“I feel disconnected,” is something I often hear as a pastor. Living through a pandemic that has disrupted lives and routines does that in the midst of an already challenging time. We are living into an uncertain future as proto-fascism, the climate crisis, and financial instability accelerate. It’s no wonder that people are feeling out of sorts, lonely, and at times hopeless as we live increasingly fragmented lives apart from our neighbours.
However, we need to find some perspective together as communities. We cannot simply assume things will sort themselves out. It doesn’t help that corporations are increasingly profiting off communal suffering, not necessarily because they are run by bad people, but because some corporate models are structured for these outcomes. Maximizing shareholder profits at the expense of workers, communities, and the earth is nothing new. We should stop acting surprised about reports about record quarterly profits as everyday households struggle to make ends meet. We also shouldn’t be surprised when governments fail to curb corporate largesse through regulation and taxation. This too is simply the status quo pushed to its logical conclusion during a time of crisis. These realities are decades in the making and it’s up to us as communities to chart a different path.
I mention communities because too often in an individualized society we imagine ways we will right the world’s wrongs on our own. “If only I was Bill Gates, then I could be a benevolent billionaire who makes things better.” And since we know billionaires rarely make the world a better place and that we will never become billionaires, we are prone to despair. We realize the limits of our influence as everyday people. This is where spiritual and religious communities have an opportunity to bring people together to support one another and their neighbourhoods. Increasingly we are seeing people interested in finding a church home that shares progressive values, a sense of community with a vision beyond its walls and its own survival. Churches and religious communities aren’t the only places where this kind of resistance and revitalization is taking place. But in a real estate market where space comes at a premium, religious institutions can share their spaces and resources for different kinds of community building. Including non-partisan political work in the broad sense of building community: protecting vulnerable people, supporting refugees, addressing food and housing insecurity, inviting people to teach about becoming queer affirming and anti-racist, and building relationships with Indigenous people.
To name a concrete example, I think about the partnership between Congregation Emmanuel-El and Lutheran Church of the Cross on sponsoring a refugee family from Syria building a home here in Victoria. On our own we can only accomplish so much, but working together we strengthen one another. We are reminded that we are not alone in this work and we build new partnerships and friendships with multifaith partners.
Working together is also about pushing back against the brazen kinds of hate we see around us. For example when the Jewish community recently received a threat during the Victoria International Jewish Film Festival. Shortly afterwards some of us were able to gather with Jewish neighbours for the Kristallnacht vigil at Congregation Emmanu-El. It offered a time for remembering the importance of speaking out and standing up against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate. Ensuring we do not become siloed in our communities, but instead recognizing the power that comes through supporting neighbours. The strength of our relationships with next door neighbours help see us through crises and even flourish, knowing we are not alone.
Lyndon Sayers is co-pastor at Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, November 19th 2022