Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
Sometimes as a public health professional, my faith and my science background are at odds. This became especially apparent at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to believe that God is all powerful, and all knowing, and that God will protect us when we need it the most. We saw throughout the country some churches refused to close at the beginning of the pandemic because “God will provide.” However, many of these churches later experienced high levels of COVID-19. Despite God’s protection we still have a responsibility to “love thy neighbor” and in March this meant to start worshipping online. This is all new to us! As a UCCer I am used to “extravagant welcome” which often involves many hugs, but we have to start loving each other in a new way. The science is telling us that right now, the best things we can do to Love Our Neighbor is wear our masks and stay six feet apart!

I started my first semester as a Master of Divinity Student at Chicago Theological Seminary in February. Less than a month later I began working long hours at the Rhode Island Department of Health as an epidemiologist. Although these two realms are so different, I started to see some connections between them. When we need help and guidance we can turn to God. If we have a strong faith foundation, we understand that although this pandemic has occurred, we will get through it together. We can ask God for help, and we can use our faith to show others that we love our neighbors.

This pandemic has taught me that there is a stronger connection now more than ever between mental, physical, and spiritual health. We have to remember to take some time for ourselves to attend to our own needs whether that is through participating in online worship, prayer, taking a walk, or doing yoga. Partaking in a faith community opens up a host of healing ministries for people who may be grappling with social isolation, hence improving mental health, in turn improving physical health.

During this time of unprecedented unemployment, people are struggling to buy food, pay rent, or afford other necessities.  The church can be a valuable resource— from providing  directions to the local food pantry, to helping those who are vulnerable with essential errands, to simply offering a listening ear.  This is a time when our neighbors need our help the most and we can help make the world a little better.

We have been charged with developing new strategies to rebuild the connections that were lost by the physical closure of the church, and to reach out beyond our walls to those who may not have previously walked through the door. We are called now more than ever to love thy neighbor. Our neighbors include all of God’s children, not just those who live nearby or who we interact with regularly. We may have previously taken for granted the connection between physical, spiritual and mental health, but now we have to ask what role can the church can play in all aspects of life? How can we further these discussions to demonstrate that we love our neighbors, as we are all starting to live and love differently?
Katie Howe is a member of Woodridge Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Cranston, RI. She is an Epidemiologist at the Rhode Island Department of Health, and a first-year Masters of Divinity student at Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been very involved in the UCC for many years including serving as a youth delegate at General Synod, representing her home state of New Hampshire and participating in the Summer Communities of Service program in New Orleans, Louisiana.  She recently organized a Millennials' Ministries which has now gone virtual, and includes members from throughout the Southern New England Conference. 


Katie Howe

Katie Howe is a member of the Woodridge Congregational Church in Cranston, RI  and is on the Board for the Rhode Island Association.

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