Voices From the Pandemic:
A Congregational Narrative
REWEAVING COMMON LIVES FROM PANDEMIC SEPARATION, 2020-21
Curated by Colleen Bryan
Storytelling is the way humans remember. The way we process experience and ascribe it meaning. The way we bond ourselves to each other and transmit what is essential to future generations. Storytelling sits at the heart of the sacred.
First Unitarian Society of Denver will be 150 years old in August 2021. Touchstone stories of what our forebearers endured and committed to lay the foundation for our community. Concurrent with this anniversary, we ourselves are coming through an historic pandemic. The convergence of these events begs us pause to consider the currents roiling around us; to document our experience of the pandemic years, when gathering in person (even to mourn our losses) was impossible; to adjust, together, our community’s path as we emerge from isolation.
During a year-and-a-half of enforced separation and profound disruption we have each spun a thread of story about what we experienced. This is a collection of some individual stories about the period – told mostly on a porch to one other person, sometimes masked, always socially distanced, between April and June 2021 as vaccines began to take hold and the U.S. began to reopen… and the delta variant looms. We hope that sharing our stories helps us reweave a stronger, more inclusive fabric of community that can draw us together and hold us through the great unknowns still ahead.
These are stories of how we felt, what we saw, what we lost, and what we hope to keep. The narratives are peppered with glimpses of institutions that were profoundly affected – healthcare, education, elections, churches, policing, theater, businesses. They are stories of our human responses to uncertainty and threat and change – denial, fear, kindness, anxiety, resourcefulness, generosity, loneliness, guilt, love, alienation, sorrow, and delight. We speak as honestly as we dare in hope that we can step forward intentionally, collectively, to create a new and better world from the remains of the old.
The 2020-2021 COVID-19 SARS pandemic approached like a summer hailstorm that hit Denver and Colorado abruptly and fiercely. Suddenly, we were awash in uncertainty, vulnerable to compounding losses. The virus was widely differential in who it damaged, devastated, or left unscathed. We made small signals to each other – howls at dusk, chalked notes of encouragement on sidewalks, painted stones – to get us all through the initial isolation.
The pandemic didn’t leave quickly. Sixteen months after its onset, variants surge around the world and the country -- receding, mutating and surging again, sending mere mortals into a hammer-and-dance response.
Where any person or institution stood at the instant the pandemic hit profoundly influenced how they experienced it. At the outset, as the virus sickened people across society, we heard a lot of “we’re all in the same boat”. But as it dragged on, the pandemic’s effects fractured along familiar racial, age, gender, and socio-economic lines. It became clear that we might be in the same storm, but some boats were far better equipped than others to ride it out.
While a pandemic would have been enough to contend with, COVID hit in the context of general upheaval on many fronts.
Sharply accelerating climate change, most evident in Colorado in prolonged drought, and explosive wildfires.
Health and economic impacts struck hardest where racism, misogyny, classism, ageism, and ablism already run amuck. Black and Brown communities comprised an outsized share of designated essential workers who could not shelter at home, as well as of COVID illness and deaths. Women fled the paid workplace as the virus closed childcare centers and schools. Deaths ballooned in nursing homes and prisons.
Wealth concentrated further in ridiculously few hands. As 20 million Americans lost their jobs, 650 billionaires added $1 trillion to their net worth during 2020.
A staccato litany of people of color killed by police triggering worldwide racial justice protests, with demands that racist systems of criminal justice be dismantled.
Autocrats around the globe, including in the United States, responded to the virus with bombast and denial, accelerating deaths. And democratic attempts to vote the autocrats out of office triggered insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
More eyes gathered hungrily around social and cable media to understand what was going on. Misinformation flourished, fueled by foreign and domestic actors. Even educated, committed knowledge mongers found it increasingly difficult to discern fact as our realities increasingly polarized.
Into this amalgam, COVID descended. Our stories describe how we experienced the pandemic year, our vantage points for viewing it, our attempts to exercise our faith in this environment, and lessons we gleaned as we try to emerge from its grip.
Erin Dougherty Kenworthy
David Keller & Julie Meyers
Rev. Mike Morran
Presidents report on 2020
Dan & Sarah Rowan Thatcher
Mary Ann Thompson
Legitimacy of Denver Elections