As is true of most people, I dislike life in the time of pandemic. But I’m also fascinated by some of the creativity in people’s response to the pandemic, and I’d like to tell you about some instances of creativity that especially captured my imagination.
There was Kayak Church. On August 30, after Pennsylvania allowed some religious gatherings in carefully controlled circumstances, a progressive Christian church in State College, Penna., held their first in-person service floating in kayaks, canoes, and even paddleboards, on a pond in Bald Eagle State Park. Their minister is Rev. Jes Kast, a thirty-something advocate for progressive causes like LBGTQ+ rights, racial justice, and ending climate change. In her opening prayer, before people launched their kayaks, she said, “If we get wet, let us have fun.” Denise Alving, a graduate student at Penn State and one of the members of the congregation, said to a reporter, “Everything gets slowed down a little and you think about what’s important.”
There was the Shofar Wave. Down in southern California, the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles organized shofar blowers from synagogues across the city. The shofar is the ritual musical instrument made out of a ram’s horn, and is traditionally sounded at Rosh Hashanah to mark the beginning of the Jewish new year. Because no one could meet at a synagogue in person this year, the shofar blowers blasted their shofars from their front yards, starting at 3 p.m. in Pasadena and winding up in Thousand Oaks at 4 p.m. A synagogue in Philadelphia did something similar, and Rabbi Beth Janus of that Reconstructionist community said, “It’s a great way to connect with our non-Jewish neighbors.”
There were lots more creative ways religious groups have responded to the pandemic. There was the big Pentecostal church in Los Angeles that shut down in-person worship in mid-March so they could put all their efforts into distributing 5,000 meals a week to anyone who needed one. There was the Baptist church in Texas that, during the toilet paper shortages early in the pandemic, sent its minister around their town with a t-shirt gun loaded with rolls of toilet paper that he fired at anyone who asked for one.
But what I have enjoyed most is the way we at UUCPA have responded creatively to the restrictions of the pandemic. I love the creative videos Bruce and our musicians have created, and I love the recordings made the By Your Side Singers. I like the way Amy does online caring and sharing—I love the combination of seeing people post their joys and sorrows in the chat window then hearing Amy reading them out loud, and because we can hear from quite a few more people I feel I’ve gotten to know our congregation better. I really enjoy working with the actors in the “Story for All Ages” videos, and those actors can do things in those videos that would be impossible in person. And even though I get tired of Zoom meetings, I appreciate the way people at UUCPA run Zoom meetings with empathy and humanity.
There is almost nothing good about the pandemic itself. But the way the human spirit can confront adversity, and make something good out of it—I find that inspiring. And I’m glad that UUCPA has done so much to help me, and others, confront the present adversity, and do what we can to make something good from it.