As the election season was wrapping up, I traveled across I-90 to Wisconsin to help my mother return to her home after three months of medical procedures and rehabilitation. With Covid-19 numbers climbing rapidly in the states I traveled through, I was acutely aware of the risks and spent little time with or near people along the way.
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken an extended trip by car. You miss a lot of things when you quite literally fly over states. There is the beauty of the countryside. The topographic changes are astounding even from the interstate, especially when coupled with a sunrise or sunset. And the stars that I rarely get to see living in a city astound.
In flyover mode, you also miss the interesting and unique towns and cities, each with a fascinating history and interesting people. With the election imminent during my trip out and just passed as I returned, each town’s political character was on full display. While I was unsurprised by the many political signs, the practices of mask use and social distancing also varied greatly depending on what state I was in, highlighting how terribly politicized our response has become. Especially where data tells us this disease is spreading like wildfire, many people were largely acting as if nothing was wrong with few masks and restaurants filled.
On my way through Montana, I stopped in the small town of Superior to charge my car. I took a walk as I waited on this cold and beautiful day, stumbling across the local United Methodist church as I did. A sign mentioned that they were closed and worshiping online due to Covid. While some might find that sad, it struck me as a beautiful witness — one that comes at a cost to this community and so many others in our Greater Northwest Area as well.
This week, Bishop Stanovsky released her latest COVID-19 Notice accompanying a new addendum permitting indoor gatherings of up to 25 people with physical distancing and face masks, pending approval of a plan and benchmarks met by the county the ministry finds itself. Despite this new allowance, our Bishop is clear that she is not encouraging “more and larger in-person gatherings at this time.” Personally, I hope churches think twice before they consider this possibility.
As we approach winter, we see what most epidemiologists and public health officials predicted coming to pass. Our country’s failure to flatten the curve more significantly has set us up for some challenging months ahead as each day brings a new record in new cases and hospitalizations. Some signs of hope may sparkle out on the horizon, but a long winter comes before them.
I had a good visit with my mother that I will cherish, one that I won’t be repeating during the winter holidays. I am sure that we will find other ways to connect for those special occasions, ways which won’t put anyone at risk.
Still, I worry about what the months will bring, especially if we can’t get past the politicization of science and the toxic individualism that neglects the common good. While I am thankful to live in a state — and to work for a church — with leaders who are willing to make hard, unpopular decisions, I have friends and family who are not so blessed.
May God continue to move through us so that we might bring life where disease and death are found and hope where despair has taken root.