I was pondering, today, the idea that once retail stores open, people will be less willing — perhaps unwilling at all — to try on clothes that others have tried on. Everything is going to change.
Over at Word on Fire, I’ve written a short piece on how things might change for the Church as well, at least until a reliable vaccine has been produced to battle back and control Covid-19. Some people believe that the Church can manage things in the same way they would a tough flu season. But flu seasons are partially controlled thanks to flu shots and natural immunities. Right now, we have no “shots”, no vaccines for Covid-19 and so much is still unknown — right now, we don’t even know if one can become re-infected after illness; we don’t know whether antibodies are sustained.
For, if the given value of “normal” means fairly crowded pews, a sign of peace, and the physical reception of Holy Communion, we may see our worship remain somewhat “abnormal” for a while—perhaps until a viable and trustworthy vaccine has been developed. Bishops will have to wrestle with determining how best to offer the Eucharist to the faithful while social distancing, masks, and glove-wearing are still advised. Will church buildings be operating at “half capacity” to ensure such distancing? Such a move would require more Masses each Sunday (and more priests to cover them!), which simple demographics would make unlikely.
Might we have to content ourselves—as the faithful did in the Middle Ages—with a Liturgy of the Word, Adoration and Benediction replacing the Mass as a matter of obligation? We may have to brace ourselves for that possibility.
I don’t mind that I’m getting some pushback on that. I’m certainly not writing definitively because I can’t, of course, but I just wanted to open a conversation.
The reality is, everything is going to change. The pandemic, the lock-down — it’s showing us different things, and the world will adjust to what it is learning, for better and (probably) for worse. Much of American life is going to be re-evaluated on the basis of this quarantine. My thoughts on retail are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider this:
Businesses are going to really look at how badly they need to maintain an office and deal with the overhead of rent, equipment, weather and commuter delays, flu and cold seasons etc, etc. They’re going to be happy to let employees with a cold or light flu keep working when they otherwise would not be coming in.
A lot of businesses will decide that a much *smaller* office is all they need for occasional meetings (or no office at all, but a shared office rented-as-needed sort of space) and will be happy to continue with remote workers.
That, in turn, will affect the commercial real estate market, AND the revenue streams for both mass/commuter transit outlets and the metropolitan economies, across the board — government, bakeries, stores, restaurants, food carts. Fewer restaurants will be able to stay open with the decrease in foot traffic, etc. Some hotels may end up becoming residential places, perhaps for those in need of government help.
Tax receipts will drop, affecting so much (although maybe someone will finally ask “What happened to all the lotto money that was supposed to be used for Education? Why are we still always broke when it comes to the schools?”)
Speaking of which, the schoolteachers unions are already seeing the writing on the wall, and there will necessarily be some rethinking in terms of “what are we doing in school? Why were our kids able to get all of their work done in an hour in a half and do we really need a six-hour schoolday?” I suspect some people will become enthusiastic about homeschooling full-time; others will be glad to see schools reopen but will want to see some changes in how things are done. Also… this might mean the end of the dreaded “parent/teacher nights” if they can be done remotely. I have a pal who is a Social Studies teacher and she’s already hearing concerns from the union about remote schooling being a huge threat to them.
Nothing will be “the same as it was.” I expect that “telemedical” doctor’s appointments will continue as a new (and excellent) normal, which will benefit all in terms of time management and overall general health (no more taking a baby with an ear infection into a waiting room full of coughing toddlers) if both the parent and the doctor are familiar with a baby’s earache routines, for instance). Conversely, that might mean a drop in medical office space demands, medical staff demands, etc.
A shift away from commuting will mean that housing markets will also change. A city like New York will see an immediate and welcome drop in housing (which may beckon some suburban workers back in) but the suburbs may see a drop, too — not in taxes, never in taxes — but in housing values. Given how high they are right now, a lot of people will find themselves unable to move; others will rethink home improvement plans (I know we are), so all of that will affect the construction/renovation markets. Conversely, the move out of cities may sustain current housing prices in the suburbs. Everything is an unknown.
Every upside will have a downside. The plus side of more remote jobbing will be less traffic in the cities — both foot and auto — which will result in CLEANER air, cleaner parks, etc, but a devastating drop in all revenues, parking fines, etc, etc. etc.
How churches will adjust to all of this will be interesting to watch, especially if some church buildings that were closed or sold end up being needed again as the population moves/changes with each new opportunity or turn down. I touched on this over at Word on Fire, too:
Our outreach in a time of physical risk, material need, and economic uncertainty will have to take many forms and will demand of our bishops (and most especially the laity who are the hands and feet of Christ) as many creative solutions and offerings as we can devise. Perhaps parishes with empty convents or permanently closed schools will find ways to (affordably) convert those structures into temporary or emergency housing, the cafeterias into working kitchens by which we may feed others.
All of that, of course, will absolutely require some sacrifice from the laity—both in presence and in financial support. But the Catholic Church has so much to offer a hurting world, and so many gifts—and gifted members—that my hunch is this may not be a problem. These past few months has left so many of us feeling helpless, so unable to address the urgent needs at hand (of medical attention, research, or bereavement intervention) that many of us will be itching to do good for others, which—we all know it—makes us feel good too.
And remember, it always all comes down to the Benjamins, so bottom lines will always be the bottom line of any scenario.
No… nothing will be the same.