Yes, we were Zooming, as our monthly gathering of religious leaders in town has been doing for the past year, but the suggestion did come as a jolt.
For decades now, the largely informal group has been a way of supporting each other, clergy and laity, as friends and neighbors, and out of that has grown joint activity, such as our community-wide Thanksgiving, Blue Christmas, and Martin Luther King services or overnight shelter for the homeless in the depth of winter or recognition of challenges we face as congregations. It’s one of the things I will especially miss in moving from Dover.
“We need to think carefully about how we come out of Covid,” the Congregational pastor mused. “We need to give it the same attention we did going into the restrictions.”
We still haven’t had the conversation. Maybe we will on our next agenda. But she’s right. Our new normal won’t be the same as the old.
I’ve been hoping that when the restrictions are lifted and we’re all immunized, we’ll be hungry to be back in public get-togethers more than ever, including worship. But there’s also the reality that we’ve fallen out of social habits and may cling to our newer stay-at-home routines. There’s a recognition that for some, continuing the online connections may be beneficial – for invalids or people living at a distance, especially. In addition, a Zoom session can be more convenient than driving hours to a committee meeting, as we’re finding, though it also has drawbacks.
As organizations, we appear to have kept a loyal core but also seen, I sense, newer participants drift away. Can we find ways to lure them back or attract others once we’re “open again”?
You’ve probably already seen the report that for the first time since the figures were kept, church, synagogue, and similar membership in the U.S. has fallen below 50 percent. Some of the reaction has noted a difference between joining in a congregation in contrast to unaffiliated “spiritual” identity. Some other commentators have derided religion altogether, but we should also be aware of declining membership in various associations across the board. One of the things that struck Alexis de Tocqueville about American society in his travels in 1831-1832 was the degree to which we were joiners. Not just in churches but also trade and economic associations, fraternal societies, political parties, lodges and clubs, sports teams, choruses, bands, and theatrical groups, and more.
While I don’t consider myself to be especially “social,” I’m still a member of a half-dozen groups, and I’m not counting those that are essentially an annual donation and a membership card or magazine in return.
Not so for the younger generation. One daughter does belong to the county beekeepers’ group, but that’s it.
As others have noted, that’s not a good sign for building democracy or community.
But folks are understandably restless. Already, everyplace seems to be booked up for vacation travel. (Glad we have a place that’s suddenly “in.”)
That transition from lockdown to normal now promises to transpire over the summer, giving organizations a chance to anticipate the changes and readjust more slowly. There’s so much we don’t know, after all.
And we haven’t even touched on the future of retailing and other local business.
What are you looking forward to post-Covid? And when?
Think you’ll miss Zoom?