Pandemics and Hurricanes
I recently attended a webinar on effective ministry during and after the pandemic. I thought the speaker had a very interesting analogy when he compared the pandemic to a hurricane. What they have in common,of course, is that both of them are great disasters and also that they receive a lot of attention especially in the initial stages. The Weather Channel and major news outlets focus on the hurricane as it approaches land, as it makes landfall and then as its damage is revealed after the storm. After that media outlets move on and the public turns its attention elsewhere towards a new crisis. People are generally ready to move on.
One difference is that the damage from a hurricane typically seems to be more visible than the damage from the pandemic unless one gets pictures of over crowded hospitals or temporary morgues. But make no mistake, both of these disasters leave plenty of damage in their wake. Unlike the public after a hurricane which can move its focus elsewhere, the community hit by the hurricane will be affected for months and years to come. My brother in law lives in Lake Charles, La. His community was hit by devastating hurricanes back to back last year. His house is livable, but months later he is one of the few who can actually live in that neighborhood. He is still waiting on much needed repairs. I have a neighbor whose coastal home was hit by Hurricane Harvey. It took three years and lots of trips to the coast to line up and complete the repairs. Hurricanes have a shelf life much longer than the time they are wreaking havoc on the coast.
All this is to say that likely our nation and community will not quickly recover from the pandemic even though many people will want to move on. The emotional, financial and relational repercussions will continue way past the last hospitalization, just as the effects of Hurricane Harvey continue to be felt on the Texas coast.
What does this mean for us in the church? First of all, we probably should have appropriate expectations. Even though we are returning to indoor worship, things will not be back to the old “normal” for a long time.... if ever. Secondly, let us be alert for people who are struggling with the effects of battling this pandemic. Rather than acting as if nothing has changed or encouraging them to get on with their lives as they did in the past, perhaps we could invite them to tell us how they are really doing and listen to them attentively with compassion.
The bad news is that the pandemic will affect us for a long time to come. The good news is that empathy and love will outlast any disaster.