One Year Later

by Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, Executive Director

Over the past several days, we’ve been reliving our “one-year-ago” anniversaries:  the day the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the day the schools closed, the last day at the office, the last gathering with cherished friends or beloved family, the last in-person worship service. Each of these one-year markers holds significance. Each evokes images, feelings, questions. Marking these anniversaries feels important — significant.
It was one year ago on March 13 that everything changed for me. That morning our Board of Trustees gathered in our Portland (Maine) office for what would be our last in-person Board meeting. During that meeting we spent a little time wondering together whether there might be a programmatic role for The BTS Center to play in responding to the unfolding realities of Covid-19. 
After the meeting had ended, two of my colleagues and I walked for lunch at a nearby restaurant, where we sketched out some program possibilities on the back of a napkin. Just a few moments after everyone had left that day, I learned that the first Covid-positive diagnosis had been reported in Portland, and it was a staff member at the medical clinic immediately adjacent to our office. I glanced out the window and noticed three TV cameras and three reporters: the story was breaking, right on our doorstep. 
I think it’s fair to say that one year ago, none of us could have foreseen just how upended our lives were about to become — and all rather abruptly. (NPR recently invited people to share their last “normal” photo of 2020 and their first pandemic photo, and thousands of people responded — check out this video that compiles some of them).
What a year it has been! The challenges and struggles have at times felt overwhelming. The losses and heartbreaks are endless. And yet — and yet — we are doing it. One year later, we can reflect back and identify both losses and breakthroughs, both tragedies and triumphs. Perhaps we are more resilient. Perhaps we can celebrate that our faith communities have responded to this moment of forced innovation in ways that are encouraging, even inspiring. Perhaps we can identify lessons that we have learned, collectively, that will serve us well as we face even bigger communal challenges like the ones posed by global climate devastation. Perhaps we can see more clearly that we are, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
I hope you’ll take a few moments to identify and honor the “one-year-ago” anniversaries as they come up. The author of this article in The Atlantic, Jacob Stern, reminds us that there’s not just one anniversary; there are millions of them, and each one is significant and worthy of our care and attention.
As the pace of vaccinations picks up and we begin to see the hope of brighter days ahead, I hope you’ll also take some time to reflect on some of the things this pandemic is teaching us. To spark your thinking, Elliott C. McLaughlin of CNN offers 10 lessons learned in a year of Covid-19 lockdown
And finally, I want to offer a word of thanks to all of you who have engaged with the work of The BTS Center over these past 12 months. Our programs over this challenging year have drawn together hundreds of people new to The BTS Center, representing almost every state in the country, plus Washington DC, several Canadian provinces, and the UK. Participants have included pastors, rabbis, nonprofit leaders, chaplains, spiritual directors, lay leaders, students, university and seminary faculty, and denominational executives, representing 16 different Christian denominations, plus members of Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, and interfaith traditions. We are grateful for every conversation and every new relationship.
One year later, with a mixture of gratitude and grief, holding the losses and the lessons, we take a deep breath; we acknowledge the fatigue, the fear, the uncertainty, the relief, and yes, even some joys; and we step forward in faith, trusting that the One who has sustained us through these challenging days will continue to ground us and guide us in love.