CLM Update: Communal Benevolence

I was asked to offer my reflection on the current state of things for a UU service entitled, “A Way Forward.” My service co-leader was Rev. Darcey Laine. We presented our service via Zoom to the UU congregations in Cortland, Big Flats, and Athens/Sheshequin on May 10. Here are my remarks.

Communal Benevolence

What I would like to see more of in our future is communal benevolence. There is so much hatred and antagonism toward people of opposing political sides (which is prominently featured in the media) it’s hard to see that we have, in large part, become benevolent in the last several weeks. We are wearing masks to protect ourselves and the people near us.  To stay healthy, we are keeping our physical distance from people.  And there are an abundance of stories of people helping others — people cheering health care workers coming off their shifts; children organizing campaigns to send masks to hospitals; adult children insisting their parents stay home while they bring them groceries; musicians streaming their art for everyone; nurses travel from afar to help patients in NY City. People are helping people around the world. 

David Brooks recently wrote in the New York Times that, “… we are now more united than at any time since 9/11. The pandemic has reminded us of our interdependence.”

For example, let’s take a look at … you! Who would have imagined that your three congregations would come together to have communal worship services? Do any of you believe that when given the “all clear,” your congregations will return to the exact same way you did worship before the pandemic? I doubt it … you’ll use some of your current techniques to make your future communities better … more connected … more responsive … more benevolent. 

Consider Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister.  Uri Friedman of The Atlantic, wrote that, “she may be the most effective leader on the planet. … Her messages are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing. And her approach isn’t just resonating with her people on an emotional level. It is also working remarkably well.” 

She has set an example of leadership … and some of us are watching her and thinking, I could do better … I want to be like Jacinda when I grow up!

I recently met with many of the Commissioned Lay Ministers in our region. We discussed how our ministries are different during this pandemic and we began discussing what our futures might be like.  None of us know, but we do know things will not go back to the way they were.  We are noticing what’s really important. Connecting with loved ones. Helping those in need. Reaching out to those alone. Caring for yourself. Communal benevolence has become a priority. 

As we consider our future while awaiting for this pandemic to subside, let’s remember these acts of kindness … support … and courtesy. These are positive things many of us are able to do today — let’s turn them into a daily spiritual practice … to be benevolent not just to our loved ones, but our communities where were are all connected.