We Are One, Even When We Are Apart From Each Other

By Rev. Tom Thorpe
April 13, 2020

To those spiritual leaders who claim that God protects them and their congregations from exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 when they’re worshiping in live gatherings, I say “Your understanding of God is very different from mine.” 

While there are situations where some kind of exposure can’t be avoided—medical office visits, grocery stores, and other essential shopping—spiritual practice does not require us to be present in a building or to congregate in-person with others. A church service, at least a live, in-person meeting, is not an “essential activity.” Our online meetings and telephone contacts between members of our Unity of Independence ministry, and the work of countless ministries throughout our country and the world demonstrate that communities can continue to function, and even become stronger, during this unique time.

I have a serious concern about safety for anyone who attends any sort of public meeting, even if fewer than 10 people are present. Remember, at every meeting, every person attending is exposed not only to whatever the others attending be carrying, but also to whatever everyone each of those others has been exposed to from their families and anyone else with whom they may have been in contact. AND THEN, those who were present at the meeting go to their homes and expose everyone there to whatever they were exposed to at the meeting. We know the coronavirus remains on surfaces, even supermarket floors, long after a person carrying it has passed by.

And so, for this reason, I DISAGREE, IN THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS, WITH THE ACTIONS OF ANY AND ALL SPIRITUAL LEADERS WHO INSIST ON HOLDING LIVE, IN-PERSON MEETINGS DURING THIS TIME WHEN EVERYONE IS BEING URGED TO STAY HOME. I pray affirming forgiveness for their insensitive response to the needs of their communities, and I bless those who may become sick or even die because of contagion spread by their actions. To affirm wholeness is not only to affirm divine life always present. To affirm wholeness is also to cooperate in thought, word, and DEED with divine life, love, and wisdom.

I cannot expect to enjoy perfect health when I deprive my body of the rest, exercise, or proper nutrition it requires. If I insist on smoking cigarettes, it's unreasonable for me to be surprised if I contract a respiratory illness. The illness affects the quality of my life, certainly, and it also affects the quality of life of everyone who cares about me.

I cannot expect to enjoy safety and protection when I behave in an unsafe manner. If I drive impaired and cause an accident where people suffer injuries, I, the people whom my actions injured, and all the people who care about each one of us suffer because of my irresponsibility.

If I insist on holding gatherings, even small gatherings, while my community is being advised or required to avoid such gatherings because of contagion, my action could impact the lives of many people beyond the number who attended, even if no one at the gathering was showing any symptoms of disease.

Especially as COVID-19 remains a presence in our communities, ignorance of, reckless insensitivity to, or callous disregard for the physical safety, of oneself, certainly, but most importantly, of others, some of whom may be very vulnerable, is no virtue as I see it.

Our churches are spiritual communities; they are not buildings. I pray affirming that we all find joy in discovering how beautifully our spiritual communities can remain strong and even grow during this time when we must remain physically separated.