Love in a Time of COVID-19

Date: Sunday, March 08, 2020 10:30 am - 11:30 am

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.


There’s an old maxim in preaching that says the preacher should, in preparing for the task, have the scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. There is something to that, even for a Unitarian Universalist minister. The challenge, as always, is to seek to be relevant by holding wisdom teachings—be they ancient or more modern—alongside our pressing contemporary concerns. That said, I don’t tend to preach to the headlines from week to week; I have witnessed the pitfalls of sermonic ambulance-chasing that arise when a preacher doesn’t take time to allow a deeper perspective to settle in.

Still, there are moments when the pulpit must be used to speak to current issues in an immediate way. This is turning out to be one of those weeks. Actually, it’s turning out to be one of those months. I had long planned this month to preach about radical inclusion and to unpack some of the harder stories from UU history that I believe have enduring wisdom for us today. Those sermons will have to wait. In their place, it has felt critically important to carve out time to reflect on other things: the unfolding situation between the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and Canada, and the process of change in light of our congregation’s upcoming move to a new location. This week, the sermon that I feel most needs to be preached is about the novel coronavirus.

As it becomes clear we are very likely facing a pandemic in the coming weeks and months, we are being inundated with helpful but concerning information. We are rightly being told not to panic but to prepare. I hope everyone is heeding this guidance by stocking up on canned goods and upping their hand-washing technique. At the same time, what I feel missing from the larger public conversation is any mention of the spiritual preparation required if we are to bring the best of our humanity to this shared health crisis. As it turns out, COVID-19 confronts us with some deeply theological questions about vulnerability and fear, about individualism and interdependence, about equity and compassion, about racism and how we relate to our neighbours. This Sunday, we’ll dig into these questions, while also marking International Women’s Day through an array of music by female composers and/or lyricists and a special offering to support the creation of the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge.

As I said last week, the leadership of the congregation is closely monitoring the guidance from public health officials so we can support and sustain the congregation through the challenges we may face. In the coming days, we will release our plans for managing various aspects of congregational life should community transmission occur in Toronto and social distancing be encouraged or required by the government. Mostly, at this point, I want to say that I know the emergence of this virus is weighing heavily on many of your hearts. Let us take care of each other and ourselves, while vigorously washing our hands along the way (and eating well and getting good sleep).

Finally, a reminder that we will shift early on Sunday morning to Daylight Saving Time.

In faith and love,


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