Looking for solace amid the quarantine

I‘ve always thought—and I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious—that one the principal functions of churches is not just to point the road to heaven or hell, or remind us of our moral failings. Rather, churches or religious spaces also provide us with both, a place to meet like-minded people, and also a quiet, private time to deal with our quotidian preoccupations, even daydream a bit.

In San Miguel, where expats have to confront a foreign language, food and customs, churches  provide a critical place for both companionship and reflection. Churches help us soften the jolt of adjusting to the new realities of living in a foreign country.

Also, after the ritual Sunday hand-shaking and hi-how-are-you’s, churches give us a quiet place to sit and reflect privately, except to, of course, when we are called on to rise and recite some religious text or butcher a hymn.

In the beginning was the Internet, though we’re still trying to figure out how to use it. 

Some people might intently follow the minister, as he or she, guides them through the nuances of  scriptures or founding principles.

But I bet, judging by the distant gazes often I see, many participants instead use the time to sort through some aspect of their lives.

Occasionally the words of the preacher might give you an aha! moment, a clue, based on religious traditions, on how to deal with your life, to calm you down, make you reflect.

But for my money, the feeling of community and the quiet time alone are worth the “price of admission” that comes around as the collection plate.

The Coronavirus pandemic is a dual challenge for religious organizations. We are worried, want to hold hands, yet are being told to adhere to a strict quarantine, to stay away from each other, just when we need the comfort of each other’s company the most.

So it was fun—amazing to watch, really—how two English-speaking churches in town, the San Miguel Community Church, and the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, stepped into the void with their own internet services this past Sunday.

Results were mixed at both premieres, as one would expect.

Technically, the video and audio of the Community Church’s service on YouTube were impressive, sharp and clear, with elegant fade-ins and -outs, beautiful music and a brief slideshow of San Miguel at the conclusion.

[The YouTube link for the Community Church service is https://youtu.be/eeyBugK0zTo]

The service, though, was about as starchy as Mike Pence would be hosting “Saturday Night Live.” Little, if any, acknowledgement was made of the special challenges posed by the pandemic and the quarantine, as the minister delved mostly with the story of the blind man in the Gospel of John.

Unitarians had the opposite problem. They used the Zoom application for hosting meetings, that was supposed to provide for audience participation, but the results looked like someone fumbling with a new video camera on Christmas morning.

[The link for the Unitarian service is at https://zoom.us/rec/share/7JU2Lrr2-kFJfJHuwkbSBZAmOKr8X6a8gSkY_fILmBs6ckLCi8eGkBLYhF2LiNDH  You need to download the application first.]

The pianist’s talents were thwarted by awful audio; video quality was fuzzy, and the small video pictures of participants popping in and out, distracting.

Yet, for all the problems, the Unitarian service, and particularly the powerful sermon, were spot-on in addressing people’s present fears and concerns.

And psst, both congregations ought to give up on hymns, or find a good singer. People sitting at home in their pajamas can’t be expected to participate in some sort of religious karaoke.

Let’s not be too critical, though, especially because the quarantine is likely to go on for weeks, if not, God help us, months.

I am sure technical and production glitches will be resolved. And in these stressful times, just visiting and hearing other people’s voices is a much needed blessing, even if it comes through the internet.

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