How to Stay in Touch without Touching

Rev. Douglas Taylor


Sermon Part I

It is really great to see you and to have you all join in this Zoom online worship service (77 connections were logged in.) These past two weeks have been quite a year. It feels like I’ve compressed a lot into each day recently. I’ve had some significant swings in how I am doing from day to day, and it’s been hard to keep my bearings.

I’ve heard others expressing the same sort of thing. People are scared by this pandemic. For a while we did not have much information about it, and there was a range of conflicting narratives about what was going on. It’s been hard to know where to get trustworthy and credible information about how to respond.

Our Board and I kept checking in about what to do next, trying to discern a path that was not overreacting or underreacting to COVID-19 and the dangers it presents to us. It’s been exhausting just trying to figure it out.

But for our congregation and for many of you with your school and work situations, this past week has seen things come to some resolution – albeit temporary for some and still ambiguous for others – but most people now have chosen (or have had chosen for them) social distancing.

And then the power went out yesterday. I live up in the Chenango Bridge area. We had just packed the chest freezer with frozen food the day before. I was upstairs working on my sermon for our first fully online streaming worship service … and the power went out.

I decided it was a good time to go out for an errand. I drove down Upper Front Street with all the traffic lights dead and I was thinking … is this what’s next? Just when we figure out how to do online worship, I can’t get online anymore because the power is gone? Thankfully, the power came back on after a few hours.

So, here’s what that all boils down to. I’ve been scared. A lot of people have been feeling scared. The uncertainty, the panic-shopping, the inundation of new information, the alarm and panic reactions by some juxtaposed with dismissiveness and mockery by others … it’s all fear. You and I and most of the people we meet have some level of fear coursing through us these days.

So, here is what we’re going to do. We’re going to work on adjusting how we think about all this and how we behave around all this in an effort to ease the fear and build our resilience.

Think about it like this: we’ve just turned ourselves upside down as a country in an effort to slow the spread of this disease. We are practicing the social distancing not out of fear alone. Fear has leaked into it, sure. But that’s not the big player in this. It is our communal interconnectedness leading us as individuals to make personal sacrifices for the good of the vulnerable.

I was talking with Qrri, our Human Rights intern, earlier in the week and she described what we’ve been feeling like this: It’s like we’re all in an unfamiliar room together with our eyes closed and our task is to just move across the room. Are we headed in the right direction? What did we just bump into? Are we almost through the room or still in the middle somewhere? Can’t tell. Hard to know. Keep moving.

So, the uncertainty and the lack of information is unsettling. We don’t know what’s really going to happen next. There are some pretty good guesses or estimations for those who are able to tune in to that. But really, it’s like we making our way across an unfamiliar room with our eyes closed.

But does the feeling change if you imagine this scenario as something you are doing alone or with strangers vs. if you are doing this in a room filled with your friends, family, and fellow congregants? And, that by participating in this ‘close-your-eyes-and-cross-the-room’ game, you are also participating in a behavior that will save lives.

That changes how it feels. At least it does for me. We’re going to work on adjusting how we think about all this and how we behave around all this in an effort to ease the fear and build our resilience.

So, what helps? What’s keeping you grounded? I have found that being with others helps a great deal. And when we can’t actually be together, it is still worth in to be together online. We are not alone. It matters. Because we are all more connected than we usually recognize

I’ve asked our Worship Associate, Trebbe Johnson, to read the piece she wrote for her own blog recently – her response to what’s going on with the pandemic and our social distancing.

Trebbe Johnson:

“A couple of nights ago I woke up at 3:00 AM with this thought: These days I am connected emotionally with everyone on Earth. …”

Sermon Part II

Finding our balance is the goal; getting grounded again when everything is upended around us. As Unitarian Universalists, what binds us together is our shared values. And in particular, we value community and the special ‘stone-soup’ style of co-creating our community together. Being together is one of the things that grounds us as a people of faith.

Over the years we’ve done surveys and polls asking what is it you appreciate about UUCB … we usually do this as a lead up to stewardship (and I will admit, stewardship season is upon us, so watch for something about that in the mail soon.) When people respond we hear about the preaching – (thank you) – and the great music. But mostly we hear about the community and being with like-hearted people.

We are a community of shared values. That’s how we do church. We don’t believe the same things together, instead it is about the simple value of being together. This pandemic is hitting us right at the heart of who we are as a faith community because our emphasis in on community.

And here is what I’ve learned this past week. Here is what helps me shift what’s been going on for me and for all of us from a fear-based reaction in me to an act of resilience. We are finding our ways to connect and even strengthen our connections through this pandemic.

I don’t mean to say, we are all going to make it through this little thing okay. I mean to imply that what people are going through isn’t awful for some, traumatic for others, and deadly for a few. What I mean is simply this: We can respond together in ways that will ease us into this change better. There’s an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Friends, we are slowing down. Let us go together and we will go far.

Yesterday, we started a formal effort to make phone calls to folks in the congregation we suspect are isolated, who perhaps live alone or are older or are not already connected online. A small number of us have been reaching out to another small number of us: checking in, finding out what’s going on, seeing how we can help. We’ll keep doing that – phone calls to check in with each other.

Another interesting development is all the online meetings we have going on now. I’ve been offering drop-in Zoom meetings each week-day, the schedule is on our website, in our Facebook page, in the announcements insert. Drop in, say hello. I’d love to see you. Our Small Group Ministry folks are figuring out how to Zoom together, as are several of our committees. A friend of mine invited me to play a tabletop game with him and a few other friends online. It was a great opportunity to just relax and laugh and do something that felt familiar with people.

A third bit of news I’ll share is the United Presbyterian Tuesday Community Meals. We are going to staff the kitchen again on Tuesday because it is the 4th Tuesday and people are still hungry. I’ll be there this month in the kitchen. This one is trickier because it involves coming out to the building. I don’t know what the state will think of it, but ‘feeding the hungry’ feels like essential work to me. The kitchen is ‘state-health-code’ clean and healthy. They worked though this last Tuesday, handing out over 80 meals to people on the 17th. If you think you can do this, I’ll tell you, we will figure out how to keep our germs to ourselves as realistically as possible. And … dozens of people will be able to eat that wouldn’t be able to otherwise. This is a powerful way to serve very real needs in our city during this pandemic.

What I mean to reveal by sharing this news about phone calls and community meals and online video calls is to say, we are finding ways to still serve our mission and to still live our values. We are still going to be together; we’re finding our ways to stay in touch even without touching.

How are we going to get through this?

The same way we get through anything – together. We plan to go far, so we’re going to go together. I love you. We’ll see each other through this.

Our world is changed, our focus is narrowed. But we will endure. We are learning of our resilience together. We are leading with compassion and listening for calm wisdom. Yes, our world is changing, and “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

In a world without end

May it be so