There is a lot of fear and panic rocking our nation and world due to the COVID-19 pandemic (for nearby examples, look in our supermarkets, and perhaps in our own hearts). Over the whole world, people are having to face the uncertainty of today. We are not immune to that fear. It’s at times like this that I remember Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32, NIV). “Whatever happens, we are in the gracious hand of God, and nothing can snatch us out of it”(John 10:29f).
COVID-19 underscores the truth that we are all connected on this planet. There are people of good will everywhere who are working together to combat this invisible virus that leaves very visible results, and there are people everywhere who are ignoring “social distancing” and contributing to the problem. The church I serve has suspended all gathered worship through March, and likely later depending on how the situation continues to evolve. If we aren’t together on Easter, we will celebrate Easter the first time we do get back together! I personally am staying physically apart from people as much as I can, but I am talking with a lot of people on the phone!
In hard times we all recognize the need to come together, to join with one another, to fight to make things better. The paradox in this case is that one of the best ways we can be a part of this campaign against the virus is to not be physically together. That is hard because we are built for community, but for the good of our communities we are being called to limit our physical contact with others. It’s time to practice loving one another by being apart from one another (but only physically apart!).
We’ve all been encouraged to practice “social distancing.” I think a better term would be “physical distancing,” keeping six feet between you and another person when you’re in public. Keep as close socially, relationally, conversationally, prayerfully as you can, but practice correct “physical distancing” all the time!
So what should we do? Again, I remember the Scriptures: Philippians 4:6f reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I find that if I want to feel connected to someone, I must pray for them. I think we, as a presbytery, are in the midst of an opportunity for us to build our connections with others by praying for each other, for those we know and those we don’t.
I encourage you to pray for those near and far, especially that this crisis would not tear anyone, anywhere, apart in anger and blame but that we would come together in community, albeit of the long-distance kind. Pray for our presbytery, our member churches and the churches of our communities, that we together might find ways to serve God in this. Pray for our nation and our world. I find it very useful to write out my prayers. If that’s helpful to you as well, I encourage you to share your prayers with me and others, so that we might pray together and be drawn together. I’m sharing my prayer with you below.
Keep as safe as you can by being as separate—physically—as you can, but keep close together and build our community through your prayers (and don’t forget to reach out by phone and other electronic means!). It is a blessing to know that we are remembered, so let’s spread that blessing by remembering and reaching out to others.
Lord God, Merciful Father, our times are in your hands. You have reached out to us in grace and made us a part of your family through Jesus. Help us, and others, to know your care and experience the unity we have with Christ and each other. We pray for those who are sick and those who love them. We pray for all of those who care for them in the medical professions. We pray for all of those who continue to serve us in business. We pray also for the Ministers, Ruling Elders and Deacons of our churches as they seek wise ways to care for their flocks. Thank you for all that you are doing in and through them. In this time of darkness help us to receive your grace so that we may be lights to the world, shining with the light of Jesus within us. We pray this in the name of the one who has made us one, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Your brother in Christ,
Michael R. Burkley
Moderator, Albany Presbytery