Pandemic: Turning the system volume to 11

Current Affairs

Every week in this pandemic, the Episcopal Church’s bishops and their senior staff have a thirty minute briefing from leaders around the wider church. Most of us tune in for it.

For me the most useful bits have come from hearing observations from a woman who coordinates ERD’s disaster response teams. (ERD=Episcopal Relief and Development) What she shares comes from hard won experience responding to epidemics, earthquakes, fires, famine and storms around the world. There’s a common arc in the emotional response to disasters and in the recovery efforts. Her insights have often helped me anticipate weeks in advance what will be coming next for the community.

So this week she pointed something out that’s worth sharing here and more broadly. During a crisis, in addition to the added stress of responding to the specific consequences of the crisis, it’s important to remember that pre-existing stressors don’t disappear. If your relationships were in trouble before, well, they’re still in trouble now. If your finances were precarious before, they’re precarious now too. Etc.

But the thing is, because of the stress of the crisis, the pre-existing worries become bigger and more intense. It’s as if the pandemic has turned the volume up on the entire system. What used to be playing at a 7, is now playing at 11.

Upon reflection, I say “yep”. That’s what I’m seeing too. People and congregations who were struggling are still struggling. Conflict between staff and leadership – yep. Still there, but now with more oomph behind the words and feelings. Broken relationships in the community? Check – and more starkly apparent now.

There’s probably very little you can do right now to turn down the volume. But keeping in mind that things are somewhat artificially more dramatic given the circumstances, perhaps you can lower your worry about the drama a bit.

And every little bit helps – so I hope this observation/warning helps you too.