It was bound to happen. My son often says, “I think we’re all going to get it eventually.” I had begun to assume he was correct with the highly contagious omicron variant in high transmission. And, last Thursday, despite my fully vaccinated and boosted status, I tested positive for Covid-19. My first thought, a couple of days before, was that it was another cold, or the resurgence of a cold and sinus infection I had a month ago. But by Thursday things were a different. Achy muscles, low grade fever, congestion, a slight cough along with the prior sore throat from sinus drainage – these were the symptoms. It felt prudent to pay attention to them.
It was nearly impossible to find a test. All the test sites in our county were booked up until the following Monday – four days later! Graciously, a colleague dropped off an at home Covid-19 Antigen Self Test, which proved to be both easy to use and “positive”. I wasn’t really surprised.
Still, I had been careful, not only in getting vaccinated but wearing a mask, avoiding large indoor gatherings, keeping social distance when possible, sanitizing, eating at home or only eating take out with very few exceptions for the past two years. I happen to be married to a very cautious and diligent woman who has stressed these precautions in our home for a variety of reasons: a) Her 95 year old mother with whom we have regular contact, b) three grandsons all too young to be vaccinated, and c) a class of 25 first graders half of whom are not currently, and probably will not become, vaccinated. Plus, as a pastor I did not want to become a carrier of the virus to those in my care, nor be rendered unable to respond to needs that may arise. Nonetheless, while it may have been caution that kept me/us virus free for nearly two years, now I had it.
What have I learned? Initial interactions with family, friends and congregants who’ve become aware of my situation have included queries like “how are you doing?” or “what kind of symptoms do you have?”. I want to be honest and transparent in my answers. While my symptoms have been “mostly” mild, they have been real. “It’s not been a picnic”, I replied to my brother’s text. This response is not in search of sympathy, but more from a desire to speak truth. I had the aforementioned achy muscles, low grade fever, cough, and congestion. I also had bouts of gastrointestinal illness, and experienced light headedness to the point of near blackout once. My breathing is a bit compromised and I tire easily. Yet, in comparison to many, my symptoms have been mild. What I have learned in all of this is that my vaccinated status kept me from experiencing something worse. For that I am thankful.
I am disappointed that this pandemic has become so politicized and divisive. I understand the fatigue people feel – I feel it too. I’ve lashed back at those who have dismissed the virus as “nothing more than the flu” by asking if they’ve ever officiated a Covid funeral? That was rather snarky, wasn’t it? But I’ve seen people suffer and die from this pandemic. I’ve seen families lose loved ones, parents bury children and children bury parents. I have learned that one’s response to Covid-19 is personal, directly related to how it has impacted them and their loved ones. I have learned that personal experience often supplants the ability to view things from another’s perspective. It can have the effect of blinders.
I have been on the receiving end of criticism as a pastor for having been too cautious. Some congregants have let me know they don’t like wearing masks. Do you think I do? Some have said in word, and action, that they will not attend so long as masks are expected. Personally I don’t feel asking someone to wear a face mask for an hour in worship is too much of a sacrifice. My wife teaches school in a mask all day long, and our front line workers and medical professionals have been masked, at risk and overworked for going on two years! In the past I may have kept my opinions more to myself, not wanting to rock the boat, or offend anyone. I’ve learned I have a responsibility to speak for public safety and wellness, even if it offends. Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Love your neighbor.
I have also been on the receiving end of criticism as a pastor for not always being cautious enough. I have felt policed by those who are scared, watching services online to see if we have unanimous mask compliance. I’ve seen people leave the church because they didn’t agree with our safety procedures – we were too strict or not strict enough. It’s been a “no win” scenario. There were days when I was ready to join the “great resignation”. But I didn’t. And, while a few left, most have stayed, and some new faces have joined us. Most have expressed gratitude for the caution we have taken and leadership I have offered. For that I am thankful. I acknowledge that I’ve made some mistakes, and will likely make a few more, but I have taken seriously the responsibility for looking to the common good of those in my care. I have re-learned that you will never please everyone.
Spending these past days in isolation hasn’t been all that much of a sacrifice for me as an introvert. I am pretty ok with times of solitude. I’ve had plenty of books to read, done quite a bit of writing and study, and, as I began to feel better, tried to treat my quarantine as something of a spiritual retreat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be glad when it’s over. But the experience has brought me the opportunity for empathy. I’m now part of the club. I have my own Covid-19 story to tell, but that doesn’t preclude me for being open to the stories of others – even those with whom I disagree. I would like to learn how to have meaningful conversation with persons who have a fundamentally different stance about the pandemic and it’s related spillovers. I still find that hard to do. The divide is often so great, it has become harder to find the common ground.
I worry about the church (local and global) and the scars the pandemic will leave. This experience has accelerated many of the changes congregations were already poorly equipped to confront. There’s a great silence from some, and a virtual disappearance from others. I understand what it means to be “ghosted” these days. It’s a hard time to be a pastor. Strangely, however, it has also been a rewarding time to be a pastor. I’m learning (again) to trust that the Lord is in control, that I cannot and should not take responsibility for more than is realistic. I do not believe God will give up on the Bride of Christ.
I pray for our nation. The rise of Christian nationalism is alarming. The seduction of power, regardless which side of the political aisle one aligns with, is pervasive. Public servants who operate as true statesmen and women seem rare. The ugliness of the divide has become local. Lord, have mercy! Yet, I affirm that my residency is first and foremost in the kingdom of God. I have a dual citizenship, on earth and in heaven. So, I’m learning to put America and her future in God’s hands as well.
If you have read this far, you are probably in the minority! You may think I am still running a fever. I assure you I am not. These are merely the expressions and reflections of a seasoned pastor and lifelong Christ follower who has spent the past three days holed up in his home office, with at least two more to go. Thanks for taking the time read my blog. I welcome any comments, critiques or rebuttals.