Spring 2023 · Vol. 52 No. 1 · pp. 2–4 

From the Editors: Pandemic Perspectives

Laura Schmidt Roberts, Cynthia McGrady, and Vic Froese

COVID-19 changed the world. Individually and collectively, it changed our lives. People who never contracted COVID-19 were still seriously affected by the impact and consequences of the virus and we are just beginning to grapple with what this means. In this issue of Direction, we examine various perspectives on the pandemic including the influence it had on our relationships, families, churches, and understanding of who we are in relation to our world. COVID-19 revealed new insights into our inner selves, sometimes noble and heroic, sometimes not quite so laudable. Our reactions to the threat of illness, potential loss of life and loved ones, political landscape, and even the public health measures aimed at controlling the virus’s spread are informative. At times, these public health measures had consequences nearly as serious as the virus itself: people lost jobs, became disconnected from self and the institutions that sustained them, and suffered severe loneliness and anxiety. In some cases marriages were terminated. Still others saw lifelong friendships come to an abrupt end. Churches too suffered from stay-at-home orders. Churchgoers’ disaffection with their church’s responses to lockdown mandates drove some away; the discovery of online video resources drew others away from churches that couldn’t compete. Pastors faced the unenviable task of addressing the concerns of church members whose opinions were often diametrically opposed to each other. Situations and trials like these are examined in this issue of Direction.

Cheryl Dueck Smith kicks things off with an astute article on the effects of public health measures on pastoral care, especially care for troubled married couples. She observes that the typical challenges of pastor-counselors (burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma) and those of married couples (financial insecurity, parenting demands, social and personal vulnerabilities) were greatly intensified during the pandemic. Productive counseling became correspondingly more difficult to deliver. Hope can seem to be an illusive commodity in such circumstances. But Smith urges pastors to remember that theirs is a God of unlimited possibilities and therefore the source of hope that much good can still come out of such struggles.

Autumn Lindberg follows up with an insightful reflection on her experiences with individuals struggling to cope with relational challenges that arose with the pandemic. She found that psychological and relational breakthroughs leading to healing were sometimes made, not despite the anxieties intensified by the pandemic, but because of them. Lindberg reports needing to remind anxious clients that they were still ethical, competent, and accomplished people, despite eroding confidence in their {3} capacity to make good decisions. Included in her article are strategies that have helped her get past the barriers her clients erected, which cleared the way to hope that “God will show up in a new way” even in difficult pandemic circumstances.

The highly personal article by Quentin Kinnison examines the complicated nature of grief and the added complications that pandemic mitigation efforts foisted on grievers and caregivers. He draws lessons about “grieving well” from scholarly literature but even more from his own recent experience of losing his mother. Kinnison is convinced that “virtual” care for those who grieve can never express love and care like actually being present with them. It is beyond the capacity of social media to mediate a truly consoling embrace to one who grieves the departure of a loved one. The nature of Kinnison’s assertions must be held in tension with the changing nature and meaning of connection in a digitally driven society itself. Real connection did happen through social media platforms during the pandemic. Whether this should remain the norm, particularly in situations of grief and loss, is certainly debatable.

Brian A. Ross’s keen observations of post-COVID churches’ responses to public health measures are enlightening. He argues that the type of church response largely determined its health after the pandemic. Those churches that managed to thrive promoted a highly committed faith versus one that demanded little; they physically gathered as a congregation sooner; and they were involved in what Ross calls “thick engagement” with formative spiritual practices. Still, most churches struggled with polarization in their congregations, a shrinking of worldviews, and decline of civility. These developments may have a long afterlife.

Finally, on a more philosophical and theological note, Adam Ghali suggests that the pandemic, despite the misery it caused, has been revelatory. It has brought home to us the truth that human beings belong to the natural order as much as nonhuman beings do. Like them, we rely on the natural order to sustain us, and our ignorance of that dependence has seriously imperilled our world. Our much-needed reconciliation with nature, he says, goes hand in hand with reconciling ourselves to our deeply natural nature. Ghali believes that this insight, an echo of ancient wisdom, will increase our understanding of the natural world and our relationship to it, and will also lead us to understand the spiritual nature of nature itself.

While we don’t include a list of books on the topic, David Waltner-Toews’s book, On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases from Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus (Greystone, 2nd ed., 2020) is a fine introduction to ancient and contemporary diseases that come to us via animals. Waltner-Toews explains the history and special features of various deadly viruses but also points out the more recent role of climate change, industrialized farming, cultural practices, biodiversity loss, and globalization in their emergence {4} and spread. And he does so in a delightful writing style: conversational, brimming with intelligence, seasoned with humor, and suffused with a humble humanist spirit (in the best sense of those words).

We believe these articles on pandemic perspectives will enable our readers to understand better what we’ve just been through and in many ways, continue to go through. Most point to the importance of hope and encourage us to be less harshly judgmental and more graceful and gentle, more Christian, with others and with ourselves. We recognize that we have only scratched the surface of the impact and influence of COVID-19 in our lives. As such, we invite you, the reader, to examine your perspective of the pandemic in letters to the editors. A collective understanding of our shared experience will inform, enlighten, and encourage us to move into the future with hope, resilience, grit, and grace.

Laura Schmidt Roberts, Fresno Pacific University
Cynthia McGrady, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary
Vic Froese, Direction General Editor