About a week ago, I awoke with a tickle in the back of my throat. It didn’t feel like much and I suspected it was seasonal allergies or something like that. Because I was planning to come to the church to help with the veterans’ luncheon, I decided I might take one of the COVID tests I had stockpiled, just to be safe. I knew many of the veterans are elderly and some have compromised immune systems. I doubted the test would show a positive result, but I wanted the peace of mind for me and for them. I stuck the swab up my left and right nostrils, seemingly brushing the top of the inside of my skull at the same time, and then inserted it into the test card. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear, but two lines telling me I had finally become infected by the virus that causes COVID-19. Immediately, my plans for the week disappeared in front of my eyes.

               In addition to the veterans’ luncheon, I had a meeting scheduled that day with a postulant for holy orders in the diocese. The next day, I was planning to help with POWWOW and the greening of the church. Two days later, Bishop Reddall was scheduled to come for her biannual visit to St. John’s. I was planning to attend an event with parishioners later on Sunday afternoon. Planning was well underway for liturgies in Advent and Christmas and it was important for me to be in the office. There was so much to do! Didn’t this silly virus know that December is a horrible time to infect an Episcopal priest who is trying to shepherd a parish through Advent and into Christmas?

               Whether the virus knew or not, that did not much matter. It also didn’t much matter that I didn’t really feel sick. I had a bout of RSV about two months earlier and I was far more sick from that virus than I felt with the coronavirus infection. My life was about to come to a standstill. My wife Brandy had not tested positive. Although we are both fully vaccinated with up-to-date boosters, CDC guidelines say to isolate for five full days (and the clock doesn’t start until the day after the positive test, which means it’s actually six days). This means I stayed in our guest room downstairs, while Brandy and Ari (our dog) stayed mostly upstairs. I obtained some antiviral medications and took advantage of cough suppressants and basically laid low for the six days. I kept my sanity by watching NCAA conference championship football games on Friday and Saturday. Notre Dame’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the University of Utah’s men’s team also had nationally televised games that keep me entertained. I watched some classic Christmas movies like Home Alone, the Muppet Christmas Carol, The Santa Clause, A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and Elf, in addition to catching up on my reading and sleeping. Although things certainly could have been better, they also could have been much worse.

               I’m grateful for the scientists and doctors who worked diligently to develop medications and vaccines to fight the COVID-19 virus. It felt a little odd knowing I was the carrier of a virus that had killed millions of people around the world over the past two years. I am also grateful for you! Although I was sad to miss out on all of the wonderful and important pieces of church life that happened during my isolation, I am so proud of you for coming together and making it all happen without a hitch. You fed more than 80 veterans. You hosted a triumphant return of a “farmers’ market” style POWWOW. You decorated the church so beautifully for the Advent season. You celebrated a baptism, several confirmations, receptions, and reaffirmations. I followed along online and watched Bishop Reddall preach a fabulous sermon. You worshipped God and you looked after each other in my absence. Thank you.

               Bishop Reddall told me she is very impressed with St. John’s. I am very impressed also, so I’m not surprised. She told me we have a parish of incredible parishioners. Again, this is not news to me. I told her that I couldn’t be in a better place. I told her that you affirm me in my call as a priest and I try to affirm you in your call as followers of Jesus. That’s what it’s all about! St. John’s is a wonderful place and I hope you understand how great it is. She even playfully described us as “liturgical anarchists” and I think that’s a compliment! We worship God in a way that is meaningful to us. We don’t necessarily do things because other people tell us we should. We celebrate God and we understand that he celebrates us in return.

               My COVID 19 diagnosis made me slow down. It gave me time to think and to ponder and to pray and to rest. In fact, it forced me to do all of those things. This time of year can be extremely busy for so many of us. Let’s all take some time to remember that renewal and rest are important as well. I am hopeful that you are able to experience the blessings and busyness of the season. I am also hopeful that you allow yourself permission to slow down and to take steps toward recharge and renewal. Balance in our lives is important. I am hopeful that it doesn’t take a diagnosis of a potentially deadly virus to give you the slowdown you need. Thank you for being a loyal follower of Jesus Christ. In all you do, know that I appreciate you. I am thrilled to be your priest and I am thrilled to serve in a parish that truly knows what it means to live the Good News of Jesus.

Thou Shalt Not COVID Thy Neighbor’s Wife