In the ugly church we talk a lot about physical presence in messy lives, situations, and circumstances, modeling our ministry after that of Jesus. We want to be about the business of touching “lepers” and breaking bread with “sinners.” With the coronavirus pandemic, our usual modes of connection have been cut off. Visits to the prison, outreach at the rec center, recovery meetings or any other face-to-face gathering are off-limits. So, how do we minister under these circumstances?
Technology connects those who are connected to technology. Worship services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings have moved online. There are even AA and NA meetings available, if you have the ability to connect to them. But what if you don’t? What if you find yourself cut off from the Church and the supports she provides to the community?
This is the wrestling match going on inside my head: how do we practice social-distancing and self-quarantine while still meeting needs and sharing the love of Christ? One of our Ugly Church partners, Daniel’s Table in Framingham, MA, is providing more food than ever to the hungry in its city. This means face-to-face interaction and close proximity to others. But without it, bellies are empty and hopelessness creeps in. Some risk has to be incurred even as that risk is mitigated as much as possible. The same goes for the cashier at the grocery store and the relief staff at the homeless shelter. Without some risk, everything comes to a screeching halt.
I would like to say that I have an easy answer or some simple guidelines for ugly ministry in a pandemic that doesn’t either isolate people or exacerbate the spread of the virus–but I don’t. As I ponder and pray, I’m led to a middle way between fear and foolishness. If we all give in to fear, suffering increases. If we all disregard wisdom, suffering increases. What that middle way looks like depends on your context. But what I believe with all my heart is that we can’t disengage from the suffering around us. We must be creative and careful to look after our neighbors, to provide for those without, and offer community to the isolated.
I’m encouraged by the creative risk-takers and collaborators who are stepping into the gaps so that the forgotten don’t slip through. I’m encouraged by the acts of generosity that overshadow those of greed and selfishness. I’m encouraged that the things we learn during this pandemic will serve us in finding new ways to love others in the future. In the meantime, I’m praying we all find the middle way.
We would love to hear your thoughts and stories of how you’re staying “ugly” in the new normal. I’m praying that you stay safe and stay ugly.