By Bishop Todd Townshend
About a year ago, we knew of the novel coronavirus that would cause COVID-19 but we didn’t know much about what it would do to life globally. Turns out that it has been a microbe of death, disruption, and disorientation. We continue to mourn the loss of so many beloved people and the loss of many of the patterns and activities so dear to us.
Even while we continue to take extreme care to prevent further transmission of this virus, we are beginning to allow ourselves some hope that the vaccines will gradually bring the infection rates down and that we will all begin to feel some relief.
Among the many things we can learn from this time, two seem particularly clear to me—about how the church can respond in the years to come. We have two strong gifts that will allow us to lead the way forward. We have theological and practical expertise in (a) creating community (social cohesion) and in (b) caring for and advocating for the poor (those who have been exploited and oppressed). At our best, we are good at bringing people together, and raising people up. These communal gifts come from God; we learned these things from Jesus.
The Spirit of God held us together over the past year, in part, by tightening our community through various new or renewed modes: through all of the phone calls, notes and messages, online offerings, guided home-based spirituality, and so on, we dedicated ourselves to keeping in touch with one another and supporting one another. Some people call the result of this “social cohesion”, we may call it “communion in the body of Christ” but, no matter what we call it, it is a key ingredient in the resiliency of church and society through time. Over the next few years, we can help our larger communities, towns, and cities to become more resilient to the spiritual, physical, social, and economic challenges that we all face. There is a lack of trust in our land, a lack of connection to one another. Christians can make a huge difference in this regard when we make it a priority to be healthy, helpful, communities within the larger community. We can reach out and increase “social cohesion” in Ontario by intentionally doing what we do best.
Another thing we have learned over the past year is that when things get harder they get hardest on those who are most vulnerable. Often in the church we refer to “the poor” to mean those who have been most disadvantaged by others—sometimes through systems, always because of sin. Yet, “the poor” usually receive nothing but blame for their own situation rather than recognition that whole worlds beyond their control often conspire to make them poor. Jesus, as we say when studying the gospels (especially Luke), surrounded himself with people in these situations and he teaches us that God has a “preferential option” for the poor. God prefers them! Who did Jesus seek for when he wanted to bring God’s healing and reconciliation to the world? The poor, the outcast, the lonely, the disadvantaged, the ones in need. Thankfully, we have all been “in need” of one kind or another which explains why Jesus came along in our lives in the first place. And when he did, and does, his Kingdom, his reign has come near.
This reign of Christ is the thing that provides a balance for a real and serious look at sin in the world. We know that he, even now, reigns in and over all that is, all that was, all that will be. Therefore, we can continue to seek his revelation in our spiritual lives while planning ways to become a more just church. Perhaps, for you, this will include a deeper commitment to building healthy communities and transformative service to the poor. I know it will for me.