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Rev. Comer: One minister who thinks going to church is a bad idea

Rev. Mary Frances Comer of the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church

By Rev. Mary Frances Comer
For the Salisbury Post

What minister doesn’t want you in church? I don’t. Not for a while.

A member of my family experienced a heart attack a few weeks ago, and because of COVID-19 guidelines, their spouse had to part with them at the doors of the emergency room. I couldn’t go see my close family member. This, perhaps, is the most egregious cruelty of COVID-19: people in hospitals suffering and dying alone — and those who love them suffering and grieving from hospital parking lots — deprived of the ability to comfort their loved one and, worst of all, deprived of the chance to be with those they love as they take their final breath.

That’s why I don’t want you to come to church. That’s why our church doors are closed.

That’s why I implore you to stay home if you can. Please. No more unnecessary losses because someone thinks it will be fine to gather at a party or because some government leaders care more for economic gain than human life or because some feel their “freedom” has been impinged upon. In this case, the constitutional right is to life. To live.

And if we reopen too soon without proper measures, the certain result will be more deaths.

This moral issue sheds light on many things — brutal inequalities in our healthcare system related to a gaping chasm between the rich and the poor, the tremendous privilege some have to work from home while others either go to work or lose their jobs — placing their health in our hands daily. Those at the grocery store, the gas station, the restaurants, and our understaffed, understocked medical personnel who, in some places, are without enough equipment to serve all those suffering with the coronavirus.

So, please don’t go to church. And, fellow clergy members, please keep your doors shut, and put away that common cup. At least for now.

The final week of January, the virus was reported in four countries. In only 12 weeks, it spread to 110 countries. One month later (April 29), COVID-19 made its way to more than 200 countries with more than 3 million (and now 5 million) cases worldwide. The U.S. has become, as the WHO (World Health Organization) predicted, the “global epicenter.” As of May 19, the worldwide death toll was at 324,889 with 93,533 of those in the United States.

With now 1,570,583 cases diagnosed in the U.S alone and new cases daily, now is not the time to begin gathering again —especially in close quarters like church where we sing, greet one another, handle hymnals, and touch the offering plate as it is passed.

It’s not a stripping of our freedom to ask that we self isolate and social distance ourselves; rather, it is a life-saving measure. If we get this wrong, if we are careless, we will be complicit in loss of life. Thus, out of necessity for a time, we will gather as a church in spirit and online, saving lives in the process. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.

What do we do, then, until it’s safe to be together? We don’t have to be without church community during COVID-19 restrictions. During this time of new normal, find an online worship service or online group opportunity. Connect in other ways.

Church is not a building. It never was. Church is the connections of beloved community that cannot be contained in any structure — even one we call a sanctuary.

Let’s direct our energies, our prayers, and our gifts of love and service to one another from a distance for now so that we’re all here to experience a joyous reunion in the post-COVID age to come. May it be so, and may our hearts be filled with compassion for those suffering and dying and for their loved ones who are heartbroken with grief.

Rev. Mary Frances Comer is the minister of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church (puuc.org) which has a Salisbury and a Charlotte Gathering.

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