Michael J. Readinger

I am writing this column while I am “on vacation” in southern California. The desert environment is an amazing and beautiful landscape that contains so many surprises and unexpected wonders. Many of the miracles of nature that appear here every day make me ponder the possibilities ahead of us as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. There are so many changes from day to day here in the desert and in the news from medical science about the country’s response to the pandemic that I cannot avoid seeing some parallels.

In the desert, moths and butterflies are emerging from their cocoons. Hummingbirds and turtle doves have nested, and their offspring are leaving the roost. All types of spiders, wasps, lizards, rodents, marsupials, bovines, canines, and cats are foraging about — as predators and prey. The cactus, bushes, ground cover, shrubs and trees are all blooming. Everywhere you look in the desert ecosystem, there is beauty, danger, fragility, awe, wonder, suspense, and hope.

Likewise, as our nation progresses to higher levels of immunity from COVID-19, we learn about new age groups becoming eligible for vaccination, changing mandates for social distancing and mask wearing policies, and the possibility that we might just be turning the corner on reaching herd immunity and the return to more in-person connections. And, in all that, there is beauty, danger, fragility, awe, wonder, suspense and hope.

Like our desert denizens, who look to emerge into summer, we look to a time of emerging from the throes of the pandemic. Exactly how that unfolds for each of us remains to be seen. For CHHSM, we do expect some in-person gatherings to occur beginning in late June and throughout the rest of the year. Our Nollau Leadership Institute, some large conferences, some board meetings, and some member engagement events are in our plans. If the status of the pandemic supports any travel, we will proceed with great care for ourselves and others. The CHHSM Staff Team is vaccinated, and we are hopeful that those we meet with are as well.

We are mindful of the lessons learned in the last year and we will continue to utilize technology for meetings, affinity group gatherings, and a new series of webinars that are scheduled beginning this summer and continuing into the fall and winter.

Probably the greatest lesson we have learned is the importance of slowing down, assessing what is relevant and sustainable, and focusing on mission, vision, and values. As we emerge from the pandemic era, we will remember why we exist and why we do what we are called to do. All this actually began before the pandemic hit, but it has become magnified as we realize the impact this intentionality has had on our shared work. The flow of our advocacy toolkits; our COVID-19 response site and our Anti-Racism Center at chhsm.org; our new curriculum and the General Synod resolution naming Racism as a public health crisis; and our work with our Race, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant are laser focused responses to our commitment to creating a just, caring and compassionate world.

There are many reasons to have hope when you are in the desert. There are even more reasons to have hope as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever and with an even greater commitment to justice and equity in our society.

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