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With less of our lives filled with goodness and joy during the past two years, has related isolation, withdrawal reduced our emotional and spiritual bandwidth?

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Mike Wilson"Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others." ~ Philippians 2:4

When the white panel van pulled into our parking lot last week, I knew I had work to do as 70 more food boxes had arrived at Prineville Presbyterian Church (PPC). The health department's weekly mobile vaccination clinic has been using our space and is one of many local groups and agencies that PPC welcomes. The food boxes are made available to those coming in for COVID testing and vaccinations.

Food boxes are also sent into Juniper Canyon for distribution in partnership with a church there, along with some also offered to Latino Community Association as we hope to better develop that partnership. And some of PPC folks take boxes out to families who they know will find the boxes helpful. (A rough guesstimate has us putting over 325(?) boxes into appreciative hands).

So, setting my office work aside, I went out to help unload the van. As I began to physically handle the boxes, it reawakened an awareness in me to set a couple aside for people who I know find them very helpful — good people who have known dramatic changes in their circumstances, and those changes have left them with instability into their lives.

This "reawakening" prompted reflection about a recent Gallup poll.

"Belief in God in U.S. dips to 81%, a new low." Gallup first asked the survey question, "Do you believe in God?" twice in the mid-1940s, and twice again each in the 1950s and '60s. Then, a consistent 98% said they believed in God. When Gallup asked the question again in 2011, 92% said they believed in God, and now we're at 81%.

While the decreasing percentages are concerning, the study points out: "The vast majority of Americans believe in God…whether that means they believe a higher power hears prayers and can intervene or not."

And while belief in God has declined in recent years, Gallup has documented steeper drops in church attendance, church membership and confidence in organized religion, suggesting that the practice of religious faith may be changing more than basic faith in God.

Some of this decline is due to the media focusing on churches that define themselves by who they keep out, rather than showing those churches reflecting Jesus' desire for welcome, and those who Jesus calls us to work with.

Informative as the poll is, it would have been helpful for Gallup to consider how the pandemic fits into all of this.

Lacking the scientific sophistication of Gallup's resources, and instead listening to a lot of people's thoughts about the pandemic's impacts, it brings up the question of what the pandemic has done to our spiritual and emotional bandwidth?

Before COVID, many of us enjoyed greater stability, allowing that bandwidth to run deep and wide. Post pandemic, is our spiritual and emotional bandwidth still as wide and/or deep? With less of our lives filled with goodness and joy over the past two years, has the related isolation and withdrawal reduced our emotional and spiritual bandwidth? Where it used to be like a balloon filled nice and round, did the pandemic effectively let the air out — leaving the balloon much smaller? Or in some cases, it's been thoroughly deflated and lies there flat and limp?

These questions and observations offer insights in rebuilding a belief in God and restoring the church.

It's been said that those who ignore the suffering around them eventually experience the same isolation themselves; meaning the quick fix comes as the more we do those things that reawaken our awareness of others and their needs. The more we restore our spiritual and emotional bandwidth, and the more we do that together, the better we rebuild faith communities.

Mike Wilson is the pastor at Prineville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at 541-447-1017.

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