January 31, 2022
New Orleans There was an op-ed by a churchgoer in the Times that made a simple case: it was time to go back to church. Of course, that’s what all the churchgoers say, but her argument was different. She wanted everyone of her co-religionists to physically go back to church and to stop offering online opportunities. She argued that being with others was an essential part of worship.
I’m not going back to church either way, on-line or in-person, but I’m betting she’s 100% right. She may not have gone far enough though in my view. It may be a case of “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” Getting dressed, being herded out with your tribe, and driving however long there and back, as I remember from my boyhood, dug a big, giant hole out of Sunday when we lived in my father’s house. That doesn’t count the fact that Sunday school was thrown into the mix as well, so add another hour or so. Plus, the visitation, which is to say, the milling about while you waited for your parents to stop chatting with other congregants so you could be released. We didn’t have an online option, but believe me thirty minutes or an hour online on zoom, where you can mute your speaker and video, would have been, literally child’s play. Let’s be honest, there will be many that just won’t go back, no matter how safe it is. These will be permanent pandemic parishioners, lost to the church in everything but name, leaving even more of these edifices with empty pews.
I feel her pain, because I worry about the same thing in all of our organizations. After more than a year of radio board meetings, when we tried to put them together in person, we lost some of our board members, period. We had the same conflicting experience trying to organize tenants’ unions from the ground up in Atlanta. You can’t translate on-line easily to back in the swing and on the streets.
We had our annual Year End / Year Begin Meeting. It was great, but it was online. People came and went. I’ve never seen that before. Ever. Historically, these meetings were mandatory. Back in the day, I fired people who didn’t come to the meeting, as did other supervisors at ACORN. Those were the rules. That was the culture. It was an insult to the community of organizers that anyone would not attend, respectfully, to hear about your comrades’ progress in the year and plans for the coming year. On-line, people didn’t think anything of disappearing off the screen as they wanted. We had hoped maybe the one silver lining for the on-line meeting would be that more could attend because the time expended and the cost required was now zero. We were wrong. Only half of the number that met outside in Paris only months ago, were at the meeting. Where that meeting had been one-day-and-a-half and required additional days of travel, this one was capped at four-hours, and, yet, remarkable as much for those not there, as the great reports from those who were there.
Whether the pandemic is over or not, we all need to worry that something essential about communities and collective enterprise has been wounded during the last several years. I hope not mortally. Traditions have been diluted. Habits have lost. Commitments to each other may have shrunk. We need to start thinking about the rebuild, but we need to honestly grip the fact that we are not going to get some people back in our communities, whether sacred or profane.