Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsely

August 16, 2021

I just returned from a two-week vacation in Colorado seeing family and mountains and it was lovely and invigorating. I was somewhat disconnected from the news cycle during my trip so imagine my surprise (not to mention dismay) when I returned to Alabama where COVID 19, now accelerated by the Delta variant, was running rampant. Alabama has a 24% positivity rate, is the worst state in the nation for new COVID cases, and in fact, its current rate is the worst in its own history. We can blame the unvaccinated, as Governor Ivey counseled, but other than urging our unvaccinated family, church, and friends to get the vaccination, blaming them (even though they are largely responsible for this public health crisis) doesn’t help bring down those numbers.

And so here we are. We entered the summer with a growing sense of freedom and the joy of gathering in person and now we are faced again with those hard decisions of how or even if to gather in person. We’ve cranked back up the teams we had in place to monitor and respond to the health data. Some churches have elected to cease meeting in public or not to start. Some have reinstituted mask mandates and social distancing. All of us, I wager, are feeling just a wee bit cranky that we do not yet have this virus under control and somewhat vexed about the budding freedoms snatched from us.

Time for a new strategy. When this pandemic started we thought we were running a marathon and we did it well, to quote blogger Jenny Smith:

  • We closed our doors to in person worship
  • We figured out how to continue to worship and many suddenly learned how to become televangelists.
  • We figured out how to provide care for our congregants.
  • We modified our mission projects and invented new ones to respond to new needs.
  • We became video conference professionals.
  • We agonized over the safest way to return to in-person gatherings.
  • We took a few days off here and there, trying to find solid ground on which to rest.
  • We watched colleagues look like they had it together. But we guessed they didn’t either.

Then we opened our doors to in-person worship again. We crossed the finish line! We made it! We did a hard thing!

And then…Instead of collapsing in victory at the finish line. Instead of drinking water and resting our aching bodies, and refueling, an official-looking race organizer slapped another number on our back and pushed us toward another starting line.

Turns out, it wasn’t a marathon we were running. It is an ultrarun. An ultramarathon is anything over 26.2 miles. Most are 30, 50, or 100 miles. They are often on rough ground, poorly marked (so you never really know where you are in the race), involve less speed (just finishing is the triumph) and require serious nutrition all along the way to replenish the calories you are burning. And running one requires different strategies. Not to push this analogy (since I’ve never run either), a few suggestions as we adjust our expectations:

  • You’re going to be out there for a good long time. Expect that. Since there are few markers along the route to indicate how much longer this will go on (or what new variant may make its appearance, for that matter) shift your expectations. You will suffer less disappointment, for one thing, and conserve your energy for the things that truly matter. What are those things for you? For your church? For our presbytery life together?
  • Pace yourself. The goal is to finish not to finish first. A friend of mine who is an ultra runner told me he never runs up a slope that a marble will roll down. He has successfully completed many ultra-runs with that philosophy. It doesn’t need to al be done today. Practice taking the longer view.
  • Nutrition is critical. Running an ultramarathon requires many, many calories as the body is stressed over time. How are you being nourished? Are you seeking out spiritual and physical sustenance? You’re burning more calories (both spiritual and physical) than you realize. Find experiences, practices, and people that feed and fuel you for the long haul.

Finally, I am reminded of the promise and hope spoken by the prophet Isaiah to a people with a long journey ahead of them, “The Lord is the everlasting God; the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow worthy, they shall walk and not faint.”

We’ve flown and run. Trust the Lord that you may walk and not faint as we face this unfolding pandemic together.

As ever in prayer,

Sue Westfall

I look forward to seeing many of you at the presbytery meeting this Thursday!





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