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Piel: ‘How has the virus disrupted your ministry?’ Those most affected need compassionate care | RELIGION COMMENTARY

Our neighbor, George, and his neighbor, known as George II, recently attended a workshop on “How the Conronavirus has disrupted your finances, your physical and mental health and what you can do about it.”

George and I had lunch together at Ernie’s on Main Street in Westminster. During our lunch out of the blue he asked me “has or how has the virus disrupted your ministry?”

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My answer was “yes! It has!” Before responding let me ask you, the reader, the same question. How has the virus disrupted your life? Everyone we asked that question has said “yes, it has!” but with many different responses. Some positive and many very negative.

Not having a visible worshiping congregation on Sunday mornings was my first disruption and it came very quickly.

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I love being part of the congregational worship of God. I still remember the words of my wife Judy at our first ministerial appointment in Cumberland. She said you will see more of your people on Sunday morning in worship than at any other time of the week. Therefore worship should be well planned, not sloppy, always celebrating God’s amazing love in Jesus and also it should touch on the reality our people are facing every day of their loves.

We are grateful for a worship team that tries to be very creative in our weekly video to the congregation. We have received positive comment to the point that a number of our people have asked us to continue even when services in the sanctuary start again.

At the same time, every Sunday morning Judy and I go to the church building, sit in a church pew, light sanctuary candles and put on some music. The two of us spend time in meditation & prayer. This is our time to spiritually touch base with our people.

Like many other pastors and congregations, the virus has radically changed our outreach to the community and to people in need. Although some people have always had rough times, this time around it is much more serious. Not only is food an important issue but paying the rent or mortgage, the electric bill, gas to go to work and the list goes on.

“Pop-Up” food distribution is something new for us. Again, like other congregations people have stepped up to provide funds. Some have even shifted part of their government relief checks to help others. It is interesting that often those who can least afford it are the ones who show the most caring. Why is that?

There is another issue that has become apparent due to the virus which was always there but too often hidden or purposely overlooked. The virus is causing more damage to people of color than it is to the rest of us. Although there are a number of reasons one of the main ones is the lack of good health care. I get a little weary hearing people say that America has the best health system in the world when it all depends on your financial resources. If you are of color and are poor “good luck!” Does the physical destruction the virus is causing demand another look at a national health system for all? Isn’t good health a right rather than a privilege.

It is hard to believe but apparently there is a battle going on in our nation between people who are concerned collectively about one another and those who pursue individual rights at the expense of others. I thought wearing a mask was to protect another person more than myself. Yet there are others who claim “First Amendment rights” not to wear a mask, deny social distancing, join in shoulder to shoulder gatherings and show little or no concern for the health of others. The religious faith that guides my life is grounded in the love of Jesus not just for myself but also for others. It’s not all about me! Shouldn’t the First Amendment be interpreted as looking out for my brother or sister whoever they may be and not just myself.

Don’t you get a little tired of hearing people say “we’re all in this together” when it just isn’t true. We may all be in the storm but we are not all in the same boat. The going may be tough but some of us can weather the storm far better than others. A good many run the risk of drowning.

Since this is a national issue, what is the ongoing role of the federal government? What responsibility does the state have? Living out my faith in daily life means I believe the words of Jesus need to be taken literally - “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was incarcerated and you visited me. (Matthew 25)

The question I ask myself every day is, “Am I willing to accept my responsibility to love my neighbor regardless of who my neighbor might be?” Am I willing to share the blessings God has given me so others will experience a blessing?

Let me close with a recommendation from Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel (14.14) there is this verse: “When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Did you read that he didn’t say “I feel sorry for them,” or “isn’t that sad” and walk away? Rather he had compassion. Jesus had compassion and then cured their sick. He did something. Today a lot of good people are suffering. They don’t need to hear “I’m sorry” nor “receiving sympathy.” They need compassionate care.

Let dialogue continue. We only ask that you think on these things.

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The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis “Lou” Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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