Everything has changed for Rev. Talitha Amadea Aho and her congregation. And yet her pastoral duties, and the teachings that inform them, remain the same.
I’m a pastor struggling to help my community respond to COVID-19. When I went to seminary I learned to write sermons and provide spiritual care, but they didn’t teach us how to act as public health officials. We read the latest guidelines and try to figure out which gatherings to cancel, postpone, or take online.
Meanwhile, we cling to our talismans of safety. We clutch our hand sanitizer as if it were all we needed. But this is an illusion. We’re a community. We’re all in this together. No person is safer than the least safe person around them. Our clean hands won’t save us if our neighbors are sick, and can’t find the healthcare they need. To keep yourself safe, you have to keep others safe.
The urge to care for others is an important, ancient, and deeply religious motive, but unfortunately it’s not easy. It’s hard work to care for others.
Right now we care for others by staying home and canceling things. But when we hunker down indiscriminately, we leave others even more vulnerable — those who are hungry, who are poor, whose work in the gig economy has dried up, who turn to a soup kitchen and find that meals have been canceled. Those who are lonely and isolated will be hungry in a different way — hungry for the milk of human kindness. We do send hug emojis by text message, and we deliver groceries to friends in need, but even this is not enough.