Brief Book Review: The Pandemic and the People of God

The Pandemic and the People of God:
Cultural Impacts and Pastoral Responses
Gerald A. Arbuckle

Who’s it for? While pitched for a “general audience,” it seems best geared for Catholics with a theological education.

Why should you read this? To learn how the pandemic has exacerbated societal inequities and to put this in dialogue with scripture and social teachings of the Church.

 What’s the main point? The world is in chaos. The pandemic heightened this reality. Refocusing on Christ and his mission will help us get through this.

Why is this book important? It describes the impacts of the pandemic through the lenses of cultural anthropology, scripture, and the writings of Pope Francis.

Why is this book useful? Arbuckle offers a wealth of very helpful definitions throughout the text.

What will get you thinking? Arbuckle employs the rites of passage frameworks of Van Gennep and Turner in creative ways throughout the text.

What will most inspire you? The powerful reflections from scripture, the incisive teachings of the Church, and the thoughtful questions at the end of each chapter.

Where would I push back? It was difficult to ascertain who would benefit most from this book.

Kudos & Implications. The sheer number of definitions contained in this book is enviable. From broad-reaching terms such as “poverty,” or “race,” to discipline-specific terms such as “liminality” or “cultural trauma,” Arbuckle offers these definitions to bring the reader up to speed. Consequently, the number of definitions can feel overwhelming and, at times, “teachy.” Further, in defining complex concepts such as “race,” “trauma,” or “culture,” perhaps brevity is not the best method.

Suggestions. Throughout my read of the text, I had a difficult time figuring out the target audience and target use. Perhaps this book could have benefited from a “how to use this book” section in the introduction. While the reflection questions at the end of each chapter are helpful, I wish the author might have workshopped some possible scenarios for how the readers might engage deeply with the text.

Arbuckle, Gerald A.The Pandemic and the People of God: Cultural Impacts and Pastoral Responses. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021. 230 pages.

REVIEWER: Nelson Cowan
Rev. Nelson Cowan, Ph.D., is adjunct instructor of worship and church history at
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and Drew University, Madison, New Jersey,
and is senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, Neptune Beach, Florida.


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