Just a few weeks ago, I did not suspect that my next column would be about an unprecedented shutdown due to a pandemic, the likes of which haven’t been seen since before my grandparents were born. But here we are, and, just like the rest of the world, life has changed for religious and faith communities. 

Some churches are sending out dangerous messages that encourage their folks to ignore social distancing. Let me say this unequivocally: if you believe in Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbor as thy self,” you will stay home during this time. It’s an adjustment, but there are other ways to build community that don’t put the most vulnerable members of our society at risk.

My own congregation has moved to streaming a virtual service over Zoom every week, something I scarcely could have imagined this time last month, and we are slowly adjusting to the new reality of our times. 

The beauty in what’s emerging is that folks are embracing new ways of engagement, creating new threads of connection. It’s beautiful seeing former members who moved away from the Auburn-Opelika area reconnecting virtually; children of current members who grew up in the congregation but moved away for college or jobs finding ways of reengaging the faith community they grew up in; and curious visitors checking us out in their pajamas from the comfort of their homes.

It goes to show: human beings crave community and will create it in even the worst of circumstances. To quote American author Leo Buscaglia, “We all need each other.”

It’s not just in my faith community that I’m seeing it either. All over Auburn and around the country and the world, people are finding ways to come together, even in these times, to connect with one another. Even more, around the world, mutual aid networks are sprouting up to help meet the needs emerging in this time of self-isolation.

Whether it’s helping a vulnerable person with groceries, playing a virtual game of tic tac toe, or cobbling together to help each other with rent, I have witnessed some of the best of humanity in the last few weeks.

I don’t want us to go back to normal when this is all over. I pray that we do not lose sight of the amazing networks we have built in the midst of physical distancing. It is proof positive to me that our salvation will not come with elected officials or partisan politics, but through good people coming together to make sure that our needs are met, that we are able to thrive even in times like this. 

One of my favorite Helen Keller quotes says, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” We need each other in these trying times. So here’s my challenge: connect with folks. If you have something to offer, put it out to the world. If you have a need, let others know who can help. (Feel free to email me at minister@auuf.org if you don’t know who else to tell on either account!) What I want to see come out of the pandemic is a renewed sense of our interconnectedness and how we truly need one another to survive. No one is disposable!

For me, this is how Beloved Community is realized: by a system that ensures none of us fall through the cracks. Even in our darkest hour, we still can find the light.

Rev. Chris Rothbauer (they/them/their) is minister of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A native of Southern Indiana, they live in Auburn with their partner, a senior rescue beagle, and a spoiled rotten cat.

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