Spiritual Connections – “Disasters mark us, community saves us.” (March 2022)

Mar 20, 2022

This month’s Spiritual Connections is from our General Presbyter, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo:
Dear Members and Friends of PSNE,

I have lived through three significant major emergencies during my last 21 years in ministry: September 11th, Hurricane Sandy, and the Covid-19 pandemic. I am scared, as I know many of us are, that we might be about to live through a war that will have worldwide consequences as we warily watch the horrors of what is happening in Ukraine and consider the madman behind this war and the nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal he is in control of. Once again we are reminded that violence strips us away from God’s love, that war offends the peace we know in Jesus Christ.

Two years ago this week on March 11, 2020 we had our last in-person Presbytery meeting at the New Haven church. I remember that night very well because we all sensed we were on the edge of something, but we couldn’t see what was in front of us. The thing I most appreciate, and which has carried me through the last two years, is the way we gathered that night. The New Haven congregation took care in hosting us to make sure people felt ok. We talked about our values, and had a panel on our anti-racism work even though other worries were looming. The clergy sat down together at dinner to talk about what was about to happen and how we could think about it together as spiritual leaders. I go back and look at these photos of that night often. They lift up my spirit because they remind me of the strength of community.
Disasters mark us but they also remind us of what we most need – which is community. We can’t do these things alone, we can’t make it alone.

Individualism, the sacred cow and distorted “value” of our country, is anathema to the biblical values of community resiliency and community salvation. Individualism just doesn’t work, and if we haven’t learned that lesson in the last two years I wonder if we ever will.

Two years into this pandemic I am also thinking about the at least 1 million people dead in the United States, 6 million around the world. We know these numbers are probably a low count. I read an article last week that said that for every person who died, 9 people are victims of the loss in one way or another, their lives irrevocably, and oftentimes, traumatically changed. All of our lives have been touched in one way or another by this pandemic. I’ve lost loved ones. Many of us have had Covid, which I found to be a harrowing and scary experience that I am still processing. I know so many of you have also had these things happen in your lives. We are all different from these things. And we can’t go backwards to March 2020; we are a changed people.

At the beginning of the pandemic I shared a few times an article by the great Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, that I found so helpful – The Pandemic is a Portal – about what she could see and envision at that moment in her home country. I think about her words in this article all the time:

“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Dr. Jeremy Williams writes of the Luke 13: 1-9 passage for this upcoming Sunday in Working Preacher that, “Jesus uses these unpredictable, unchangeable incidents to prompt his audience to change what they can—their minds. Jesus tells them to repent (metanoeō)—to change their mind about their current commitments to injustice and unrighteousness. Changing one’s mind in this way leads to a change in conduct. This term is the Greek translation of the Hebrew (shuv); the core meaning of which is “to return” or “to go back” or even “to go home.” Jesus invites the audience to adjust their current course and return to God. If they opt to not return or choose to not change their minds, they risk being ruined (apollumi) in the same way (ōsautōs) as the Galileans and Jerusalemites. Here, “same way” means “suddenly and unprepared.” Jesus is not suggesting that repentance will prevent them from a physical, catastrophic death. Rather, he is stating that changing their minds will prepare them for whatever they will experience, including producing fruit.”

I wonder at this two-year anniversary as the world is both opening up a little bit but also shutting down in other ways, how we might need to continue to be open to changing our minds?

I wonder about how we might be open to the Spirit’s movement that is inviting us to have curiosity and bravery to not go backwards but forwards?

I wonder what fruits of the spirit are in our path that we might not even see but that Jesus is beckoning us to move towards in our lives and in our ministries?

I don’t suggest these are easy things, but I do think that God is up to something with all of us at this time, and we are being called into a deeper and more meaningful ministry for the times that we are in. I also sense that as a Presbytery community we are ready for these shifts. Our leadership gathered earlier this week with our anti-racism consultants to talk about dreams and visions of God’s preferred future for us.

Some of what I heard say were these things:

A relationship of full acceptance…
A deeper commitment to and understanding of the Gospel…
No sharp edges, no hierarchies, round edges, energy expanding the circle…
A place where as an immigrant I can be respected…
Less anxiety, less fear…
Pews that are filled to the brim with active members who are co-creators of the church…
Faithful community, grounded in Jesus Christ, is salvation. This pandemic has forced us to break with some things, and to pick up some new things. Let us be sure these are faithful breaks and faithful new choices that bring life, that build community and that hold the promise of salvation and healing. Community helps us to make these discerning choices as we hold and support one another.

As always, I remain grateful to be on the journey of change with each one of you.

Blessings in this Lenten Season,

Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, General Presbyter

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