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A Pastoral Letter | May 9, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

We know that an idea has reached faddish territory when it begins to be mocked online. Apparently the idea that we are “in this together” has become something of a refrain, as ubiquitous as the frequently bandied comfort “thoughts and prayers.” This is something of a shame because one of the more stunning realities of a pandemic is the fact that it is, in fact, global. Where once the idea of “in it together” may have applied to a single town hit by a tornado, or a region or state impacted by a hurricane, now the word “all” is globally inclusive. That is hard to conceive.

That said, it is significant that while the “all” of “all in it together” is global, the “it” is quite local. While I may be unable to buy popcorn and you unable to buy toilet paper, in some parts of the world, the pandemic makes it hard to buy food. Around the world, the number of children receiving inadequate nutrition has spiked and in many areas that can mean death. I am unhappy because there is no baseball while, by contrast, my friend Steve was unable to see his mother as she lay dying in a nursing home.

And it need not be so dramatic. Some of us are enjoying the lack of a commute and the ability to work in our pajamas. Others are under intense pressure adding to a heavy work load the stress of family compression and supervising virtual schooling for several children.

So clearly the “it” has different meanings for different ones of us.

I was reminded of this when I received an email from Daniel Kithongo, a Kenyan pastor supported by CPC. After asking about our welfare, he reports, “For us we're doing ok, safe with my family and the congregation as well. But still things are terrible. We're indoors, no services going on. Challenges of food and others are facing the common man. The government extended the curfew and lock down more 21 days again for the sake of safety but the number [of deaths, I presume] is increasing every day going higher and higher which is terrible.”

If we are in “it” together, I thought you should know that Daniel and his congregation is one of the “we” with us, and the “it” they are in may be more grim than ours.

And yet, Daniel is praying for us, as is another pastor, Martin Odi. Martin is Ugandan, works closely with Carol Arnold, and has visited with us here in Oviedo a couple of times. We had a brief interchange last week in which he had a message he asked me to pass on to you. “Let them know that their brothers in Africa are praying for you all.” 

They are in with prayer for us. May we be in with prayer for them. Let’s in this way “all” be “in it” together.

As things begin to loosen up here I’ve begun to hear a certain word used in a less common context. We most use the word “charity” to speak of economic resources given to those in need. But the word has an older, less economic use. Charity was in the King James Bible one of the cardinal virtues, and, in fact, in 1 Corinthians 13 considered the greatest of them. Charity is listed first as one of the fruit of the spirit. Where our translations read “love” this virtue was known as “charity.” I wonder if it is possible that in shifting the language we have lost from the idea the aspect of giving that is a necessary part of this virtue. Charity is love given, and in the days ahead, it is a gift we will need to give each other. Particularly we will need to give space for those around us to think differently.

I could write at length about decisions as simple as whether one wears a mask to the grocery store or not. The weighing of individual choice against the common good, balancing necessary and unnecessary risk, being comfortable and being wise, are all factors entering into such a decision. And whatever the issue, if we agree, all is good. If we do not agree, however, we need to be willing to give each other the space, the grace, the understanding, to hold those different views without judgment or condemnation. This is to show one another charity. And these days are requiring charity.

The elders of CPC have not yet made a decision as to when to renew public services (though the conversation is happening and discussions of what that will look like are well along). Other churches have already begun to meet. Some of you no doubt wonder what is fueling hesitancy. Others may be fearful that we might move too quickly. We as leaders need your charity as we make some unprecedented choices.

And once we have begun services, there will be again a great need for charity. Some will feel comfortable with coming, and others will not. Some will want to be more physical than others. Some will wear masks, and others won’t. 

Perhaps now is the time to remember that 1 Corinthians 13 and its reminder that charity “. . . does not insist on its own way. . .” and “. . . is not irritable or resentful . . .” was not written for a marriage ceremony but for a church whose practice of charity was lacking. Charity is in my experience one of your stellar virtues. But I think we all need a reminder to tend even to our strengths in these unprecedented times.

And a final word: many, many, many of you have been working hard to provide a worship video for you each Sunday. Most of those are visible to you. I wanted, though, to give special things to one who is not visible but without whom these would not be as good as they are. Taylor Alt has been doing such a good an faithful job taking the vastly divergent pieces remotely produced and weaving them into a beautiful whole. We are grateful for him, as I am grateful for all of you.

Yours in Christ,

Copyright © 2020 Covenant Presbyterian Church, All rights reserved.

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