It was March 11, 2020, and I was sitting in a business meeting in the CBC sanctuary, looking forward to choir rehearsal afterwards. I knew that the governor had that afternoon asked churches to strongly consider canceling services because of the rising number of cases of Covid-19, and figured we might have some weeks without church ahead of us. I was glad we at least would be having choir. Wrong. The staff and those present thought it best to go home then, at the conclusion of the business meeting, with an uncertain future ahead.
August 1, 2021, the doors opened again for a general group of worshipers. I can’t say I ever entertained the idea that we would open again “soon,” as so much pessimistic information came from every direction over these months, but I am so glad I didn’t know how long it would be. Even so, things are so very different. We all wear masks except for those speaking from the podium. We sing only twice. There is no choir. We are to maintain social distance and have conversations beyond a few sentences only outdoors. There are no assurances that we won’t have to shut down again.
Was there “church” in between these two dates? Yes. Not only was there church, but these many months of shutdown have led to varied ways of being church, often unimaginable before Covid, but challenging, comforting, and enriching in ways we can celebrate and remember with gratitude into Central’s future.
I am proud of Mark and our other staff for emphasizing love and justice during this time, for not just inviting us to hunker down, but to continue advocating for change after the death of George Floyd. I am glad we support racial equality, speak out for LGBTQIA+ people, and give women opportunities. I appreciated the repeated message that we are all in this together, and the pursuit of justice and advocacy for those oppressed cannot be put off until some more convenient time. The time was now before the pandemic, and it is now during the pandemic.
The Sunday morning YouTube services became a great highlight to Bill and me during this time. The amazing technology that allowed us to worship with our hardworking, creative, and talented staff and those who sent in videos kept us feeling connected and hopeful during those many months of mainly isolation. The chat feature allowed us to interact live with others in the same situation, and to help us feel connected in real time. It was a balm to the soul every single week. I marveled at the quality of every service. How could they carry it off? I will remember for the rest of my life the dedication and energy that allowed us to still feel like a real part of Central. The staff and those who ran the technology made my life better every single week of the pandemic. It was love and grace and talent; it was hard work, creative solutions to problems, and a bunch of people with a sense of humor. It was the Holy Spirit moving through all of this to help produce Church. For me. For Bill. For my beloved church family.
Of course there was more than just watching the services. I learned to video myself reading a scripture, to help Bill do the same, and to trust that it actually arrived in some cyber place Aaron could access. I learned to tap into something called “zoom,” which became the vehicle for Sunday school meetings and conversation among choir members on Wednesday nights. I learned more about church members’ lives and hobbies and families through Aaron’s creative interviews for Wednesday night Vespers. The least likely thing I learned was that I could go way outside my comfort zone to help produce the Easter Sunday choir video masterfully put together by Raleigh and Aaron. As one of many choir members who consider themselves “support staff” for the real singers, I had to confront an admittedly pretty simple piece of music, be willing to practice singing it so that I was familiar with it, record it with headphones on like a real singer—singing all by myself!!!—and then lip sync it in the sanctuary on a video recording to go with the audio one. Generally this would have sent me to the hospital with shortness of breath. Somehow, though, through the encouragement of Raleigh and Aaron, and the knowledge that other, equally terrified, choir members were doing this, I succeeded. It was such a wonderful moment on Easter Sunday to see and hear us, our choir, sing together. It
sounded good! We did it! For me it was the most special moment, because it involved the hardest thing I was asked to do among the many that brought us together during this time.
We lost Martha Burke, whom I sat next to in choir in recent years, during this time. She made me better and more confident because she was a much better singer and could mostly keep me headed the right direction. I thought of her when we were doing our choir project, how she would have been irritatingly enthusiastic (to the reluctant) about it, and how pleased she would have been at the result. I was still here, able to sing, so I needed to do that. I imagined her as one of the great cloud of witnesses supporting us all. Indeed, she and the too many others we lost during the pandemic I pictured regularly. I saw them encouraging us onward in hope and resiliency to the day when we could gather freely again and acknowledge them all, those we lost, but whose spirits still abide with us.
For all that I learned during the pandemic, I am grateful. For all those who enriched my life, and who made Central both a dynamic force for social justice and a comforting refuge during this time, I am grateful.
Was there church at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky during the pandemic? Was there ever!
This reflection is part of our church archives project to preserve records of our life together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though we still find ourselves in the midst of this exceptional time, we hope these reflections will serve not only as accounts of where we’ve been, but as reminders that we are not alone, and encouragement that we journey forward together. We’d love to hear your reflections too! While the project will continue, we’d like submissions for the first phase by October 15. To submit or find out more, contact Pat Ingram (email@example.com).
As a Baptist church affirming the liberty of conscience, we recognize each individual's right to his or her own opinion and welcome your comments, positive or negative. We strive for communication that invites a respectful and personal exchange of opinions and thoughts. This is often not possible through running dialogues in our comment section. To respect the dignity of all persons, we may delete comments that contain profanity, hate speech, or threatening language.
Thank you, Diane for sharing your thoughts and experiences in this way. Thank you for your positivity and for highlighting all the things we treasure about our church.