We all have claimed Zoom fatigue at some point over the past 2+ years now. But I can’t help but think of the pastors and other worship leaders who have had to plan in some cases two different worship services every Sunday and often change everything to online only on a dime. 

The question remains of just how much the “endemic” church will differ from “pandemic” church. Of course, this is the same to some degree as other areas of our life where we like to mingle from school to restaurants and concert halls and even the local gym. 

Houses of worship are different though. For some it was the first place they felt safe to take off a mask to sing a song (socially distanced of course) when the pandemic seemed to be subsiding. Others, like myself, haven’t been to church other than drive-thru services we’ve watched from home either in real time or a few days later on YouTube. 

For our youth, the biggest realization that the pandemic is still with us was the cancellation of the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering, which was originally planned for this summer in Minneapolis. Organizers said that the decision was not an easy one and they asked for prayers, following the announcement this month.

For some youth, it would have been the only chance they would have to attend this event that for so many adults in the church is remembered as a formative part of their learning about not only the church at large, but how they can carry their faith into the world. 

The excitement and interaction cannot be brought to life via a live online format or any other virtual means. So, like so many of us, youth groups are “sitting out,” and simply waiting for the endemic times (pardon the bad pun). 

According to the CDC, epidemics are an unexpected increase in the number of disease cases in a specific geographical area.  Pandemics then are based on a disease’s growth becoming exponential. Experts say this means that the growth rate skyrockets and each day we have more cases than the day before.

So how do we know when we have reached endemic? Endemic by definition is a disease outbreak that is consistently present but is limited to a particular region. This means the spread of the disease and the rates are predictable.

While the number of COVID cases is lower than it was even a couple weeks ago, medical professionals seem skittish about forecasting the arrival of an endemic phase. 

That seems to be the current concern of many. We see case numbers moving lower, we know vaccines work, but yet the specter of another variant around the corner is seemingly casting a shadow over our future dreams of getting everyone back together.

For now, it may be worth a little daydreaming of that Sunday morning, which will undoubtedly be bright and sunny, when we are able to walk into a building and greet one another with hugs (not elbow bumps) before gathering in prayer, song, Word and sacrament. 

The prayers will be even more heartfelt, and I imagine the hymns all that more beautiful as we sing with a single voice. There will be tears for those we lost and tears of joy for those we haven’t seen except on a screen and are back fully in our presence.

Will it all happen in a few weeks or months from now? Maybe. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that I’m not alone in saying, the sooner the better, but let us follow the science first to make sure we can all be the endemic church together. 

Susan Barreto
Susan Barreto

Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

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