It was during seminary that I heard emphasis upon a word I didn’t use all that often back then: community. I knew what the word meant but being from Oklahoma I was more apt to talk about a particular “town” or “city”; not “community”.
I didn’t understand. The use of the word in the manner emphasized there was not about geographic location but rather shared values; of kinship and belonging. We were taught about the importance of being in community with others. Of a community of faith. Of a sense of community which caused us to see and welcome others as family. A dream of nations living in community with other nations. Citizenship, race and ethnicity are given at birth. Community is something sought, developed, and hopefully valued.
In the Genesis account of the creation of humanity (the second one, in Genesis 2) it is said “It is not good for the man (the Hebrew word is “adam” or “human being”) to be alone.” This is not a case of God figuring out that sexual reproduction might be a good way of saving time, lest God be required to create all future humans one by one. The statement is a profound theological, anthropological, sociological and psychological insight into human nature and how the world is designed to work. We don’t do well on our own. We need others.
During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people in all parts of the globe have been given instruction to shelter in place, avoid gathering with others, and in many cases to be quarantined, we are experiencing this truth. Not only are societies and economies suffering, but we ourselves are less than God intended because of our isolation from others. I am trying to absorb and learn the lessons of this experience for the sake of the future. I hope I will never again take for granted the gift and blessing of face-to-face human interaction and communal gatherings. Even those we find difficult or with whom we have disagreement are gifts by which God shapes us, even if only by way of challenging us to develop patience, forgiveness and acceptance.
For a couple of decades now, people in my profession have wondered about the future of the church in a technological age of broadcasts and podcasts. These are good things that have enabled connection to many in a way not possible before. But in my mind, the question of “the virtual church” has been answered in this present crisis. There is no substitute for being with others. Smiles, laughter, hugs and handshakes; backslaps, glances, winks and high-fives; sounds, smells, atmosphere and handholding simply cannot be reproduced through video or even holographic re-presentation. Working together side by side on a project, being in a meeting together, or sharing a meal at the same table are gifts from God that we might have taken for granted in the past. I hope many of us will never do so again.