my religious tradition or political persuasion (yep, male white privilege is pretty insidious isn't it?). Is it hard work to be more inclusive and honest? Sure. Is it worth it at both a personal and communal level? I certainly think so. I'm trying to explore this new level of relatedness both in my own heart and in my Oikos/circle of friends because it is a pity that I've waited till I'm 68 to have this level of honesty become my standard.

Expand full comment
Jan 8, 2023·edited Jan 8, 2023

The loneliness a person experiences after losing a spouse—going from being a couple to a single—can turn into a withdrawal from all social contact. Or, it can be an opportunity for outreach and for offers of friendship.

Expand full comment

I was struck by your statement that "This moment invites those of us still hanging around to move from being a “friendly church” to being communities that practice friendship in meaningful and transformative ways." My last charge before retiring was in a Canadian province whose automobile license plates describe it as friendly. The community where I was ministering evinced that friendliness all over the place, including in my parish. However, both the city and the congregation were very hard places to forge friendships, especially for incomers such as us. It puzzled me until a hospital committee I served on had to grapple with the concept of social capital. The long-timers didn't see the need for the question, but the incomers did. (We were split about 50-50.) Some of my parishioners had roots in the parish going back 5 generations. Their entire family stories were bound up in the city and the church, and they really didn't need (or maybe want?) any new friends. My wife and I found it a very lonely place to live and work.

My suspicion is that one of the results of the pandemic is the breaking of the bonds that underpin social capital, leading to an epidemic of loneliness, and a lack of ability among many to deal with it. If you've never had to make friends before, doing it now is very difficult.

Expand full comment

Thank you, Robin. Interesting observations - and in line with what I'm wondering about, too.

Expand full comment

2022 was probably the most difficult year I've navigated, and I'm 77, have dealt with schizophrenia, deadly brain cancer, and very rare breast cancer up close and personal through the year. There was way too much difficult, weird stuff last year. And two of our kids managed to have covid 19 over the holidays. But we think we have put 2022 behind us. Our New Years Eve included burning our lists of all the hard and downer stuff from 2022. And we had a series of small dinner parties with seven to nine people around the table, and we laughed! We laughed a lot. We believe the laughter and joy of being with dear family and friends has banished the grief of last year. As Anne Lamott said, laughter is indeed carbonated holiness.

Expand full comment

In 2010 my husband and I moved from the home in which we had spent the first 15 years of our retirement. At the same time I left the church for many. reasons, but the main reason for me was the fact that after years of attendance and volunteering I knew I wasn’t a “friend” of any one person there. I spent the next 10 years focusing on my husband’s medical problems. During that time we moved from San Diego to Oregon to be closer to our daughter. We had to put my husband in a foster care home in 2017 and I moved into a senior retirement community, the first time I had lived alone in my life. There I made a few real friends, people with whom I didn’t have to worry about how to act or what to be. Then in 2020 I started looking for a church again. I purposely looked for a Progressive church and found a Congregational United Church of Christ. The people were friendly and accepting. I enjoyed the theological “agenda”, I’ll say. In fact, when I first started attending the pastor was preaching using Diana’s book Freeing Jesus. That is how I found this community. I met people with whom I felt connected through like-minded theology -- very nice people, very accepting people, but I just didn’t feel like “friends”. Then my husband died in December of 2021. During the next year my daughter and son-in-law built a new home in the rural area of Yamhill County which included a suite of rooms for me. We moved in this past September. In November we saw an advertisement for a Christmas bazaar at a UMC in Yamhill. We went and I was moved to attend a service the following Sunday. Yes, the pastor preaches a theology I can relate to, but I find myself drawn more to the feeling of being in a home. It is a small church -- some Sundays having only 12 to 15 people in service -- but...... I don’t know. After only a few Sundays, I feel a part of a family. In fact, on January 1st I called the pastor to ask for prayers for my daughter who had tested positive for Covid and needed prayers not only for the Covid but for relief of a lot of the stress she had been under for the past year and for a very disappointing Christmas because of unexpected cancellation of several different plans. Now, I can be very cynical about asking for prayers, but the pastor -- on a Sunday morning! -- listened, then continued to have a conversation about other things that were going on. It wasn’t just, “Yes, we’ll do the prayer request” and then sign off. I don’t feel a part of a program to “grow” a church. I feel like I have been included in a family.

Expand full comment

This topic is painfully true to me and you’ve hit so many truths in your essay. I moved to a different state 3 years before the pandemic as a newly divorced mom of a young adult daughter with significant disabilities. In my former state and community, we were very active in creating a life group at church for families like mine. We started with 6 families and when we left there were 30 families participating monthly. Here, what we’ve experienced in multiple churches is exclusivity, rude people in the congregation, and leaders who are struggling to keep the people they have sitting in the pews. The resounding truth is, as I was told by an esteemed elderly matriarch in one of the small congregations that treated us poorly, is that the people already sitting in the pews have “poured their money and their time keeping this church afloat and we’re not going to let in just anybody. They need to be right for us.” 😢 When I shared this with her Pastor and his wife, co-pastors, they mentioned that they were still working for the trust of the congregation and that i would need to do the same. 😮 The judgement in each church we attended was so palpable you could feel it in the pews and especially when I attempted to join the women’s group and connect with the “special needs” group for my daughter. When the pandemic hit, we were nobodies here, so we reconnected with our former congregation because everyone was online! But, we have no community here.

Expand full comment