When people ask me, “So, how’ve you been dealing with this whole social distancing thing,” I answer with a simultaneous joking and honest response, “That was literally my life before this all started.” You see, as an introvert, I’m quite proficient at social distancing.
All joking aside, this social distancing and mandated quarantine and self-isolation is no doubt difficult for a lot of people. Not only for the extroverted, but also those who suffer with depression and even us introverts who really do enjoy spending time with people. (Just with certain limits. We’re basically like cats.)
At my vicarage congregation, I’ve had to deal with the challenge of comforting certain parishioners on the phone who are attempting to cope with this difficulty. Some have a history of depression, others do not. My vicarage supervisor, for example, is extremely extroverted. He loves spending time with people and hugging the sheep of his flock, so this has been difficult for him as well.
While I share a lot of empathy for everyone dealing with these difficulties, there is a lesson to be learnt here: Now you know what our shut-in members are going through.
A lot of our parishioners are genuinely missing church service and the Sacrament of the Altar. And rightly so! The Divine Service and the sacraments are God’s gracious gifts to us. These same members are also suffering with the difficulties self-isolation brings. Being away from your brothers and sisters in Christ, your family by blood, and unable to take the Eucharist every week is an arduous thing for us Christians. I feel you. I miss my brothers and sisters as well, and I also crave the Sacrament.
But, I repeat: Now you know what our shut-in members are going through. It’s only been roughly 30 days or so of quarantine for some of us. However, many of our shut-in members have been suffering with what you’re currently going through for years. Even then, their pastor (or vicar) visits them only once a month. They receive the Eucharist only once a month when their pastor visits them. Now we all know what it’s like to go without the Eucharist for a whole month, and many of us are craving it! We are thirsting and hungering for righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:6)! This quarantine you are suffering now is exactly what our shut-ins go through every single month for years.
One thing I’ve been saying a lot during this time is that it’s really apt this pandemic started during Lent to emphasise even more that we came from dust and shall return to dust, bringing us to repentance and even more to trust and hope in Christ’s resurrection we just celebrated this past Easter.
In addition to this, this is a great time for the Body of Christ to bear the failings of the weak. As St. Paul says, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me'” (Romans 15:1-3).
To be clear, bearing with the failings of the weak is something we Christians ought to do all the time, not only during trying times such as this, but we haven’t been doing this. Maybe as individual members, but not as a body. Many Christians have a punch card mentality of church. They come to church, “punch their card” and count their attendance for the week, and that’s it. There’s no loving your neighbour, only pleasing ourselves. For these people, being a Christian is simply about going to church and getting your attendance in for the week so the pastor doesn’t yell at you for being absent rather than being the Church.
Visiting and caring for our shut-in members is often left only to the pastor. The pastor must absolutely do this, as it is the duty of his office to bring those entrusted to him in his flock the Word and Sacraments. But each member makes up the body. How can we call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ if we have this “out of sight, out of mind” mindset when it comes to our brethren who are homebound? Indeed, there are a handful of members who visit our shut-ins on a regular basis, but it shouldn’t be a handful; it should be the whole family of Christ. Instead, their family ignores them.
I’m not saying that if you don’t serve our homebound brethren, your salvation is at stake. I’m not saying that at all and neither is that true. I’m simply saying this: Now you know what our homebound brethren are going through every single day, week in and week out, month in and month out. As St. Paul says, it is our obligation—our duty.
What I hope to see come out of this pandemic is a growing concern and care for our homebound brethren that still continues during less trying times.
“But how can I help them?” Talk to your pastor about it. Certainly, he knows what they need. And certainly, he needs your help in caring for our naturally isolated flock.