For residents of the Golden Isles, the feeling is familiar — an unease resting in the pit of the stomach, a dark, looming cloud on the horizon.
Most of us have encountered this before. It’s something usually reserved for “cones of uncertainty” and spaghetti graphs. While the unknown is palpable, it’s not a hurricane threatening our safety this time — it’s a virus.
People have grappled with the threat level and pointed fingers at the media, Democrats, Republicans and even one another. But the reality remains: the coronavirus is a very real danger to the nation and yes, that includes the Golden Isles.
Over the past week and a half, there’s been a major shift as Americans are encouraged to practice “social distancing” to protect their health and that of their neighbors.
Christ Church Frederica was among the first locally to make a major move to facilitate that, canceling its annual 67th annual Tour of Homes and weekly services.
The Rev. Tom Purdy, priest at Christ Church Frederica, felt it was important to make the call early.
“(The tour) was canceled for the first time in 67 years. We talked with the chairs (of the tour) and we decided it needed to be that way. They were already leaning in that direction,” Purdy said of the event originally set for today.
The group made the decision to pull the plug March 12. At the time, it seemed dispiriting. In the days that followed, however, it was clear it was quickly becoming the new normal.
As the seriousness of the situation began to unfold, attitudes began to change.
“I think the teaching about what social distancing is all about has begun to sink in. You and I aren’t limiting contact because we’re likely to get very sick but to help prevent rapid spread to the most vulnerable and thereby overwhelm the health system,” Purdy said.
“Slowly but surely, people are realizing we’re all in this together, and the church can be a calm and reaffirming voice in support of that message. It defines how we view the world and the work of a Christian.”
Purdy and other leaders of the faith community have been working to continue that despite the pandemic. He has been offering pastoral care and the sacrament on a one-on-one basis as well as broadcasting services (sans parishioners) online.
“We decided to do a rolling, private communion where people can call ahead to reserve a time — a 15 minute window — where we can say some prayers, have the sacrament and offer pastoral care,” he said.
Purdy and other religious leaders would like to see more individuals walking the walk. It would be a big help to them.
The Rev. Alan Akridge, priest at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, said there are ways to practice faith during the suspension of formal services.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, what shall we do? For us Christians, there is an answer: Be wise and be Christian. The idea for hospitals and caring for the sick have long been at the heart of what made Christians distinctive,” he said.
He suggests looking to Biblical stories for guidance and inspiration, where Christ’s example of love and compassion can be found. One of those, he notes, is where Jesus reaches out to heal a leper in Matthew 8:1-4.
Proceeding with grace and empathy in the footsteps of Christ is always the answer, Akridge notes. One way to do that while practicing social distancing is by reaching out to food banks like Sparrow’s Nest (faithworksministry.org) or America’s Second Harvest (helpendhunger.org). Donations can go a long way toward helping those in need.
The Rev. Wright Culpepper, executive director of FaithWorks, agrees. As the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Brunswick, he stresses the value of helping one another in times of crisis.
“We are all connected. One obscure virus anywhere in the world infects one person. Then, that person impacts a few more. Then dozens, hundreds and thousands more are quickly changed. Soon, the whole world is impacted,” he said.
“We are not isolated. We can gate our neighborhoods, build fences and walls, ban others who are not like us from traveling into our space. But none of that works, and, in fact, isolation is counterproductive to being a part of a community in a diverse world. We are in a community and we need each other.”
When humanity faces a situation like the coronavirus, it can serve as a true call for unity, Culpepper said. That, he notes, is a stark difference from the divisions felt so deeply in recent years.
“Sometimes our political, scientific, religious, and social worlds get at odds with one another. We bicker and fight. Then one solitary virus reminds us that we are all one. One human race with the same DNA,’ he said.
While the coronavirus is extremely dangerous — for its impact on vulnerable populations and strain on health care providers — it underscores an important idea — dangerous things are often easily spread. But, Culpepper notes, with the right effort, something positive can take off just as quickly.
“It happened 2,000 years ago. One touched 12 and they touched many. Soon whole communities, then regions and then the whole world was transformed all in the name of God and because of God’s love,” Culpepper said.
“Viruses will come and go and should be taken seriously. But the love of God is eternal and meets us in every circumstance of life. May we each find the love of God inside us and purpose to share with all with whom we come into contact,” he said.