The Communal Act of Keeping Apart

As we remain isolated in our respective homes, all of America (or at least the majority of America) is engaged in a profound act of community right now. It’s not voluntary for many, nor is it always done with grace and love, but it is an act of community nonetheless.

Not only are we staying in to protect the most vulnerable among us, we are staying in to make sure our healthcare workers and resources are not overwhelmed. We are staying home to keep our essential workers–the first responders, grocery clerks, bus drivers, garbage people and others–safe. It doesn’t hurt that almost all of us have loved ones who belong to those categories. This protection is not theoretical…it’s personal.

Homes have become workplaces, schools and recreation centers–all running at the same time. What used to be a sanctuary has become more like a chaotic jailhouse. The shelter in place orders mean lost income, strained relationships and threatened sanity.

Yet here we stay–without a firm end date in sight. For the good of the whole. For the good of the larger community.

Staying at home for the sake of our neighbors pushes up against the American values of success, achievement and looking out for number one. Doing things for the good of the whole that doesn’t benefit (and may even be detrimental to) us, is not America’s default setting. It is a weird time, indeed.

It’s my hope that this new way of being that currently keeps the church from gathering in person will affect lasting, positive change within our religious communities. The kind of change that moves us away from being a collection of individuals seeking spiritual success and back to being a community of believers dedicated to serving God in our world.

Over the past few years, the church in America has very much succumbed to those American values of self-interest, self-care and self-improvement. Too often the church is a place for people to seek their own spiritual agendas and develop their personal spiritual practices and potential, instead of a community from which the mission and message of Jesus is lived, shared with and proclaimed to the world.

So as we make this shift toward community (forced as it may be) in our “secular” lives, may it spill over into our faith communities. May we move away from seeing church as a place of personal development that meets our own needs, and toward community of people who equip and encourage one another to live out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.


Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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