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A Whole New World

Reflection – A Whole New World

1 John 4:7-8, 18-19

March 22, 2020 – Parkminster United Church – Online Worship

Rev. Heather Power

How shockingly different life has become in just over a week. Like many of you, I have experienced a myriad of emotions. Sleep has not been easy. Tears have flowed more readily.

Before I was ordained, I served as a student chaplain in what was then called the Mississauga Hospital. A large, city hospital, my primary areas of visitation and care were in the neurological, palliative and hospital long-term care units. The year was 2003. The same year that SARS became known to the world.

Our current pandemic brings vivid memories back to me. At times oddly familiar and at others like living a waking nightmare.  The fear, the anxiety, the unknowing of how the disease will move amongst us. But SARS was different. I was given one hour to close my office and leave the hospital. As a chaplain I was declared non-essential and sent home. Later non-essential staff returned, garbed in gowns and latex, and spiritual care chaplains tried their best to be spiritually present to others – all the while as Toronto and the world around it was dealing with fear and spreading quarantines.

Once again we are facing familiar yet new fears. A pandemic. Thousands infected and far too many deaths. Health resources tasked to the maximum, cities locked down, travel increasingly restricted and the search for a vaccine.

Throughout all of this, both past and present, I struggled to see and feel where God is in all of this—to answer the endless questions asked of me within my ministry by those seeking meaning and purpose. Such questions rarely have clear answers. Experience teaches me that answers, or meaning, are often found within the struggle, within the “not knowing.”

However, as we brace ourselves to meet this new and fearful challenge of COVID-19, I believe my past experiences have taught me the following:

I have been challenged to trust in others as never before. When answers are lacking, we need to trust in one another—to trust scientists, public health-care providers and the countless others who are deeply involved in front-line care. We need to trust that information is correct and current, to trust that following precautions as suggested by professionals is not only common sense but deeply wise. We need to turn away from those who spread misinformation and those who promote fear. We need to become truth tellers.

This past week I’ve learned once again that I need to acknowledge and give voice to my fears. Fears need to be expressed and channeled into concern for the well-being of self, families and neighbours. I found comfort in sharing my fears with others. Never have I been more grateful to be in team ministry, than this past week, when Joe and I have become even more open, vulnerable and close with one another. I am grateful for the wisdom and support of our Parkminster leadership, especially that of our Chair of Council, Kathy Shortt who has responded with a calm, reassuring presence.  Often, when fears are shared, strength is found which can overcome the unknown.

Once trust is established and fear acknowledged, the ability to care for others becomes doable. Now more than ever we are called to care for each other in creative ways. In the days and weeks ahead, Joe and I encourage you to continue to make phone calls, send emails, use social media to connect with each other as we know you have been doing.  We know that this will make the Parkminster community more strongly connected than ever. And all of these practices of social distancing are in fact holy tasks of love.

Finally, faith. In all my years of ministry I say a simple prayer before I visit with another person – be it a congregation member or patient in hospital. That prayer? May I find God already there.  May I see, or feel, or know the presence of God, who is already there. And I came to learn that every time, God was there waiting for me.

Our words from Scripture this morning couldn’t be more poignant. While in times such as this I think we need to acknowledge the fear that is an ever present reality. But we also need to acknowledge the love. Love helps banish fear. Love continues to draw us together.

COVID-19 has changed the way we can do church together for now. Some of these changes and new ways may feel unsettling. But while change will be the new norm for now, being church, being community will not.

The Holy One is already here with us, amongst us. We are not alone. Love will continue to bring comfort and empowerment to us all. And in this regard we will, as we have before, persevere and we will, as always, love.  Amen.