A local doctor told me the shocking words he heard from a teenager. Living in isolation, the young man attended school virtually. When asked if he had opportunities to meet people, the teenager said he spends his free time playing multiplayer video games with people from around the world; he finished by saying “I have no friends IRL.” “What is IRL?” the doctor asked. “In real life” said the teenager.
We live in anxious isolation. Resentful of masks and curtailed activities, we are impatient. We are advised not to shake hands or exchange hugs with non-family members. We are deprived of seeing smiles behind cumbersome masks. We miss nights out with friends. We know that we may not see people in vulnerable categories for months; worse, the vulnerable exist in domestic bubbles, wary of what may be lurking beyond. We are bereaved of vital community and life-affirming human touch.
A pastor friend shared with me about life for his children after the family moved this summer. His children were in a new school, which is especially challenging for kids in middle school. Along with their bookbags, the students carry their own plexiglass shields. The shields are placed on their desks before each class begins. In such an environment, it is difficult to make new friends or truly experience life with old friends.
In addition to the return to in-person worship for those who choose that, we at Trinity UMC continue to reach out virtually–where people work, pass the time or escape the reality of now. Our virtual ministry inspires hope to those who need it most through the grace of Jesus Christ and can not or do not feel safe to participate in person at this time.
When the pandemic passes, the impact on our world will continue. Jagged and deep will be the wounds that COVID inflicts on the soul and the mind. We will see the scars of those wounds lived out in harmful and abusive ways on both a personal and societal level for a generation. When restrictions finally cease, people will be longing intently for a safe and meaningful community. Many will not have experienced it for a long time (if at all). Some will not know what they missed. Others will be blinded to it by their scars.
We must be ready for “then” just as we are responsive to the “now.” Just as Jesus went to the hungry, the desperate and the lost, we are called to follow him out of the beautiful sanctuaries to the places of brokenness and pain. We will serve God and others from the heart of Sumter in a holy and wholly different way. Will we be ready to walk beside those who have lived isolated in reality or virtually? How will we do that? In the name of Christ, now is the time to pray and discern, plan and dream together…because the church lives IRL.
May God’s Peace Abide,