By Reverend David O. Leistra, Grand Chaplain
Greetings Brothers, Living in Wisconsin I am always glad to see March 1 show up on the calendar. I know it means that Spring is near. It was the second Sunday in March of 2020 that my church stopped having our building open for public worship and other activities. At the time we all thought that we ought to be able to reopen in time for Easter Sunday, that did not happen. Then we thought well surely by the start of the school year, again that did not happen. Finally, I said I just do not know how we can stay closed for Christmas Eve, nonetheless, we stayed closed. Now I am fairly sure that we won’t open our building, even to small numbers of people, until after Easter this year. The reason our church building is closed, while some others are opened, has to do with the nature of our facilities and is not in any way because some outside governmental or religious authority told us we had to, it was because our local church leaders and I decided it was the best way to “Do No Harm,” a basic tenant of my denomination.
Perhaps some of your lodges remained closed for the same reason. Some people have referred to our church as being closed even though it is only the building that is not opened, and that we offer regular worship and programing via electronic means and continue to support the ministries in our community as in the past even if under the limitations imposed by Covid-19. Others have wanted to make our being closed about politics and suggest we must be among those who do not care about people’s livelihoods, or worse in our case their spiritual needs. I wonder how many of those people who have mischaracterized our motives are aware of the cost to a church such as mine in keeping the doors locked during a pandemic: the loss of financial support; members who start to go to other churches that have in-person or parking lot worship services; the people who now like the virtual services so much that they plan to continue worshiping that way even when we return to in-person worship, and these are just to name a few of such costs. Perhaps you have experienced similar losses at your lodge.
As Masons we are taught that our first and primary obligation is to God, then to: our families, communities, and where we worship. I do not disagree with this hierarchy of obligations at all, however, for me, the church community comes right after family in my hierarchy of important things in life as you might expect. How we have dealt with this pandemic in our own lives may have been outside our control. It may be that you had no choice but to be in a workplace where social distancing was not practical, or you, like one of my sons, work in a medical facility wherein those sick with Covid-19 were being treated, or they move to work at home was not possible for the work you do, or maybe you were exposed to and contracted this disease simply trying to buy the groceries your family needs to live. Those of us who have had the option to work at home and utilize technology was fortunate, however, life still requires interaction with others no matter how carefully we might go about doing so. As our lodges start to meet again, I hope the lessons learned during this pandemic are not soon forgotten.
Our lives are lived in a community that includes God, church, family both nuclear and extended, fraternal brothers, and other friends and neighbors. It is our own unique community that allows us to make sense of our life and enriches it. It is at such times in life as those we are now living in that we see just how important our community is to us. We are coming out of this pandemic, and at some point, perhaps even this Summer, we will begin to put it behind us by restoring those things that have been lost to us. Let your relationship with your church and lodge families be one of the first places that you begin. We have all been given an important lesson over this last year about what really matters in life. I hope what it taught us is not lost as the doors open once again in our lives and we seek to return to normalcy. Fraternally Yours, David O. Leistra, Grand Chaplain