3/15/22 PNC COVID-19 Update

Dear Siblings in Christ:

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, then let that one out slowly, too.

This week’s text from Isaiah is a beautiful one. It’s one of my favorites. It’s a message of courage, compassion, grace, and persistence. It’s a message to those on the edge of losing hope that also invites a rootedness in faithfulness.

The idea of listening is central to this text’s invitation. It’s an invitation to focus, pay attention, and discern what we hear with an open mind and heart. It’s an invitation to connect the experience of earthly realities to the promise of holy possibilities. It is not a text in denial of the current situation but one that points toward our current vocation.

This text meets us in this particular moment. We hear drum beats of war, the sirens of our changing climate, the calls for justice and equity. We hear all these things, and we are called to listen to God’s voice speaking to us throughout and outside of all the things we hear. We are called to listen.

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath, then let that one out slowly, too.

God speaks through truth, and this reality will be essential in these coming days. Even though there’s been the political decision to begin to live into endemic practices, we’re still in a pandemic. I don’t minimize these decisions and these new policies nor criticize them. But I can’t celebrate them, either. Previous policies were rooted in an attempt to “flatten the curve.” The new policies are resolved to the idea that, based on our behavior, local politics, and the longevity of this virus, flattening the curve is unlikely. Politically, the decision has been made that living with flattening-the-curve policies no longer outweighs the economic, social, and mental health risks. The decision has been made that the increased number of deaths is a price worth paying for a different definition of societal health.

As folks who have many of those in our congregations who will face increased risk, we have to pay some special attention beyond the policies. We need to root ourselves in what we’ve learned and listen differently to some warning signs. 

After two years, we’ve gained some tools and advanced practices. One of the things we’ve learned is that the pandemic seems to have a two month-cycle to it. The pandemic rages for about two months and then recedes for two months. Back in October, this cycle predicted – pre-Omicron – that there would be a winter surge in the US followed by another surge sometime in the spring. Right on time, it looks as though we will have a new wave starting sometime at the end of March/beginning of April. 

One indicator of this is that Europe is already into the beginnings of its next wave. The US wave has usually been about two weeks behind the European wave. Backing this up is new US data from wastewater testing. Wastewater testing has proven to find signs of COVID ahead of the testing done by individuals because individuals tend to get tested when feeling symptoms or after potential exposures. Wastewater testing is more accurate since it’s, essentially, an entire population being tested at once. These recent tests indicate that COVID numbers are rising, right now.

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath then let that one out slowly, too.

So, if the next wave does indeed come in April that means that it is likely this Holy Week and Easter will call for a caution similar to previous years. Vaccinations and masking certainly make a difference but – even based on the CDC’s new guidelines – we’ll be moving into a time when increased caution will once again be merited simply because of the sheer number of those in our congregations who are considered to be at high risk.

There is a part of me that truly is hoping that all the data is wrong. I don’t want it to be true. I miss the intimacy of Holy Week and the full-throated celebration of Easter. I want this 2-year Lenten season to be over.  There is part of me that is hoping I get to send out an email soon that says something along the lines “Woohoo! Please ignore my note from March 15th!” Nothing would make me happier.

That said, there is some good news buried in these patterns of predictability I mentioned before. There is truth here so I believe the voice of God is in here, too. We have some ideas about what to listen to now. We are practiced at mitigation strategies. In the same way, we have raincoats for when it rains and know it’s sometimes safer to stay home when it’s icy, we have masks for when the viral count is going up and know that sometimes the safest thing to do is stay home. New variants will teach us new practices and, potentially, new timing in the future but this next wave needn’t be a surprise. The receding of this wave may also point to a pretty nice June and July, too. We shall see.

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath then let that one out slowly, too.

In the same way, we are learning the predictability of this pandemic time, there is a predictability in our faith life, too. At the risk of rushing this particular Lenten season, I think it’s OK and important to recognize we already know the story. We know that there is suffering and death… and then a surprisingly empty tomb. There’s a resurrection and life bigger than life. In the same way, waves of the pandemic have become predictable, this reality is predictable, too.

My Siblings in Christ, as the Body of Christ, we will rise, too.

With hope, Mike

——–Rev. Mike Denton

Conference Minister of The ​Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ

You can give to the ministries of the Pacific Northwest Conference by going to www.pncucc.org and clicking on the “Donate” button​.​

Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev

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