Interviews by Neva Rae Fox

Listen to some voices of lessons learned in the pandemic.

Sarah-Emily Steinhardt, Member Engagement Coordinator, St. Augustine of Canterbury, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

1. Stay in your lane and drive! The pandemic didn’t see us stopping, just shifting. Bible study, small groups, coffee hour, vestry, ECW, and Daughters of the King — all just moved online. Outreach efforts were still just as strong or stronger. Many members have reflected that our church has been just as busy or more busy during this time, just in different (or modified) ways.

I pray that you remember these times, and move forward not just with increased understanding, but with a hunger and thirst to find the one not in your midst.

2. People want to help – give them the opportunity! St. Augustine of Canterbury members have funneled their extra time and energy into serving and finding new ways to serve during this time. Members have made hundreds of masks, which have been shared with community agencies, church members, and those in need.

Brandi Underwood, Director of Communications, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Augusta, Georgia

When the pandemic is over and we return to our churches, when services are held in sanctuaries and meetings are held anywhere other than over Zoom, I pray that you remember what it was like to be the one: the one who waited for the weekly phone call from your priest just to check in; the one who depended on delivery services for food to be brought to your home so that you or your vulnerable family member were not exposed to the coronavirus; the one who looked forward to the weekly live broadcasts and did not care where the camera was positioned as long as you were able to worship with your church family. I pray that you remember these times, and move forward not just with increased understanding, but with a hunger and thirst to find the one not in your midst.

I see this pandemic as an opportunity to rediscover and learn more about our basic values, the value of prayer, about humanity and bonding, and also about technology.

Ann Notte, Office/Convention Manager, Diocese of New Jersey 

For me, the pandemic hit hard on the evening of March 5 after loading the last of the equipment and supplies on the truck that was leaving for diocesan convention. This is when our Bishop told us that he was postponing the convention. The next full day was back-to-back communication with attendees, venues, contract holders, volunteers, all convention workers, plus unloading the convention truck and finding places to store all the prepared work of the convention.

While coping with this crisis, what could have been a disaster seemed to all fall into place – a different scenario, but not a bad one – just different.  If I did not feel God’s presence, who was helping me make it right, I would have lost it.  But he was with me then and still while we prepared for a virtual convention for approximately 700 people.

I see this pandemic as an opportunity to rediscover and learn more about our basic values, the value of prayer, about humanity and bonding, and also about technology. In a way, this is like giving us a fresh start; it provides the opportunity to leave some of our old ways and venture to new ways. I thank God everyday day for his presence in my life and giving me coping skills and for keeping my family and friends safe and healthy.  

Emily Carter, an Episcopal Service Corps member at St. Hilda’s House, New Haven, Connecticut

I’ve learned two big lessons during the pandemic: the importance of reaching out to people; and the importance of communities meeting within the same physical space.

Shortly after the virus began sickening people in the Northeast and social distancing began limiting my ability to meet people in person, a high school acquaintance I hadn’t spoken to in a while reached out to me and asked to talk. I greatly enjoyed speaking with her, even though I would have been unlikely to initiate the interaction. I realized that people would be receptive to invitations to connect long-distance, being unable to see people in their vicinity. I, in turn, began reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken with in a while, and I enjoyed strengthening old connections. I intend to carry this behavior forward, taking the initiative to maintain relationships over time.

Digital gatherings are far better than nothing. But the pause on physical gathering has drawn my attention to how wonderful and important it is.

I miss shaking hands at the Peace, moving in synch with others as an acolyte, and receiving the bread and wine. Digital gatherings are far better than nothing, and I’m grateful for the ability to remain in contact with loved ones despite social distancing. But the pause on physical gathering has drawn my attention to how wonderful and important it is.

The Very Rev. Torey Lightcap, Dean, Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas

I worked from home during the month of February after being diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, so I was used to staring at “these four walls” by the time COVID-19 hit. The experience better positioned me to be pastorally available to those going through pain as a result of having to withdraw from the world.

The Rev. Charles Cesaretti, President, Episcopal Preaching Foundation 

As implications of the coronavirus were becoming obvious, Episcopal Preaching Foundation decided to reschedule two of three conferences to 2021. The real challenge was PEP I (Preaching Excellence Program), since historically it was focused on seminarians between their middle and senior year. It was decided to be creative and imaginative and transform it to a Zoom conference – making lemonade from lemons.

Amazingly, all the pieces fell into place.  The original week-long conference was condensed into a three-day event. The three keynoters agreed to adjust to the changes. Registration zoomed from 55 to 110; it became more inclusive, with seminarians from the US and Canada; ecumenical, with students from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran seminaries; local, with many registrants from diocesan formation programs; and the cost to participants was lower without travel expenses.

Dent Davidson, Director of Emerging Liturgy & Music, St. Bartholomew’s, New York City

I am lamenting the loss of song for this unknown time, but I am not despairing.

COVID-19 is providing us a time of opportunity and exploration, if only we will let our imaginations run wild! I’ve been wondering what other expressions of music might help knit us together as a congregation.

Humming might be a possibility. Percussion: where congregations can learn and repeat rhythmic sequences; clapping, stomping, patting the knee, or give them instruments that have been properly sanitized.  We all could take a lesson from Bobby McFerrin!

Movement I: We Episcopalians already do movement well: stand, sit, kneel, process.  Why not expand the movement vocabulary?  As a refrain is played, the congregation makes simple motions, such as raising one arm, then the other, bringing the hands together above the head in prayer position, then bringing them down and out.

Movement II: I am going to explore using modified Tai Chi movements with recorded music.  Very slow, measured, gentle movements, in a circle would work great, if space allows.

The Rev. Deacon Claudette Taylor, Church of the Epiphany & St. Mark, Toronto

The pandemic has, in my opinion, exposed the underbelly of society.  People can no longer deny that race, privilege, economics, education, and age are important determinants of your health and your well-being.  Terrifying statistics show where people were most affected and the kind of people who bore the brunt of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has exposed what marginalized and vulnerable people have known and were saying for a long time… The pandemic has laid bare the problems which people failed to observe or call out before the pandemic.  We need prophetic voices to call us all to work towards a society based on justice just like the prophets of old who, in spite of threats or fear, carried the message.