Monday, May 18, 2020
Sensible Choices and the Plague
I graduated from seminary in 1980 and was ordained as a United Church minister shortly thereafter. I knew that we were heading to outport Newfoundland for my settlement charge but before we made the trek to The Rock we went to Europe. We were tour leaders and we visited several countries with the key destination being the village of Oberammergau in Germany. Every ten years for centuries a Passion Play has been held there to honour the "miracle" that the community was spared the bubonic plague of the late 17th century.
When we attended there was strong controversy over the anti-semitism of the play, with Jewish leaders portrayed as villains and Christ killers. Apparently Hitler saw the play twice and applauded the way Jews were portrayed, which was hardly an endorsement. Since 1980 there have been significant changes to the script which back then some insisted shouldn't be made to respect tradition. Times change.
I'm always open to God's presence in our lives and I don't discount miracles. The reality is that Oberammergau wisely closed the community to outsiders 350 years ago, and that quarantine resulted in the people being spared from the devastation of the plague. The irony is that this year's production of the play, which is usually staged over several months. has been postponed until 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A wise choice, once again.
We know that many jurisdictions are gradually lifting physical distancing regulations. Some are measured and some are rash and defy scientific evidence. There are also lots of churches and religious groups demanding that they be allowed to gather again for Sunday worship. There is a open letter and petition by pastors here in Ontario insisting that 1500 years of church history suggests that they have a right to assemble and congregations should be allowed to reopen. This doesn't seem logical to me. What happened in the year 500 has little bearing on decisions we make in 2020. There were no epidemiologists in the Middle Ages or earlier, no real understanding of the transmission of diseases. It may be that gathering for worship and prayer actually hastened the spread of plagues in the past, sad to say., and doing so with too much haste today could be deadly.
The United Church has come up with a rudimentary guide to phasing in congregational life once again, but hasn't suggested a timeline. This is wise, in my estimation, and I hope our society as a whole is cautious and evidence based in returning to "normal", with the realization that that there may be a new normal in virtually sphere of life.
Trusting in God's miracles doesn't require us to deny scientific evidence and common sense.