I came out to a plethora of support groups: icebreakers; faith groups; outdoor groups. Of course, there was no global Internet then. Even with the emergence of AIDS, a year later, communities came together to support, protect and care for one another. I worked for a group in the UK, MESMAC — Men Experiencing Sex with Men: Action in Community, later to evolve into Heathy Gay Manchester. It was an aggressive safer-sex education program in the community. STDs plummeted as people took precautions to protect themselves and each other from a devastating virus.
Almost 40 years on, the world has faced a new pandemic. For nine months this has impacted our lives in ways most of us hadn’t conceived. However, community has changed; and instead of being able to rise up in support, we find ourselves detached and isolated. Within my own circle of community, my younger brother was the first fatality to COVID-19. None of his family could be with him until his last 24 hours, by which time he was in a coma. Six months on, we’re still wrestling to come to terms with the pain and loss. With so many people whose coming out became a topic of separation with the family, death has triggered many other issues. Sadly, in my family, religion lay at the heart of our disconnect. Ironically, that community has also faded, leaving me as the sole religious survivor in the family. My brother had a Humanist funeral.
How do we support our community, when we’re not sure who that community is? Do we have core values that connect us to each other? At Metropolitan Community Church of Charlotte, we have been doing a live broadcast since May.
Throughout, we have maintained strict protocols around social distancing; but for 45 minutes each Sunday we provide a focus point around music, thought and virtual community. This was a dramatic change in what we considered community. Instead of a 50 in-person community, we have 150-200 unknown viewers each week. It’s different. How do we interpret love when touch is reduced to bumping elbows, after touch has been so integral to our community?
This year is teaching us that we can’t be everything to all people, and therefore should not promise what we can’t deliver. We’ve been forced into dismantling many of our old concepts of community, but with the opportunity to upcycle them with a redefinition of values we can live into. Be passionate with redesign; be careful with people’s hearts; be kind even when you’re irritated; pray inclusively, but, above all, pursue love boldly and safely.
Rev. Paul Whiting is pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Charlotte.
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